Checking out the wreck of a Japanese Zero fight shot down in 1944
I have been diving the wrecks of Truk Lagoon for many years—living in Guam makes this a fairly easy haul. All these trips were on scuba, but my friends, James Benito and Madeline Bresnahan, and I have always talked about freediving these famous wrecks.
Specifically, the wrecks we have always wanted to freedive and shoot were the Kensho Maru, Shikoku Maru, and the Fujikawa Maru. These three wrecks are some of the most iconic dives in the lagoon, and they are also all relatively shallow. The depth, water conditions, and awesome state of preservation make these perfect freediving targets.
The magical experience of freediving Truk’s wrecks captured in a short film
The Shoot Begins on Fujikawa Maru
We started on the Fujikawa. The plan was to start by the bow gun, which is roughly 35–40 feet deep, to stretch the lungs and get some warm-up dives in to prepare for our main goal—to get into the second hold with the airplanes.
We hit the water and were promptly greeted by a school of jacks and a nice blacktip shark on the bow. The bow has some nice artifacts and it also attracts schools of bigger fish, so it was a great place to start filming. After doing a number of dives on the bow, we dropped into the first cargo hold. The idea was to practice and prepare for our ultimate objective in the second hold. The first hold is roughly 80 feet deep, which we knew to be a little shallower than the second. We ran repeated dives into the hold until we were confident we were ready to go for our prize.
The school of jacks we encountered on the Fujikawa
One of our warm-up dives in the first hold
Hitting the water, we plunged down into the yawning darkness of the second hold. When entering the cargo holds as a freediver, you notice the silence. We had dove the days before on scuba, where you hear your breathing and all of your buddies, but on a breath hold, it was a completely different experience: Entering the cargo hold, we were greeted with absolute silence. It was overwhelming and much more intimate than on scuba.
When entering the second cargo hold with the airplane parts, I was overcome with awe as we had only visited this hold on scuba before. I wanted to put myself on the far side of the cargo hold to capture my buddy James hovering over the Zero and looking at the pieces below. Once backed up to the wall and waiting for James to come through the hold, there was about three seconds that seemed to last forever. I felt frozen in time as I looked around and took in the eerie silence while staring at complete chaos and destruction.
The famous Japanese Zero inside the second hold
Cargo hold selfie!
This is what makes Truk Lagoon so special
Interlude on a Japanese Zero
After doing some dives on the Fujikawa, we headed over to the Japanese Zero to get some natural light shots with some color and do some shallower dives. This is a popular dive just off Eten Island. It is pretty shallow, at only 30 feet deep, and divers often snorkel this small wreck in-between their first and second dives.
Madeline dove down, and we explored this intact Zero. Surrounded by coral and sand channels, it was absolutely breathtaking. The shallow depth allows plenty of natural light and it was a completely different experience than the dark and dramatic holds on the Fujikawa. There are a lot of aircraft in Truk Lagoon, so if you are an aviation enthusiast you will have a blast!
The Zero is a perfect stop between dives
Exploring the Kensho Maru
After exploring the Zero, we were finally on our way to the Kensho Maru, which is the wreck I wanted to shoot most. The Kensho is one of the most underrated dives in Truk. She sits almost perfectly upright in fairly shallow water. Her exterior is an explosion of rainbow-colored soft corals and fish: If this were just a reef, it would be one of the best reef dives in Micronesia! She is much more than a reef, though; her interior is wide open and she has some amazing opportunities for easy penetration.
I had planned a specific shot on this wreck in my head for about two years. My concept was a freediver coming through the skylight and entering the engine room. After entering the skylight, it’s almost a spiritual experience inside the wreck. You can feel the history around you. It’s calming and overwhelming at the same time. This is what makes Truk so special—the feeling that history has been frozen in time and you can reach out and touch it.
The engine room of the Kensho Maru
The open access and relatively shallow depth make this a great freedive
It took James and me a few dives to get coordinated for the shot. Any time you are penetrating a wreck, it requires planning, but doing it on a single breath is even more intense. We did a dive outside to make sure we had the right skylight we wanted to enter in and once inside, where he would be positioned and where I was going to go.
Going straight up and down is a lot easier than navigating inside the wreck and swimming to a specific area. We decided I would go first and tuck myself on the far side of the room and James would then enter and get to the gangway, which is a shot we had done before on scuba. Outside, the ship was murky and the visibility was not very forgiving, however, once inside we could see each other clearly. The dive was nerve-wracking for our safety diver Madeline on the surface, as once we were about 35 feet down, she couldn’t see us anymore—let alone see the wreck.
Our goal for this shoot was to do a short film on freediving these three ships, but in the end we were not able to shoot the Shinkoku. Well, maybe next time!
The jacks on the first dives
Diving above the massive deck gun on the Fujikawa
About the Author: Currently residing in Guam, Chase Weir has been filming underwater for about six years. He started his production company Liquid Soul Industries in 2011, and since then he has worked on various projects, including for GoPro and the BBC, as well as being featured in a number of magazines. Check out Chase’s work on Instagram and YouTube.