THE ADVENTURES TO BE EXPERIENCED in exploring the mysterious Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon are unparalleled. Home to what are among the best-preserved shipwrecks in the world, the lagoon remains one of the undersea wonders of the world.
From the moment visiting divers break the surface of the clear blue Pacific water and descend to one of the 70-plus wrecks that dot the seabed, they are captivated by this underwater museum.
I had come to the Micronesian islands of Chuuk to take advantage of rebreather technology and explore many of the less-dived or undived wrecks in the deeper waters of Truk Lagoon. But following a deep morning dive, each afternoon was spent exploring the lagoons many shallow wrecks, including the most famous and most dived.
Our group of more than 20 international divers were armed with APD Inspiration and Evolution closed-circuit rebreathers, which allowed us to extend our bottom times even on the shallower wreck sites. By optimising the gas we breathed, we could see under water in one week what would take an open-circuit diver five. We could spend two to three hours exploring a shallow wreck with little, if any, decompression!
Every wreck in Truk has its own character, making it difficult to pick out one over another. Most have cargoes consisting of tons of munitions.
For almost 25 years no one was allowed to dive here, because of the risk of setting off any of these thousands of unexploded bombs.
Today, after lengthy reclamation work, the shallow waters allow recreational divers to see no fewer than 40 ships, as well as submerged aircraft. You cant explore them all on a visit, but with a rebreather you can certainly enjoy some quality in-water time.
For me two sister-ships sunk in the lagoon, the Momokawa Maru and Nippo Maru, stood out as fine examples of classic wreck dives. Both were modern five-hold assenger/cargo ships, but it was the well-preserved engine-rooms that did it for me.
Many of the Japanese vessels sunk in Truk during World War Two belonged to the Imperial merchant fleet - Maru means merchant.
The Momokawa Maru lies on its port side from 24-40m depth. Much of its cargo of aircraft parts and engines has fallen to what was the left wall of each hold.
The wreck is wholly intact, and access to the engine-room is via the skylights on top of the superstructure or through any of the open doors on the stern decks, along the internal passageways and past the galley until you find the doors leading down to the room itself.
Dropping through the skylight above, divers feel as if they are parachuting effortlessly through the darkness to the lower levels, passing the gantry walkways the Japanese crew once used.
As with many of the Truk wrecks, the intact engine-rooms provide a valuable lesson in engineering history.
Anyone who has explored a well-broken steamship and departed wondering what was where and what did what can spend more than an hour inside an intact engine-room and see everything as it once was.
Cage-like open doorways lead you into workshops located in the far corners of the engine-rooms, with their workbenches with vices and tools still in place.
For several of the avid wreck-divers in our group, the engine-room inside the Nippo Maru, a wreck that lies in 27-50m, was an awe-inspiring diving experience. Here lamps still hang by their cord from the ceilings and, although the wreck lists to port, you
can maintain a sense of direction.
Huge electrical sub-boxes are visible, as well as advanced evaporators, telegraphs and all manner of machinery that powered these massive steam engines. Steam gauges can clearly be read, albeit in Japanese. They are fixed to panels alongside dozens of others, all with tiny pipework that winds its way around the engines themselves.
The Nippo Maru was discovered by a Jacques Cousteau expedition in 1969, but the 40 years that have passed since then have blessed the wreck with that deep red rusticle appearance that makes you think you are inside an historic wreck thousands of feet down.
Divers lacking buoyancy skills are likely to stir up the years of sediment that lightly covers the internal workings and passageways of these fabulous wrecks. As the Nippo Maru is almost vertical, the mid-day suns rays are forced through the skylights, so that looking up from the lower levels of the engine-room, you can see the gantry walkways fabulously silhouetted above.
On the opposite side of the bulkheads you find cargo holds filled with artillery shells, radio sets, medical supplies, bottles, mines, detonators, barrels - and those gas masks that make for iconic Truk Lagoon images.
On the decks outside, a Japanese battle tank has slipped to the port side, while howitzer guns with their splinter shields grace the aft decks.
A single helm telemotor and lone telegraph, still bolted to the decks, give a ghostly appearance inside an intact bridge deck.

The Federal States of Micronesia is the collective name for the various island groups in the central Pacific, of which Chuuk is one. The islands lie east of the international dateline and halfway between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator.
With an area of 825 square miles, Truk is one of the biggest lagoons in the world, and was an important strategic command post for the Japanese during WW2. In February 1944, the Allies launched a massive air strike from nine aircraft-carriers that surrounded the lagoon. This was Operation Hailstone.
Their adversaries were caught out by the attack, which would become known as the Japanese Pearl Harbour. We were diving the remnants.
The most dived wreck in Truk is the magnificent Fujikawa Maru. At between 12 and 35m deep, its perfect for an opening dive. Famously, its forward hold contains a cargo of Zero fighter parts, as well as a complete aircraft, its cockpit open and dials exposed.
