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Diving in False Bay, South Africa

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Fri, July 14, 2017 22:31:06

False Bay - The Serengeti of the seas

I had my last dive here in False Bay, South Africa, yesterday 13 July 2017, today was a rest day as I will be flying to London (UK) tomorrow, and from there to Stockholm, Sweden.

My first dive in False Bay was at a dive site called the Photographers Deep, where I got down to 31 meters. Visibility was really poor at only 2-3 meters, which made it important to stay close to my dive buddy. Temperatures were at lowest down to 11°C, making it a cold dive in my 7/5mm wetsuit added with another 5mm on top. My photo below, from 8 July 2017, is from that first dive at Photographers Deep picturing a Puffaddear Shyshark at 31 meters. Its a small shark that often lives near the bottom in sandy or rocky habitats.

Through history thousands of ships have sunk along the South African coast and a lot of them around the treacherous waters of the Cape Peninsula. However, some more recent wrecks have been scuttled in False Bay and have become home to many sorts or marine life. The five wrecks that are found in Smitswinkel bay offer a good site for wreck diving. My photo below, from 9 July 2017, shows me and my dive buddy Jessica at 32 meters, exploring the wreck of the 50m long trawler MFV Orotava. This ship was scuttled in False Bay in August 1983.

The SAS Pietermaritzburg was first commissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS Pelorus in 1943, and took part in the D-day invasion of Normandy in World War II as the lead ship sweeping mines to make way for the invasion fleet. She was sold in 1947 to the South African Navy and renamed HMSAS Pietermaritzburg. My photo below, from 9 July 17, pictures me diving inside the SAS Pietermaritzburg in False Bay. This was the second wreck dive of the day, the first one being on the MFV Orotava. Water temperature was down to 11°C and visibility about 12 meters.

The story of the SAS Pietermaritzburg stretches all the way from 1943, when she was launched, to 1994 when she was scuttled to make an artificial reef at Miller's Point near Simon's Town. The wreck settled upright on the sand at a maximum depth of 22 metres, but has begun to collapse and the interior is much less accessible than it used to be. All in all, I had three dives on the historical SAS Pietermaritzburg. Since she was scuttled on 12 November 1994 to form an artificial reef, marine life has taken posession of this wreck as my photo below from 11 July 2017 shows.

Simon's Town on the western shores of False Bay, got its name from the Dutch governor of the Cape Colony Simon van der Stel. The town has been a naval base and harbour for more than two hundred years and was a strategical base for the British Royal Navy during World War II, as both German and Japanese ships and U-boats patroled these waters. The South African Navy seconded to the British Royal Navy 1939-1945. My photo below, from 10 July 2017, is from the South African Navy Museum in Simon's Town, picturing World War II items.

I will post one more update about diving in False Bay in the coming days, where more of my footage will be displayed and also information about the dives, diving conditions, marine life and more. All of my dives out of Simon's Town was arranged with Pisces Divers here in Simon's Town, a really solid dive company.

In total I had eight dives in False Bay and the weather is a factor to consider here as is the water temperatures. Diving in False Bay is by all means a colder proposition than the Sardine Run along the Eastern Cape!

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Diving South Africa's Sardine Run 2017 (2)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Mon, July 10, 2017 18:45:21

Second and last update on my South African Sardine Run

Its been a week and half since I posted an update here at Ad Astra, and that was not the general idea. However, delayed flights from East London to Cape Town made a very late arrival in Simon's Town. And from there I never had enough time to post, until now that is.

My photos below illustrates pretty well what the Sardine Run is about. A fast boat out at sea far from the coast, and once Cape Gannets are spotted diving into the water, the boat sets off in that direction. Meanwhile you'd better prepare to get in the water fast! Get your fins on, spit in your mask and rinse it, and wait for instructions. If lots of Gannets still are dive-bombing an area, you will most probably also see plenty of Common Dolphins. My photo below from 26 June 2017, shows that it doesn't really matter if you get in the water or not to see the action, you get as wet either way!

The Bronze Whaler Sharks can be spotted once you put your head below the waves, and one might see other spieces of sharks too. When the instruction comes to get in the water, you will be told not to jump and splash into it, since that will scare off many of the animals you want to see. My photo below from 27 June 2017, pictures a few of us in the water with the boat some 100m away. This is open sea where the Gannets and Dolphins only two minutes previously where praying on fish. Note the black shadow in the water just left to me and the dorsal fin cutting the surface to the right. With poor visibility you might be just next to a large predator and not being aware of it.

