Diving through the Wreckage

Tao Maru Japanese Ship 140 m Freighter sunk by US torpedoes 

I’ve just finished a SCUBA refresher course, and was feeling anxious and excited to get underwater again. After getting our internet fix in bustling Gizo, we anchored out by a little island near our friends on Perry. Tonight is Family Night, too, so it would be great to have a joint movie night with their family again, as has become the tradition since traveling with them. An added bonus is that Matt always cooks up some scrumptious dessert that vanishes within minutes of the movie’s beginning.

But first, before the family festivities, we wanted to get a dive in. Mark and Matt did a recon dive this morning while the mommas and kids were occupied with school, and Mark came back beaming.

“You’ve GOT to do that dive, Sarah. You just have to.”

Jen offered to let me use her XS BC, and it fit much better than Mark’s did. I was glad to have a snug fit. Michael and the rest of the Perry crew went out to a nearby beach to play, while Elizabeth chilled out on board. The dinghy was loaded up with tanks and all the gear. And we set out.

My mind was racing with all the safety pre-dive acronyms I’d learned in my course. Big-White-Rabbits-Are-Fluffy (BC buoyancy, weigh belt on and set for right hand release, releases are all locked, air check on regulators, fins and face mask). I could feel my nerves building, but continued to mentally reassure myself.
“You can do this. You will love it once you get past the initial descent. You are safe. Just breathe. Stay calm. Let yourself enjoy it!”

I scooted to the edge of the dinghy, my heavy tank hanging over the side, my body straining to lean forward as a counterweight. I held my regulator and mask and allowed to tank to pull me backward - splash - into the deep blue. I’ve only done that little maneuver a handful of times, and the bruises on the backs of my knees (a result of my hitting the sides of the dive boat due to not tucking before rolling) had just recently faded away. Like an apple, rolling and bobbing in a barrel, I floundered for a moment until I finally could decipher which end should be up and which down!

I signaled the ‘ok’ sign - one hand touching the top of my head - and peered down into the water. A line covered in coral and sea life led down to depths of nothingness. An abyss of blue. One final check, and I pushed the air release valve for my BC and started the descent. Slowly, shadows began to take form as my nerves eased, replaced by curiosity. I saw the steel beast lying defeated on the ocean floor. Life had begun where death lay. Layer upon layer of coral coated the hull, like fondant icing on a delicately decorated gourmet cake. Lacy feather sea stars swayed. Dainty soft corals fluttered. Vast beds of sharp fire coral stood out in contrast, a thick forest of antlers intertwined. Tiny fish flitted out to see me, then in a second, hid in their armored tangle once again.
My eyes could not digest it all at once. I had to force myself to gaze only here, then there. Small bites, tiny morsels. I would linger for a moment to allow my eyes to truly see and absorb the life that was growing upon life that was growing upon life. It was remarkable. A spade fish bigger than a dinner plate accompanied me, my companion and guide throughout my underwater exploration. So close I could have touched him, not afraid or skittish at all.

The ship itself was a fallen Goliath. Signs of the lives once lived here were laid strewn about. Empty liquor bottles, bullet casings. Mark and I could swim easily into the wide open cargo hold, where bags of cement meant to build the airport for the Japanese in WWII lay stacked like boulders inside, never to fulfill their intended purpose. Every inch of the vessel was coated with fuzzy marine life, inside and out, but I could only see color if I shone my flashlight. Otherwise, it was monotone and eerie in the shadows. We swam through the ship and out the side of the hull, through one of the large holes blasted by an enemy torpedo, a hole that certainly contributed to this ship’s demise. And then, we were in the light again, my eyes inundated with the bright colors of tropical fish and coral gardens. An anemone like I’ve never seen had attached itself to the side of the ship. Its tips glowed a florescent orange, like tendrils of lava that had escaped a bedside lamp. There were barrel sponges so big I could not have wrapped my arms completely around them and table coral with a diameter bigger than a trampoline!

Along one of the ships rails, I spotted a nudibranch an inch long - black as coal, with bright white knobs and a thin edge of white outlining its frilly hem. (Matthew 6:25-34) The more closely I looked, the more beautiful details I saw. And the more beauty I saw, the more I hungered to see. It was like getting a glimpse of the wonder of God, and suddenly nothing else compared and I only wanted more.

What wonders had escaped my view this time? What creatures and beauties remained hidden to me?

I glanced at my gauge and noticed that my air was at 1000 psi. It was time to get back to the ascent rope and leave this underwater sanctuary behind. I wasn’t ready to go yet. There was still so much to see. So much to explore. At five meters we hovered for our deco stop and my mind tried desperately to hold onto the images and the experience, but already I could feel the details beginning to fade. Back up in the dinghy, I was quiet. Still stunned and amazed by the sunken masterpiece hidden below.

Please note that none of these photos are our own.  We did not have our camera on this dive, so have tried to give credit where credit is due for the fantastic shots I found on good ole Google.


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