Thursday, 29 April 2010

First Dip

Our dive guide, Drop Tank (as he became known later, after a potentially life-threatening balls-up), sat at the front of the small speedboat as we headed away from the resort on a glorious morning, bound for the Fujikawa. He was a big fella who didn't say much, content to sit and spit red betel nut juice into the sea at regular intervals. Our briefing for the first dive could be described as thin, or could be described as a joke; when guiding on the wrecks in Coron, we're aware of each diver's experience, and tailor the dive accordingly. We'll show a diagram of the wreck, explain precisely where we're going and indicate points of interest. There's a plan, and we stick to it...so the divers feel confident in our ability. Drop Tank was clueless, and got worse by the dive.

He told us the depth of the wreck, and which end was the bow and which the stern; then explained we'd enter through a hole made by a torpedo entry. That was it. Fair enough, we tumbled backwards into the water and dropped to the wreck. Regrouping by the jagged metal wound, we entered the ship. Drop Tank and Dean's American mate, Dave, just vanished; H disappeared too, after realising Drop Tank was useless and deciding she'd dive alone; myself and two experienced Aussie lads, Steve and Donk, went looking around on our own, too.

The wreck was no disappointment. The ships I work on in Coron have been stripped, and only the Irako retains much in the way of interesting artifacts, as she was too deep to salvage at the time. My first view of Truk's made my heart leap: a tank on the bow; bullets and shells throughout the holds; pieces of Zero fighter planes in the forward holds; intact bridges; radio rooms; saki bottles and old Japanese manuscripts. These wrecks are fascinating. If only the American salvagers in the 60s, and free-diving Filipino locals had had the foresight to leave Coron's wrecks well alone, the dive industry there would be far bigger than it is, and the town would have prospered through it. It's a real pity. One dive in, and I was wondering how I'd feel about going back to diving empty shells, compared to these history capsules.

Drop Tank got no better. He'd led the five of us to the engine room of the Fujikawa, which gets tighter and tighter as you follow the walkways and encrusted rails deeper into the ship. As we got to the end, Drop Tank and Dave had to come back on themselves on the other side of a small railing: he'd led us into a cul-de-sac, and we were all now trying to stay neutrally buoyant without kicking up the silt and reducing the visibilty to zero: the last thing you want in the engine room of a dark wreck 34 metres below the surface. They managed to squeeze past us and head out, leaving myself and Donk at the back in a cloud of rust and silt. Great.

On surfacing, H gave me a What the fuck was that all about? look, and the Aussies didn't seem so impressed with our guide's performance, either. Allied with the fact that we'd asked Drop Tank to stick with Dave, who is partially disabled and therefore a little more vulnerable than the rest of us, and this had been ignored, we came to a mutual conclusion: we were diving these wrecks on our own from now on. No more engine-room bun-fights for us.

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