Slip quitely in the water from the boat and swim into the action if it hasn't moved on and away from the boat and yourself. The boat may at times be as far as 100m from you and you will see quite a few dorsal fins break the surface around, most of them will be Dolphin fins though. In most cases, if not all, you will not put on your scuba gear as the action is so incredibly fast moving. My photo below from 30 June, captures one of those stunning moments when I caught three Humpback Whales diving past me after trying to get some footage of them for five hours. The photo shows the first Whale that turns belly-up and starts diving after seeing me.

Also, if getting in the water as the boat backs off, leaving you to face a huge pod of Common Dolphins or Humpback Whales in the water, the noise using scuba gear will probably alert the Dolphins or Whales approaching you, and they might turn direction due to this. My photo below shows me on the beaches on Cintsa on 1 July 2017, the last day of my Sardine Run. From this beach the boat launched every morning at sunrise and the first stretch out of the surf was always a bumpy and wet ride, feet had to be strapped to the floor and hands holding on to ropes in order to stay in the boat.

One might have many tries when wanting to get good footage during the Sardine Run, and big underwater cameras are good for slow moving or stationary motifs, but this is nothing of the kind. I have only two GoPro cameras for my dives and its amazing what footage you get from them small cameras. All underwater footage I've taken has been with GoPros 3+ and 4, of which I fancy the 3+ most. My photo below from 2 July 2017 is from Nahoon Beach in East London. This is where I spent one night at the Premier Hotel East London for a night, relaxing, using the gym and have a few delicious meals and South African wines.

I am now in Simon's Town since a week back and have made a couple of dives in False Bay. The entire Cape Peninsula is littered with ship wrecks along the entire coastline. I have and will only dive in False Bay, doing deep dives and wreck dives that I will tell about in my next update here on Ad Astra. In total I will have eight dives out of Simon's Town before Friday.

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Diving South Africa's Sardine Run 2017

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Thu, June 29, 2017 18:36:54

The action is so fast you won’t believe it!

I arrived here in Cintsa, Eastern Cape Province, in the afternoon of Sunday 25 June, having had three flights taking me from Stockholm, Sweden, to East London, South Africa, where private transport to Cintsa awaited me. All of my participation in this year’s Sardine Run will be out of Cintsa, as this is where Simon’s Town-based Pisces Divers arranges its dives and accommodation for the event. I have arranged so Pisces Divers brought along a new Scubapro 7/5mm wetsuit for me, that I will buy after the Sardine Run and also use for the deep-diving and wreck-diving out of Simon’s Town the two weeks following the Sardine Run. My photo below shows the beaches of Cintsa on 25 June 2017.

On Monday 26 June breakfast was served at 6:30 a.m. and the boat set off from the sandy beaches soon after 7:20, us six clients being dressed up in our diving gear ready to slip into the waters at any minute out on the seas. It was chilly and the boat had a rough start fighting some huge waves before reaching somewhat calmer waters further out. It seemed like only me and another guy were keen on getting a piece of the Sardine Run action at first. We slipped into the water and swam some 100m from the boat towards a couple of Humpback Whales, only to see them disappear into the depths as we approached them, tough luck! I have got some stunning photos of Common Dolphins, see my photo below from 26 June 2017.

Soon after, we spotted formations of Cape Gannets at a distance and headed that way. This time four of us got in the deep and murky waters. The visibility was here down to three meters, and I saw a couple of Dolphins around us and two Bronze Whaler Sharks circling beneath us. All of a sudden a Bronze Whaler Shark appeared out of nowhere and with great speed, colliding with me as I was recording with my GoPro. My photo below, from 26 June 2017, shows the moment of collision between me and the Bronze Whaler Shark. One can see the shark’s left pectoral fin hits my camera, and out of picture, its nose ended up hitting me. Both man and shark were unharmed in this incident.

The following day, Tuesday 27 June 2017, we started early again and headed out from land, scouting for some seabird activity as that could indicate Sardines below the surface and everything that goes with it: Dolphins, Sharks, dive-bombing Cape Gannets etc. We tried our luck once again on Whales, and I did get some footage of one diving some 5-6 meters under me in the murky waters. The footage is not of the highest quality due to poor visibility. Again we saw large pods of Dolphins, Bronze Whaler Sharks and plenty of Cape Gannets doing aerial acrobatics dive-bombing into the blue for fish. My photo below pictures a Bronze Whaler Shark circling below me in waters with poor visibility on 27 June 2017.