Down below, in the engine-room workshop, divers are greeted by the iconic image of an air compressor, photographed many times because of its Star Wars R2-D2 appearance. Alongside it is a workbench, again with open vices and a draw of tools open. The shelves above are filled with spare parts of all types. Narrow passageways between the pipework lead to the lower engine-room spaces.
Because of the shallow depth, marine growth has created a world of its own on the Fujikawa, with beautiful candelabra sponges growing luxuriantly on the bow, and an abundance of life swimming among colourful anemones.
The holds are large and well-lit, and the water is so clear that new divers can explore inside this wreck without losing sight of the surface.
The magnificent amidships section contains the main bridge and accommodation areas. The fact that the smokestack remains proves that there is little, if any, water flow in the lagoon.
A favourite of many divers is the Hoki Maru, if only for its interesting cargo of vehicles. In hold 5 at the stern, there are Japanese-made bulldozers, prime movers, trucks, tractors and even a diesel roller. The trucks are standard Isuzu type 94s, neatly packed and lightly covered in fine silt, which is easily disturbed. Photographers need to be first inside to capture this unusual cargo.
They will also be attracted to the broken amidships section, which supports an amazing quantity of red, pink, yellow and orange alcyonarians, accompanied by enormous crinoids that make the wreck look like an extravagant Mardi Gras celebration.

Enter through the engine-room, where youll see a complicated mess from the horrific damage. If youre inquisitive youll soon find yourself at the lower levels, as recognisable as any intact engine-room on a Truk wreck.
Most divers explore the stern, the most intact and recognisable section, and where most of the visually interesting cargo can be found.
The main aft mast still stands proud, and an excellent way to pass deco time is to follow it to the surface and enjoy the incredible explosion of colours from the marine growth that jam-packs every square centimetre.
Depth is 24m to the Hoki Marus deck, but be careful - the seabed around the upright vessel is at around 56m.
Aircraft shot out of the sky in February 1944 lie mostly in shallow depths, and these wrecks make for an excellent third or fourth dive of the day. They take only minutes to explore, so guides are happy to stop the boats on the way back to the dive shop and drop anchor over them.
Some lie upside-down, such as the unknown Zero off the north-east end of Eten Island in only 3-4m. Although heavily coated in coral, its machine-guns can be seen protruding from the wings, and the engines and propellers are also plain to see. Eten provided the main runway for the Japanese kamikaze fighters, as well as larger bombers, and off either end of the runway that drops into the ocean interesting wreckage can be explored.
Known as the Betty Bomber, a Mitsubishi attack plane lies in only 15m off the south-west of the island and is a visually interesting dive. There is little marine growth on the aluminium external skin of the aircraft, and the nose section has torn away, while the engines lie some distance away. A guide will gladly point them out.
At the other end of the runway we explored the Kate Bomber, rarely visited by divers. At 35m it took our guide some time to find it, but when he had secured a line it proved to be a treat.
A friend had mentioned this wreck to me before I left home, explaining that it was perhaps one of the most intact and upright torpedo-bombers in the lagoon.
He was right. The fine layer of silt that covered the wreck showed that it had not been disturbed by divers in a long time. It is in pristine condition, and you can see the instrument panel and control column, as well as the rear-facing machine-gun.
Observant divers will even notice the bullet-holes in the fuselage.
Not far from the Blue Lagoon dive resort is another wreck site that I found incredibly interesting. This is the Shinohara, the Japanese submarine I-169! Although extensively damaged on the bow and foreship during Operation Hailstone, it makes for an excellent dive. How often do you get to explore a sunken Japanese submarine
There is an explosion of colours from the coral that grows on the wreck. Open hatches appear very inviting, but beware - divers have become trapped inside this wreck. Before exploring I-169, read a little of its history. Involvement in the Pearl Harbour attacks and the events surrounding its loss at Truk add to its intrigue.
Our expedition was land-based at the Blue Lagoon resort and dive shop, where the guys set up a dedicated area in which we could prepare and maintain our rebreathers. Each day six divers per boat would take 15-20 minutes at most to reach the dive site, and if a liveaboard had moored up on a site for the day, we would just dart off to another one.
The Blue Lagoon was geared up to supply divers with oxygen and diluents for the rebreathers, and the staffs vast experience and knowledge of the wreck sites, many of which they had discovered over the years, meant that any wreck we wished to dive was on the cards.
The other advantage of being land-based was that when we were not diving, our guides could use the little boats to take us to the different islands and into the jungle to explore Japanese buildings and mountain gun stations that had stood frozen in time since Operation Hailstone, 64 years ago.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Fly from the UK to Manila in the Philippines, connect to Guam and get a Continental Air Micronesia flight from there.
DIVING & ACCOMMODATION: Blue Lagoon Dive Resort, www.bluelagoondiveresort.com / www.truk-lagoon-dive.com.
MONEY: US dollar, credit cards.
LANGUAGE: English widely spoken.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. Truk is just outside the typhoon belt. The wetter season runs from July to October.
PRICES: Blue Lagoon Dive Resort offers a standard package of six nights room-only accommodation and 10 guided dives for US $873 per head, two sharing. Flights start from around £1260
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.visit-fsm.org/chuuk