Stuck in Truk

April 12, 2020  •  1 Comment

Isolating in Truk Lagoon

Scenario

Due to CV-19 Truk Lagoon is closed; the home of worlds greatest wreck diving. Tourists have all departed, the lagoon is virus free, you are the captain of a luxury liveaboard dive boat and it is fully laden with fuel and supplies to last months. The wrecks are all to yourself. What do you do? This is exactly the position I was in and didn't go diving! At least not at first. So how did I end up here?

Background

I spent the better part of January in Japan enjoying my yearly ski holiday while intently following  the development of CV-19. By the time I was ready to leave Japan and head back to my captain job on the Truk Odyssey in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) the virus was beginning to go global. The FSM took a defensive measure early on and adopted one of the strictest travel bans in the world making it difficult for me to return to work in Chuuk. I was required to quarantine for 14 days in a country or territory with no current cases of CV-19 before being allowed in. At the time, Guam had zero cases so I held up there for a few weeks before boarding a flight bound for Truk Lagoon. Upon arrival a small team greeted me wearing masks and acting official and intense. My temperature was taken and I was asked a few questions  about my health. After noting a normal temperature the officer inspected my passport where it was deemed I was 60 minutes short of my quarantine. Yes, 60 minutes! I was briskly escorted away to the VIP room for one more hour of isolation. In actuality, I was 14 days 6 hours in quarantine. After making a protest and demonstrating how many days I was in Guam by counting on my fingers and toes, the examiner said I was free to go. 


I finally returned to Truk Lagoon but, with the absence of my charges. I had a skeleton crew to help maintain the vessel with enough food for a nuclear winter. My days were spent supervising boat projects, tending to personal chores and discovering "Zoom" but, not diving. I'm not fully sure why I hesitated to get in the water. Maybe it was my obligations to the Odyssey that kept me away. Or was it solidarity to my dive friends around the world who were bunkered in their homes and couldn't dive? Maybe it was melancholy festering from an uncertain future at the hands of this killer pandemic. I really can't say for sure but, I snapped out of this momentary lapse of reason and eventually returned to what I love; diving and photography. I didn't see the harm in it and maybe the images I would take would motivate those in isolation and inspire them to look forward to returning to the activities that give life purpose.

Back to Diving

The issue of diving alone for me was not a problem. Trying to set up shots with other divers in the vicinity can be challenging so solo diving is preferred. After a busy day working on the boat, I Shanghai'd Odyssey crew member, Madison Aisek to drive me to a wreck in our tender. After loading up a single set of doubles, a deco bottle and my camera gear we raced across the Lagoon in search of one of the dozens of wrecks to choose from. There was plenty of local boat traffic going to and from town. Without the virus present it was business as usual here. With the exception of a few who are employed in the tourist industry, most haven't been feeling the economic crush as of yet.  After arriving it was as simple as rolling off the back of the boat and dropping down to the wreck beneath me. However, the solitude felt different this time. Knowing I was likely the only diver in the water in the entire lagoon was simultaneously exhilarating and eerie. (They don't call them the "Ghost Ships of Truk Lagoon" for no reason). Within a minute of my first descent a pair of spotted eagle rays swam directly toward me on the Kensho Maru. It was as if they were coming over to say hello and ask me, "where did everyone go". Once they tired of me it was time to get down to business. Photographing the engine rooms of the wrecks is often challenging due to other divers creating silt and thus reducing visibility. So that's where I went. On this day there was no one else to blame but myself if the vis went bad. The experience of having no concerns for other divers was relaxing. So much so I nearly forgot to check my instruments. During and then immediately after the dive I felt a sense of relief and satisfaction. What ever wrinkles there were on my soul they were ironed out. While feeling euphoric I asked myself again, "why did it take you nearly a month before getting back in the water?" Since then I have been diving nearly every day but only one dive per day. I plan to keep doing so until it is time to leave Chuuk. 

Afterword

At first I believed the travel restrictions and the reaction to CV-19 were too strict in the FSM. It didn't take long before the facts behind CV-19 became apparent to me and that it was far more destructive than I understood. I also realized my knowledge of infectious diseases and how to combat them was poor. The progressive leaders of the FSM had hindsight and prudence creating the travel ban for their vulnerable island nation. Knowing Chuuk and the FSM as I do, CV-19 would have wreaked havoc on a scale surpassing that of the outside world. The Chuukese people live in tight quarters with many family members under one roof. Practicing social distancing would be nearly impossible never mind counter to their culture. Then add a dysfunctional and ill-prepared medical system as well as a society with numerous pre-existing conditions such as diabetes. It would be a recipe for disaster. 


As of the writing of this blog, the FSM is now closed to all flights including residents desiring to return home. The country is receiving aid to prepare for the arrival of the virus when the doors are reopened. The date when this will happen is not known at this time. Once it is safe to travel again, I will consider boarding a plane and flying 7000 miles through 4 different airports for more than 30 hours. Till then, you know where to find me. 

I am hoping all of you come through these tough times healthy, happy and ready to tackle the problems this pandemic has created. Despite my apparent enjoyment diving solo in Truk I look forward to taking you diving here and elsewhere. If anyone would like to join me in Truk Lagoon or beyond please visit the "Travel" drop down menu at the top of this page. This to shall pass and we will all be traveling and diving again soon.

Join Mike in Truk Lagoon on board the Odyssey. 

Click Here!

Photo Descriptions Top Down

•The Kensho Maru engine room highlighting the telegraph and gen set. 

•The Shinkoku Maru upper engine room.

•A section of the control room of the Kiyosumi Maru. 

•The engine room of the Kensho Maru.
 


Comments

Mike Mesgleski(non-registered)
Considering the circumstances, you have a tremendous opportunity. Glad you are sharing with the rest of us. Stay safe and keep sending these amazing photos.
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