Due to strong winds, rain and thunder we had to postpone all sea activities on Wednesday 28 June 2017, and I mainly spent the day reviewing my footage but also resting a bit. The weather improved in the afternoon. And today, 29 June 2017, we spent almost a full day out on the big blue. Not everyone did get into the water today, but we who did tried several times to get good footage of Humpback Whales. The boat will drop you off and you swim towards the direction given by the guys on the boat and hoping you get some visual contact with the Whales. That did not happen today. My photo below is from 27 June 2017, picturing Common Dolphins and one of us divers snorkeling on the surface. I find this photo being the best one I’ve taken on this trip so far!

It is common to snorkel a lot on the Sardine Run since the action is so unbelievably fast! Once you have put on your fins and mask on the boat and are ready to get in the water, the Dolphins and Gannets can have moved on following the bait fish that attracts them. This could sometimes mean 100m or more in a minute or two, giving you a hard time if getting in the water, getting on the boat again, and setting off to the new location of the Dolphins and Gannets. Also the visibility may vary considerably due to this, since the bait fish along with the predators following them, dictates the location and speed of the action. So far no scuba gear has been used by us due to the speed and changing location of the action, but also due to the fact we have had no indications of a huge bait ball of Sardines, that would make things a bit more stationary or at least slow moving for a while.

- My next update will be from Simon's Town on 3 July, after the Sardine Run.



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South African Dive Bonanza (5)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, June 11, 2017 22:49:16

Full itinerary for my South African Dive Bonanza project

Its now less than two weeks to departure and all flights, accommodations and dives have been arranged for my South African Dive Bonanza project. This will in fact be my first project entirely focusing on diving. The dates for diving out off Simon's Town could be altered due to weather and diving conditions.

24 June: Stockholm – London (UK)- Johannesburg

25 June: Johannesburg – East London (SA)

26 June - 1 July: The Sardine Run along the Eastern Cape Coast

2 July: East London

3 July: East London – Cape Town - Simon's Town

4 July: Leisure

5 July: Rescue Diver pool session

6 July: Rescue Diver sea dives

7 July: Leisure

8 July: Deep dives 1 and 2

9 July: Deep dives 3 and 4

10 - 11 July: Leisure

12 July: Wreck dives 1 and 2

13 July: Wreck dives 3 and 4

14 July: Leisure

15 July: Simon's Town – Cape Town - Johannesburg - London (UK)

16 July: London - Stockholm

The video above is from East London, some 200km east of Port Elizabeth. Its a small city that I will be spending one night in after the Sardine Run, and before going to Simon's Town and two more weeks of diving there.

- A return to wilderness, mountains and glaciers might follow next year in Patagonia.



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South African Dive Bonanza (4)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Wed, June 07, 2017 20:48:31

Diving in Western Cape Province, South Africa

My South African Dive Bonanza project will start in two and half weeks from today, and the first leg of this project will be diving the spectacular Sardine Run of South Africa. Reservations are made for five full days of diving in the big blue off the coast of Eastern Cape Province in South Africa.

I will also be spending a night in East London after the Sardine Run, before transferring to Cape Town and from there to Simon's Town. The Western Cape Province and the Cape Peninsula offers a variety of diving opportunities as wreck diving (more than 800 ship wrecks!), deep diving, freediving, corals, sealife and a lot more.

I have made arrangements for some eight dives out of Simon's Town during the two weeks following the Sardine Run, including rescue diver practice, deep dives and wreck dives. A few spare days are available if the weather and sea turns rough.

With me having made the last domestic flight reservations in South Africa earlier this week, all is now set for another spectacular travel project! Considering what I will be able to experience throughout this three week long project, it will most certainly be to a good price.

- My next post will include my full itinerary for this South African Dive Bonanza Project!



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South African Dive Bonanza (3)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Mon, May 29, 2017 20:43:53

Less than four weeks to go!

In exactly one month I will have completed my first day of diving the Sardine Run along the Eastern Cape Coast of South Africa. Since weather can make or break a full day of diving, I will have five days in total to my disposal for this spectacular event. Whales, dolphins, sharks and a lot more should by all means be spotted in the waters anyway freediving and scuba diving!

I will then transfer from East London to Cape Town and continue to Simon's Town, where I will have some rescue diver training for my upcoming deep dives and wreck dives. Along the Western Cape coast great white sharks are spotted and some fatal incidents occur with some regularity.

As with diving in most cases, weather and sea will dictate when, where and what kind of diving will be performed during my entire three week South African Dive Bonanza project. I expect the waters around the Western Cape to be murky, as in this video from the area, which could end up with close encounters of any sort...

A full itinerary will be posted here at Ad Astra as soon all the reservations are completed. At the moment only reservations for three domestic flights remains, as accommodation has been taken care of.

With five to six days per week of a variety of exercises, including weight training, water training and also cardiovascular excerises, my physical conditioning is improving all the time and my operated shoulder is healed and strong again.

