My time aboard the Odyssey:
After thawing myself out after returning from Ohio, I found myself packing up for one last international journey. This time I was on my way to spend a month in Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia working as a crewmember aboard the M/V Odyssey, a world-class live-aboard specialising in the wrecks of Truk Lagoon. Chuuk is the smallest of the four island states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia (formerly known as the Caroline Islands). Originally a German colony, control over the lagoon was turned over to the Japanese after world war one. During the Second World War the Japanese turned the small group of islands into a seemingly impenetrable fortress, using it as a staging point for almost all of the Empire’s naval activity in the Pacific.
On February 17-18, 1944 an American naval task force launched an attack on the lagoon, sinking over 50 ships and destroying 270 Japanese aircraft, turning Chuuk into the Mecca of wreck diving. Divers flock to Chuuk to see the largest and one of the most well-preserved and accessible collections of world war two era shipwrecks in the world. As one of the premier live-aboard vessels in the world, the Odyssey is one the most popular diving operations in Chuuk.
I was fortunate enough to meet Cliff Horton and Lenny Kolczynski and Cara Leonard of the Odyssey at DEMA in October. They invited me to spend some time with them to gain some practical experience working on a live-aboard. Captain Lenny and Todd Emmons, the second captain and dive instructor picked me up from the airport and after running a few errands brought me on board the boat that was to be my home for the next 28 days. Life on board the Odyssey could be tiring, difficult and hectic, but ultimately rewarding and exciting and extremely educational. Lenny, Todd, Mike, Madison, Ken, Kent, Sam, Jesse, Mika, Nelson, Emeren, Kermi and everyone else I worked with onboard were incredibly enthusiastic and friendly when it came to teaching me about boats, diving, running a business and the history and culture of Chuuk. Right off the plane I was learning about generators, water makers, marine diesels, compressors and boosters, moorings and almost every other aspect of owning, operating and maintaining a diving vessel. I also began my education in the fascinating history and disposition of some of Chuuk’s most popular wrecks.
The wrecks in Chuuk are beyond belief. Diving them is probably the closest thing to time travel I will ever experience. These ships were sunk in the heat of battle and it’s still obvious. The decks and wheelhouses are littered with artefacts. Deep within the holds and engine rooms, gauges, machinery and tools lie as if their previous owners had just stopped in the middle of a job and walked away. It’s especially eerie to be working on the engines or compressors aboard the Odyssey, then go diving and see some of the exact same equipment down below the surface in the wrecks.
My experience was immersive, intense and immensely enjoyable. For the next three weeks I tagged along on guided dives, trying to memorize as much of the gargantuan wrecks’ layouts as possible, repaired moorings, became a compressor and blending pro and met some very fun and interesting guests. However, My fourth week on the Odyssey would be my true test. Todd would be taking a week off from most of his duties while friends and family came to visit, and it would be up to me to fill the gaps. With only three weeks under my belt as a member of the crew, I was a little nervous about giving dive briefings and assuming responsibility for entire groups of divers, but with some friendly pointers from Todd and help from the rest of the crew I think I managed to get through my final week onboard without mishap.
Although I’m very excited about being able to spend the next month of my scholarship in the land down under, it was hard to leave Chuuk behind. The people I met, and the things I learned there will hopefully stay with me for a very long time!