July 14, 2000
Jonathan Bird - Director of Photography
I arrived on Kwajalein on the 11th, but had to wait a few days to get in the water. Expedition Leader Tom Krasuski and I had a few things to do before we could get the boat in the water. Our craft, the trusty "Spare Time" is a 1986 24 foot Grady White with a pair of new Honda 4-stroke 90 HP outboards. The boat was set up for fishing and we needed to add a few gadgets, not the least of which was a ladder to get back in!
Yesterday, Assistant Photographer Greg Brunshidle and Wreck Historian Mark Miller arrived. After getting settled into their accomodations, the four of us gathered our gear and prepared for a couple days of preliminary diving. Basically, we planned a few days to get to know the wrecks we're shooting, and plan the shots we need.
Finally this morning we got out on the water. Tom had been out to find some of the wrecks last week and put mooring buoys on them so we could spend less time searching for the wrecks and more time actually diving them. Our first wreck of the day was the Akibasan Maru, a 375 foot long freighter built in 1924 with five cargo holds. The wreck is sitting perfectly upright on the bottom, and looks just as you might expect a wreck to appear. Tom put a buoy on it last week, so we pretty much just cruised right up to it, tied off, and jumped in. Mark led the dive and took us on a tour of the wreck, pointing out the massive mast, gear winches on the deck and old Japanese bottles in the hold. He also showed us a pair of wings for a biplane in the hold at 130 feet. Their fabric covering had long since departed, but the rest of their structure seemed sound--almost good enough to use! The depth of the wreck and the fact that we were diving air today meant a very short dive without going into decompression, so we ascended, did a 5 minute safety stop at 15 feet and surfaced.
Our second wreck was not as easy. The Shoei Maru did not have a buoy, so we had to use reported land alignments and a depth sounder to find her. With incredible luck, we found the wreck in less than 10 minutes, dropped anchor and went in. Built in 1919 in England, this 332 foot military freighter was bought by Japanese interests and eventually pressed into military service bringing war supplies to the bases. When the attack on Kwajalein occurred, a U.S. bomb hit the Shoei Maru, which was full of munitions. The resulting explosion actually blew the stern right off the ship. It sank quickly. The stern now lies next to the rest of the ship. Mark took us straight to the sand at the base of the wreck in 140 feet of water. This ship is upside-down, and not much to look at without getting inside. But, going under and into the wreck we immediately found the Japanese version of a Jeep in one of the holds.
We buoyed the wreck so we can find it again tomorrow and continue our shooting. Then we surfaced for some lunch and a trip over to check out the famous Prinz Eugen, a 697 foot German heavy cruiser which was captured and used as one of the test subjects of the atomic blast at Bikini. It didn't sink, so they towed it to Kwajalein, where it finally did sink. Although not related to the battle of Kwajalein, the wreck is famous as one of the largest divable military ships in the world, and the stern still sticks up out of the water. We plan on diving it later next week. We spent some time also looking for the Ikuta Maru. We have land-alignment coordinates for it but no GPS, so we had to search the hard way--with a depth finder. After about an hour we gave up, and decided to try again tomorrow. We were unable to locate the wreck. Mark assures us that this wreck is worth finding, so we'll keep looking. Check back tomorrow for the next adventure!!