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Ueli Steck 1976-2017

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, May 02, 2017 20:47:34

Ueli Steck 1976-2017



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Renowned climber Ueli Steck dies

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, April 30, 2017 17:01:51

"Failure for me would be to die and not come home" - Ueli Steck

I read with sadness today that my favourite mountaineer has died. Ueli Steck, also called the Swiss Machine, has been in the Everest region in Nepal preparing for his unbelievably hard and technical climbing project, that combines a traverse on Everest and Lhotse in the same push. Ueli Steck fell to his death this morning while training on the Nuptse mountain, near Camp 1 off the Western Cwm.

I have been following him for years and been so inspired by his attitude, ideas, projects and abilities as a climber, along with lots of climbers across the globe. Ueli Steck was one of the most renowned mountaineers of his generation, and best known for his speed climbing, including setting several speed records for ascending various mountains.

In the video below Ueli tells us about his grand project, less than three weeks ago.

On Ueli Steck's website, this informaton is to be found:

"April 30, 2017

Information to the media

Ueli Steck deadly injured

Ueli Steck was killed while trying to climb Mount Everest and the Lhotse. His family has learned of his death today. The exact circumstances are currently unknown. The family is infinitely sad and asks the media builders to refrain from speculation about the circumstances of his death due to respect for Ueli.

As soon as there are reliable findings on the causes of Uelis Steck's death, the media will be informed. The family asks the media for understanding that they will not provide any further information at the time."

The Guardian's article about the tragic death of Ueli Steck: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/30/renowned-climber-ueli-steck-dies-near-mount-everest



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South African Dive Bonanza (2)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Mon, April 24, 2017 22:29:15

Two months to go!

Today its exactly two months left to my 2017 South African Dive Bonanza project sets sail. I will take part in the Sardine Run of South Africa during the last week in June, and I so look forward to it! Only some fifteen years ago, this spectacular underwater event was unheard of, and still today all the factors contributing to the Sardine Run are unknown.

The Sardine Run takes place along the East Coast of South Africa, in the warmer Indian Ocean. However, the cooler waters of the Atlantic Ocean plays a huge part in the origins of the annual Sardine Run.

Surely I have to keep an eye on the sharks that most certainly will turn up in numbers, but the most unsuspected injuries could be delivered by the gigantic whales that are feeding on the sardines, or by colliding with dophins or ganetts plunging into the water as living missiles.

- The full itinerary will be posted here when all arrangements are made!

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South African Dive Bonanza (1)

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sat, April 01, 2017 14:12:33

The Sardine Run of South Africa

Holidays are granted for three weeks in June - July by my employers at S:t Görans Hospital here in Stockholm, Sweden, and international flight reservations are made! I have also paid for three weeks of spectacular diving including the Sardine Run. My fast moving and affordable South African Dive Bonanza project will set sail in less than three months from today.

As the first week will have passed on, and under, the waves of Eastern Cape Province of South Africa trying to get as close as possible to the Sardine Run action, some Rescue Diver practice, Deep Diving and Wreck Diving will be launched out of Simon' Town, Western Cape Province. A wetsuit will need to be purchased for the South African winter dives, and domestic flights and accomodation are still to be arranged.

The video below should feed you fascination for the South African Sardine Run.

As I've written on the project page on www.jeandar.net:

"From late May to late July each year, the sardines arrive along the South African East Coast. Schools of sharks, such as the bronze whaler, dusky and blacktip shark, follow the shimmering path of prey, feasting on the fish. Marine mammals and game fish follow in hot pursuit. Cape fur seals, humpback and minke whales, and thousands of dolphins are joined by shoals of shad, garrick and geelbek as they dive, snap and feed on what appears to be an unlimited supply of sardines. Cape gannets, cormorants, terns and gulls all dive-bomb the sardines in an aerial assaul. And with me diving in the midst of this, I will take part in one of nature's greatest events! This project is scheduled for June - July 2017."

The second leg of this project will be the rescue diver practice, deep diving and wreck diving out of Simon's Town along the western shores of False Bay, also famous for its great white sharks. The Western Cape region is also well-known for all of its numerous shipwrecks. This region holds the smallest complete floral kingdom in the world and this diversity is mirrored underwater with the unique positioning of the peninsula at the junction of two major ocean currents. False Bay has been recognised as a biodiversity hotspot due to the numbers of endemic animals living in these waters.

- South Africa's Sardine Run, deep diving & wreck diving awaits me!

