July 15, 2000
Jonathan Bird - Director of Photography
Today we were once again planning on locating and surveying wrecks we planned to shoot. We're trying to get them all marked with buoys so we can find them fast. Also, I want to see them for myself so I can plan the shots I want and figure out how to shoot them. Mark will be searching for artifacts and interesting historical goodies to help us tell the story.
The day started with a flurry of activity, as we loaded the "Spare Time" at 8:00 AM. Today was the first day we started shooting surface scenes, so in exchange for shooting all the guys loading the boat, I didn't have to lift tanks. It was a pretty fair trade though. I worked up quite a sweat in the hot steamy morning heat hefting that camera of ours. This place is pretty darned warm. It's not the heat you know, it's the humidity.
We pushed off the dock at 8:30 and started out towards the Shoei Maru. We had no problem finding her since we put a buoy on her yesterday. The ocean was absolutely dead flat calm, with not a whisper of wind. It looked like a pond. This is great for diving, but when the boat comes to a stop, so does the breeze. On the plus side, the wreck is only five minutes from the dock. I can get used to this. Quite a difference from North Carolina wreck diving.
Before diving, I needed to get some shots of Tom and Mark (our two main on-camera divers) gearing up. So they geared up and hopped in the water while I filmed and Greg (also affectionately known as "Gator") ran sound. Then Gator and I geared up while Mark and Tom waited. The lack of wind and hot sun made the top layer of water so warm it was actually uncomfortable in a wetsuit.
At the wreck, we divided into two teams. Gator and Mark went on a little recon mission to locate the Japanese Cha28 sub-chaser wreck which is several hundred yards off the stern of the Shoei. Using the Shoei as a starting point, Mark hoped to locate the sub-chaser for some cool interior shots. While they were off doing that, Tom and I went to the bottom of the Shoei to shoot a couple scenes of the Japanese "jeep" and the biplane wreck on the ocean floor next to the wreck. We completed these scenes in a reasonable amount of time and managed to get back to the safety stop without going into decompression. Gator and Mark had less luck. Swimming hard in the direction of the place where Mark believed the Cha28 to lie, they ran out of bottom time before finding her. All this deep diving is often aggravating. I'm used to working in water less than 100 feet deep where there is sufficient bottom time to actually use an entire scuba tank of air. This is different. We regrouped at the surface and decided we would try using our scooter to find it on another day.
After lunch, we headed out to locate the Ikuta Maru, a 307 foot gunboat which was converted from a freighter. This vessel has an impressive array of armaments, including at least six 5-inch guns. It lies at 180 feet, on the left side. We would not descend to 180, but try to keep the dive around 130-140 feet. This is the deepest wreck we will be visiting on the trip. It's depth proved to be a giant pain in the butt, because I am not fond of decompression diving. But first we had to find her.
Using some approximate GPS coordinates and the depth sounder, we got lucky and hooked up with the Ikuta Maru in only a few minutes. We dropped anchor, let out a lot of scope and geared up. As we dove to the wreck, we noticed that we managed to drop the anchor right on the hull. It was sitting there, hung on nothing, with a large pile of rope on top of it. The wind was so still that the anchor didn't even need to dig in!
The structure is very impressive. The massive guns make great photo subjects and the holds are eerie to swim through because they are all sideways. Swimming into one of the cavernous holds, I turned and looked back out into the blue and just hung there. Then I checked my dive computer and decided to pick up the pace. On the way back up we put a buoy on the wreck so we can return later and start shooting. At the same time we were visited by a small Gray Reef shark, our first shark of the trip. I'm hoping to see a lot more up on Roi-Namur next week. We headed back to the dock and arrived just in time for the clouds to roll in and dump a huge amount of rain on us for about 30 minutes. It was an absolute downpour. We delighted in the cool rain and stood around getting rained on while we cleaned all the gear. Tomorrow we plan on visiting two more wrecks.