fumitsuki maru

6 March 2010 13:45:00 AEDT

Fumitsuki Maru

Chuuk Lagoon, The Carolines; 1996

'Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.' - Yukio Mishima (Runaway Horses)


"What time did he say he was pickin us up?"


"What time is it now?"

"Twenty past...give it another 5 minutes"

I only had one day here in Port Weno, defacto capital of the Chuuk Islands, about 1500 kilometres west of Pohnpei. The whole island group was wrapped up in a beautiful atoll with surfable reef passes on every point of the compass. The truth was that surfing wasn’t even on the radar in Port Weno. In 1944 the Japanese Pacific Fleet had meet their Waterloo here when the Us Navy caught them at rest and put everything on the bottom. 3000 Japanese sailors and over a hundred US airmen called the cipher blue waters of the shallow lagoon their final resting place. With around 50 ships and about 300 planes within 20-30 metres of water, the whole lagoon was a popular drawcard for divers.

I had picked out a great reef set up on the western reach of the atoll that looked like a reverse version of Sultans in the Maldives. So it came to be that the only way to get a boat across to the other side of the atoll was to hitch one with a dive trip. The Fumitsuki Maru was a line Japanese destroyer that took down 10 US Aircraft trying to race for the reef passage in '44, she went down with three air launched torpedoes in her side – went down with all hands. The wreck was in less than 50 feet of water and lay right next to the reef pass we wanted to surf - we signed up for the trip immediately.

A minute later, Martine and his dive tender rounded into the harbour. A dozen fully dressed dive tourists sat lined on either side of the boat ready to enter the water. I could tell from their body language that they were pissed off to have to stop to pick up two surfers. Martine welcomed us heartily and had to help us lower the boards down himself, the divers acted as though the whole thing was an inconvenience for them. They were all French, as Martine motored out across the lagoon at speed I saw one of the guys screaming into his ear something about this not turning into a surf trip...something about they booked a dive trip, blah blah. We found this all pretty amusing and I tightened up the screws in my fins to try and make it look just as technical as diving gear.

Martine dropped us near the pass and motored back a little into the lagoon for the dive. The two of us were in heaven here. There was a tongue of reef to the north and one to the south - it was all breaking pretty straight on there but here in the middle there was a small reef inset a little into the lagoon with a left and right breaking to the north and south of it...just like Sultans.

We rode it for an hour on a falling tide. Every wave an easy fattish take off that double shuffled into third gear as soon as it cleared into the lagoon on the shoaling reef. The inside section turned out be pretty technical, a 50 yard speed section that I never really wired before forming into a nice slow peeler that straightened into a steep blue wall - shutting down onto coral rock 200 yards down the line. I stopped catching them all the way inside after I came off mid speed section and spend the next 10 minutes duck diving into coral. The tide kept falling and pretty soon most waves just surged over a marginal edge of reef. We decided to call it a day and paddled back into the lagoon towards the boat. The low tide had opened up a novelty straight hander over a massive edge of red brain coral. I sat perched on the nose of my board looking left and right like a hawk for any tell tale boils or shallow patches. By the time I kicked off into deep lagoon water I had covered 300 yards, the rest of the paddle to the boat took only a few minutes.

Back on the boat the last of the pairs were coming up from the dive. I grabbed a mask and checked it from the surface. The bow of the Fumitsuki pointed slightly upwards less than 10 metres from the surface. The rest of the ship was laid out on a white sloping bank of sand that dipped blue around midships. The back of the ship had been broken and the stern dropped away into the deep blue black of oblivion. Some of the couples excitedly showed us the shots from their cameras. 5-inch gun mounts frozen in coral growth - ejected brass casings stacked up next to them. Sad photos of an empty bridge, windows imploded from some massive unseen impact. Matt black interior sprayed in orange and red coral bloom, the light fluorescent blue of corrosion over perfectly polished marine brass.

Back on deck the last of the diving couples came into the boat. The late 20's female in the group jumped around excitedly at some object in her hand. Taking off her mask she became nearly hysterical and started to wave it around. A thin chain with an attached copper disk - dog tags. The male in their pair held a yellowish plate, a saucer with the Imperial Japanese crest upon it. The dog tags passed around the boat and the plate went the other way. When the tags hit me I held then in my hand gently and studied the round oval disk. Eight characters had been meticulously punched out in two columns of four.

"Did you take them from around his neck?"

Martine conveniently fiddled with some gauge on the motor and the older couples looked away at their photos.

The Frenchman got up and snatched them back out of my hand.

We sat by ourselves on the ride back to port. I watched the diver push the dog tags deep into his bag and sit there staring at the plate in his hands, he soon put that away too. After about 5 minutes the woman with him started to cry. The afternoon glass off was on us now and the lagoon took on an eerie oily sheen. I could make out the shapes of great broken warships on the bottom as we passed over them...soft dark shapes sliding like velvet amongst the coral.

-AJJ Waldie-

Story 3 of 365 (362 stories and 362 days to go)

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