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Diving in Chuuk Lagoon II

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Thu, January 19, 2017 13:37:45

My four last wreck dives in Chuuk Lagoon

This post will conclude my six week long Philippines & Micronesia project. I intended to see the Taal Volcano as I've been in Manila since Monday morning, but my large diving bag did not arrive with my flight from Chuuk via Guam. So instead of taking photos of Taal Volcano, I've spent three days waiting for all my diving gear and clothes to arrive at my hotel. Guam airport is not a favourite of mine due to several reasons and that's where my diving bag went missing.

My photo above from 13 January 2017, pictures me inside the Japanese Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber. This aircraft was designed in 1939 for the Imperial Japanese Navy and was quite successful during the early part of the war, mostly due to its speed, long range and good carrying capacity. However, their unprotected fuel tanks proved to be their greatest weakness, and even leading to death of famous Admiral Yamamoto ambushed while aboard one flying out of New Caledonia on 18 April 1943.

This particular Mitsubishi G4M failed to make the runway at Eten island and crashed into the sea, where it now lies upright at 18m. The propellers were still spinning when it hit the water, and are found some 50m in front of the rest of the aircraft. There is a large entrance where the cockpit used to be, but one can also enter the fuselage through the waist gun ports on both sides. This is an interesting dive that will use less than half a tank of air.

My photo above is from 13 January 2017. The Japanese Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat was known for its long range and nicknamed the "Flying Porcupine" because it was very difficult to shoot down, as it had self-sealing fuel tanks and internal fire extinguishers. With a 38m wingspan, this is the largest aircraft wreck in Chuuk Lagoon. The four 1850 horsepower Mitsubishi Kasei engines are all still on the aircraft, and a swim beneath the aircrafts wing is recommended! There are plenty of details to look at on the aircraft and close by on the seafloor.

This particular aircraft was bringing back the Japanese Commanding Officer of the Fourth Fleet, his Chief of Staff and other senior Japanese Naval Officers from a meeting in Palau. Fighter aircrafts from the US navy intercepted this Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat, attacking it repeatedly. The pilot still managed to escape the enemy and return to Truk Lagoon, although while trying to land the damaged aircraft the pilot lost control and it crashed and sank. The pilot, Admiral and Chief of Staff survived.

Yamagiri Maru was built during 1938 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a passenger and cargo carrier for the Yamashita Kisen Line, and was launched on 3 May 1939. In September 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy took control of her and converted her to a military transport for moving special cargo, and she served transporting war material between the Solomon Islands and the Caroline Islands until she was hit with two torpedoes from USS Drum in 1943. The repair can still be seen on the port side of hold number two.

My photo above from 14 January 2017, pictures the huge 46cm shells found on Yamagiri Maru for world's largest naval guns fitted on world's largest battleships: Yamato and her sister ship Musashi. The Yamagiri Maru was sunk by dive bombers from the carriers USS Yorktown and Bunker Hill. They reported several hits and left a huge hole portside amidships that took her down quickly, killing most of her crew. One engineer's skull and body were driven by the blasts into a storeroom's screens and can be seen there still today. Yamagiri Maru lies on her port side at a depth of 30m.

My last dive in Chuuk Lagoon was the large Kiyosumi Maru, as she lies on her port side on the seafloor at 35m. I had some bad luck with my main camera as it shut down at the start of this dive, leaving me with a lot less footage of this wreck than intended. Half way into the dive I noticed it and switched on my second camera, and managed to get some footage of Kiyosumi Maru. This was of course disappointing to say the least, but I did get some pictures of her totally devastated superstructure, personal items and sake bottles. My photo above from the Kiyosumi Maru on 14 January 2017.

She was laid down in 1933 at the Kawasaki Dockyard as a passenger-cargo vessel for the Kokusai Kisen Kaisha company, launched on 30 June 1934, and named on 5 October the same year. The Japanese navy took control of her in September 1941 and converted here into an armed merchant cruiser, fitting her with 150mm guns, torpedo tubes and anti-aircraft guns. During the Battle of Midway she acted as a troop carrier. On 3 November 1943 she was damaged in an air raid, on 1 January 1944 she was hit by three torpedoes from a submarine and towed to Truk Lagoon. Kiyosumi Maru was sunk by US dive bombers on 18 February 1944 in Operation Hailstone, while still undergoing repairs.

My photo from Chuuk Lagoon above is from 13 January 2017. Here's an idea that will save time and money: Combine the three aircraft wrecks as they are quite close to each other. Start to freedive the Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" that lies upside down (see previous post), then move on to the Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" and do a tank dive, as with the large four engine Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat last.

That's exactly what I did and found it being quite pleasant covering three aircrafts in one single afternoon that way. The reason for this approach is simply that freediving is more physically demanding than tank dives, and should therefor be the first dive. A single tank is needed between the Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" and the Kawanishi H8K "Emily", spending some 15-20 minutes on each one of them should be enough.

- In six hours I'll be on my way to Stockholm, Sweden, via Beijing, China.

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Diving in Chuuk Lagoon Part I

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Tue, January 17, 2017 16:02:49

Chuuk Lagoon - World's premier wreck diving location

During World War II, Truk lagoon (today Chuuk Lagoon) was host to Japan's Imperial Fleet, which was left destroyed in the wake of Operation Hailstone 16-18 February 1944, often called Japan's Pearl Harbor. Today, hundreds of Japanese aircraft and other military machines remain at the bottom of the lagoon, making it the world's best wreck dive location, with some seventy wreck diving sites in and around the lagoon.

In 1969, William A. Brown and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and his team explored Truk Lagoon. Following Cousteau's 1971 television documentary about the lagoon and its ghostly remains, the place became a scuba diving paradise, drawing wreck diving enthusiasts from around the world to see its numerous, virtually intact sunken ships. The shipwrecks and remains are sometimes referred to as the "Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon".

My photo above from 12 January 2017, shows the still fully readable name on Heian Maru in both Japanese and Latin letters. This ship was built in 1930 as a large passenger cargo liner, and her maiden voyage was from Hong Kong to Seattle. While on a routine voyage in August 1941, she was abruptly recalled to Japan. Upon her return, the Japanese Navy converted the ship for use as a submarine tender.

Heian Maru is the largest ship in Truk Lagoon with a length of 155m. She was sunk on the second day of Operation Hailstone, as a torpedo struck her amidships and because of damage already sustained during the earlier raids, the Heian Maru sank quickly. She lies on her port side and her cargo contains many of the deadly efficient Japanese Long Lance Torpedoes, and submarine periscopes. Many artifacts can be found throughout this wreck.

My photo above from 12 January 2017 pictures one of the three Mitsubishi A6M Reisen "Zero" fighter planes found in the Fujikawa Maru, that was built in 1938 by the Mitsubishi Company as a passenger and cargo carrier. The Japanese Navy took possession of her in December 1940 and converted the ship to an aircraft ferry. The conversion included a compliment of old six inch guns on her bow and stern from the Russo-Japanese War.

Just prior to Operation Hailstone, Fujikawa Maru arrived in Truk and off loaded thirty Nakajima B6N Tenzan "Jill" bombers onto Eten Airfield. These aircraft had been disassembled for shipment and were unable to help defend Truk and were destroyed on the ground. Today this ship has an abundance of colorful soft and hard corals. The Times named Fujikawa Maru as one of the top 10 wreck dives in the world, and Aquaviews ranked her as the fourth best wreck dive in the world!

My photo above from 13 January 2017, shows the operating table with some human bones on it, in the Shinkoku Maru that was built in 1939. Her first voyages were to carry oil from the United States to Japan, prior to the embargo. The Japanese Navy converted her to a fleet oiler and Shinkoku's most noteworthy mission was her participation in the Pearl Harbor attack as part of Admiral Nagumo's strike force. She is a large ship with a length of 152m.

In August 1942, she was torpedoed and damaged by an American submarine. She was at anchor in Truk Lagoon at the time of Operation Hailstone, and survived two days of attacks and two aerial torpedo hits before she finally sank. The bow gun of the Shinkoku Maru is heavily encrusted with colorful coral, and this wreck should be a wonderful night dive as the soft corals and hydroids are quite beautiful.

One of the most famous features of the Kensho Maru is her machine room, that can be seen in my photo above from 13 January 2017. She was built in 1938 and the Japanese Navy took control of the ship when the war began, shuttling supplies between Japan and the Marshall Islands. Eventually she was retrofitted with a deck gun and augmented with a Naval Gun Crew and Medical Staff for transporting the wounded.

Just prior to the Operation Hailstone attacks, Kensho Maru was in Kwajalein Atoll delivering supplies when she was bombed by American carrier aircraft and took a hit to her engine room. Unable to get underway, she was towed to Truk by the Momokawa Maru. Both ships were in Truk Lagoon when the attacks began and both were sunk. The Kensho Maru was struck by at least one bomb and an aerial torpedo, she sits upright with a slight list to port.

Operation Hailstone launched on 16-18 February 1944, as US Navy carrier aircraft conducted a surprise attack against Japanese ships anchored in Truk Lagoon (today Chuuk Lagoon), dropping 400 tons of bombs and torpedo. In total, forty ships were sunk and thousands of Japanese died. The airplanes shot down over Truk Lagoon were numerous and mainly Japanese, as they had lost their best pilots during the course of war by 1944.

My photo above, from 13 January 2017, pictures a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighter aircraft that was one of the victims of Operation Hailstone, as it was shot down shortly after taking off from the airfield, and has been laying upside down at 9 meters depth on the seafloor off Eten island ever since. This makes it a perfect freediving wreck, straightforward without any currents and at least I had hardly any waves at all.

- See the Jacques Cousteau 1971 documentary here: http://adastra.jeandar.net/#post450



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Diving in Tanapag Lagoon, Saipan

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, January 15, 2017 09:44:10

Diving in Tanapag Lagoon, Saipan

I went to Saipan, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, for some easy diving and also some dives without an airtank. The obvious location was of course Tanapag Lagoon with its close proximity to Garapan, the main village on Saipan and my hotel there. I arrived in the evening of Saturday 7 January 2017, and had plans to arrange some diving the following day. I hadn't made any arrangements in advance which I usually do, and I lost a full day arranging and finally getting some diving under my belt in Saipan, through Masa Dive Saipan.

My photo above is from my first dive in Tanapag Lagoon on 10 January 2017. The Shoan Maru was a large Japanese freighter that was carrying Korean conscript soldiers as it was torpedoed by a US submarine west of Rota. The ship was damaged and towed to Saipan for extensive repairs, when it was attacked in an airstrike on 23 February 1944. The ship was either sunk in this airstrike or during the invasion of Saipan in June 1944. The Shoan Maru is badly broken up also as result from post World War II target practice and demolition exercises and lay on the seafloor at only 12 meters.

All my wreck diving photos are from 10 January 2017. My photo above pictures me freediving on the large Japanese Kawanishi H8K "Emily" flying boat. The wrecks in the relative shallow Tanapag Lagoon suffer harder blows from typhoons and wave action, than deeper laying wrecks. This "Emily" is quite broken up with parts from it found across the seafloor around the wing that once spanned 38 meters. Most of the fuselage is gone and a machinegun turret lays close by. This was a hard 12 meter deep freedive, me being cold after the Shoan Maru dive and also fighting the current, surf and rain.

My third and last dive in Saipan saw the rain stop and the sun come out, and the current and waves were also better at this wreck site. My photo above shows a Japanese Daihatsu Landing Craft laying on the seafloor at 11 meters depth in the middle of Tanapag lagoon. Conditions allowed me to have a few good passes at this wreck, getting some awesome footage, as seen above. In Saipan you will find the WWII Maritime Heritage Trail - Battle of Saipan, a collection of underwater heritage sites featuring Japanese and U.S. shipwrecks, assault vehicles, and aircraft wrecks from the Battle of Saipan June-July 1944.

Micronesia saw some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles in the Pacific theatre of war, and Saipan had its fair cut of the action which can be seen all over the island. My photo above is from 9 January 2017, picturing me inside the last Japanese Command Post in Saipan during World War II. This bunker is found on the north tip of Saipan along with a few big Japanese cannons, not far from both Suicide Cliff and Banzai Cliff. Towards the end of the Battle of Saipan in 1944, hundreds of Japanese civilians and soldiers jumped off these two cliffs to their deaths in the ocean and rocks below, to avoid being captured by US troops.

My photo above is not from Saipan at all. On the neighbouring island of Tinian you got this World War II airfield. Enola Gay took-off from here with the atom bomb "Little Boy" and annihilated Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The second atom bomb "Fat Man" was also delivered by a B-29 from Tinian on 9 August 1945, erasing Nagasaki. This was the busiest airfield in the world back then. I took this photo on 7 January 2017, just before landing at Saipan's airport which itself got quite a few World War II bunkers.

- I'm writing this post from Chuuk Lagoon and will be leaving for Manila (via Guam) soon.



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Diving in Yap, Micronesia

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Sun, January 08, 2017 14:09:02

Yap - Stone money islands

Yap lays northeast of Palau and is a quite a different place. The capital Colonia is really a village and not a big one either, with only one resort/hotel that can offer a complete accommodation, meal, diving and spa experience. This is the Manta Ray Bay Resort. I found it out by staying at another resort that couldn't deliver a complete package for me. Colonia is a sleepy, chilled-out and calm place with not more to offer than diving.

Yap is one of four states in the Federate States of Micronesia, the other three are Chuuk (that I will be visiting shortly), Pohnpei and Kosrae. The different islands I have visited in the Philippines and Micronesia so far, have all been different from the others. And I'm not surprised considering the great distances between these islands. Yap is more traditional and perhaps conservative than all the rest in Micronesia. My first two photos are from 1 January, showing two traditional Yapese houses above and stone money below.

The stone money, also called Rai, is typically found in Yap. And while the monetary system of Yap appears to use these giant stones as tokens, it relies on an oral history of ownership. Being too large to move, buying an item with these stones is as easy as saying it no longer belongs to you. As long as the transaction is recorded in the oral history, it will be owned by the person you passed it on to, no physical movement of the stone is required. These Rai stones were quarried on several islands in Micronesia and transported to Yap.

On 2 January I had my first dive in Yap, captured in my photo above. This photo is from a dive site called Vertigo, a huge drop-off into deeper waters and incredible visibility that goes beyond 50 meters. Its easy to spot the approaching sharks with visibility as good as this, and there are three of them in my photo, but there were more than that present. The main difference between diving in Yap and Palau, is you don't have as many dive boats and divers as in Palau, resulting in a more relaxed and personal dive experience.

Another benefit is that accommodation is less pricey in Yap then neighbouring Palau, and the diving is at the same high level. My photo above is from 2 Janauary and pictures the unspoiled coral reef at Vertigo, with a black tip shark cruising the reef. I and my divemaster were the only two divers in the water at Vertigo when this photo was taken. It was really as relaxed and pleasant as the picture is. All in all, I saw three different spieces of sharks on this dive, Grey Reef Sharks, Black-tips and also a White-tip, and a lot of other fishes.

Yap offers equally spectacular diving as Palau, and without the crowds and also cheaper accommodation, about half of it in fact! You got the sharks, mantas, reefs with soft and hard corals, multitude of fishes to watch once you stick your head below the surface. Yap is as mentioned a sleepy place and the only this one can do here is dive, dive and dive some more. I also believe Manta Ray Bay is the best resort in Colonia, giving you most value for money.

- I'm currently in Saipan trying to organise some scuba and freediving.



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Diving in Palau, Micronesia

AdventurePosted by Jean Dar Fri, January 06, 2017 14:08:00

One of the absolute best dive locations in the world!

After spending another night in Cebu City, I was heading for Palau via Manila on 27 December 2016. A typhoon had just hit Luzon and bad weather followed for a couple of days, meaning my flight from Manila to Palau was delayed for four hours. As I finally got to Palau in the early hours of 28 December I was so tired that the first day had to be a rest day, and no diving or other activities were carried out. I did manage to arrange diving the following two days and made in total six dives at five locations in Palau.

I arranged my dives through the resort I was staying at, with a Chinese dive operator. The first plunge alone told me that Palau got some serious top end dive locations! My photo above is from that first dive, picturing me getting to the bottom of a blue hole called the Virgin Blue Hole on 29 December 2016. At a depth just shy of 30m at the very bottom of this blue hole, I and the rest made our way out through the exit which is at some 25m depth, while the entrance is clearly seen above me.

Small fishes, big fishes, sea turtles, spotted rays, hard and soft corals and a lot more is available in Palau. Various dive sites might often have different animals and corals depending on currents, depth etc. My photo of the Grey Reef Shark above is from my second dive in Palau at the famous Blue Corner. This location of the reef is famous for the amount of fishes found here, and got plenty of hard corals too. The current at Blue Corner was really strong when I took the photo above on 29 December 2016.

If Blue Corner is a must if you want to see Gray Reef Sharks up close, then the German Channel is a must if you want to see Manta Rays. Parts of the sea floor is sand here, so all you have to do is get down and wait for the Mantas to fly past you! The German Channel is a cleaning station where the Mantas come to get cleaned by smaller fishes, so its important to stay put on the sea floor and not disturb the cleaning fishes or Mantas, which may prevent the Mantas from coming there. My photo above is from 30 December 2016.

My photo above is from 30 December 2016, picturing a Red Lionfish close to Blue Corner. Lionfish venomous dorsal spines are used purely for defense and when threatened, the fish often faces its attacker in an upside-down posture which brings its spines to bear. However, its sting is usually not fatal to humans. So keeping some distance to it while taking photos or filming is recommended. Palau is a fascinating place to go diving at, offering something for everyone, at a cost of course.

Palau ranks as one of the absolute top diving locations in the world. It has got plenty of spectacular diving possibilities, covering from large pelagics to World War II wrecks and land installation. The only down side is the price tag for visiting Palau, I payed US$ 1.300 for five nights accommodation alone. The diving, all food and transport was added to it, making it the most expensive five days on any of my trips! I'm glad I did go to Palau diving, but I'm not sure I'll do it again due to the costs involved.

- I went to Yap after Palau and am now in Guam, heading for Saipan tomorrow.



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