Twelve of us made the trip. What follows is a brief synopsis of the twelve and their experiences in no particular order.
Steve Etsuko - Steve organised the Thorfinn, the liveaboard in Chuuk that hosted us. Pulled the group together including two individuals not of our club but from the far reaches of the world. One of those individuals, Hoho has known Steve for ever in particular when Steve was a younger fitter person hence the nickname Hoho coined for Steve. Etsuko sleeping champ of our club was no match for Hoho. Both Steve and Etsuko had been on Thorfinn several times previously.
Myself (Robert) - I organised the flights to Chuuk and accommodations in both Guam and Cairns. Given the prefix of Mac due to my frugal ways and always managing to get the best value for money deals. Did however manage to have the largest bill at the end of the trip; what went wrong? Completed 28 dives. Two of which were 62m, two others over 50m. Favourite dives were the Nippo Maru 45m, San Francisco Maru 62m, Fujikawa Maru 30m, Amagisan Maru 55m, Aikoku Maru 62m, and Shark Dive 20m. Dove* my Kiss Classic rebreather which allowed great bottom times e.g. 27 mins on the San Francisco.
Stephen T - Stephen brought his Inspiration. Bets were taken on how long it would last before it broke down. A bet that Steve P would have well and truly lost as would most of the group. He did have a weight problem and was aided by other members in bringing in parts of his equipment. One of those being Richard who will never forget the experience. Apparently Stephens's torch has the same chemical residue smells of explosives and Richard was thus detained in Guam until the all clear was given sometime later. We still wonder if a full body cavity search was required. Stephen was one of the persons that helped coin the nickname of Witch Doctor for Hoho due to his infected finger during the trip.
Richard - The pack mule of the group, the one with the least luck and the quiet stirrer. Had a pony cylinder confiscated in Cairns by an over zealous security officer due to the chemical residue the officer could smell on the cylinder, did however allow Stephen's cylinders through as the officer was thus provided with a win of sorts. Managed to get thoroughly checked in Guam due to Stephens's torch he was carrying. Also managed to slide under the radar with his stirring and nicknaming of myself, Gilles (Chippisan Keiru - explanation to follow) and Witch Doctor Hoho. May have gotten into a lot of grief with his better half due to the fact he was the only one not to buy a gift.
Jon - Accomplished the least diving due to his illness on the trip. Would take 20 mins to achieve 15m depth, however never gave up. Something that was respected by all. Was the first (guinea pig) patient of the witch doctor Hoho. Always kept his spirits up.
Simon - 'I'm allergic to beer but that can wait till we're back in Sydney'. The person we counted on to keep Sloaney company into the wee hours of the night. Had some success, then again did dive more than Sloaney.
Ben - The photographer of our group. We eagerly await the results of his photo's, but mind not whatever the result as his camera equipment did make a useful extra seat in the bus to and from the Thorfinn. Managed the most dives of our group at 29. Well done.
Gilles - aka Chippisan Keiru. Name offered by the local dive tender operators meaning small willie rainmaker. Another of the victims of Richard pack mule stirrer. When Paco the dive tender captain and guide nicknamed Chippisan, Keiru due to his ever need to take a pee after a dive onto people that were yet to emerge from their diving. Richard was very quick to add the small penis to it. However Chippisan did deserve a little ribbing as being the only Frenchman he took every opportunity to direct any stirring away from himself to others from fear the English would prevail against the French.
Roy - aka Grandpa, so nicknamed by Chippisan. Also came down with a nasty bug. Had been on the Thorfinn previously. Was glad the Chippisan was tight/wise enough to get wine duty free rather than being stuck with the swill on board.
Hoho - aka Witch Doctor. The second Aussie but from Hong Kong. Provided many with cures and remedies, namely Jon, Stephen, Roy and Chippisan. Undisputed sleeping champ of the trip. Without Hoho I fear the dive tenders would have been emptier.
Steve S - aka Sloaney. 'Who needs breakfast', 'Where's my beer'. Was the fastest to pay his deposit to join the group. Was fastest to consume his pre ordered beers. Was last to go to bed, last to get up, but quickest with the beers.
The travelling was long yet everyone did get through relatively unscathed. All the luggage turned up that was supposed to. We were met in Chuuk by some of the crew of the Thorfinn. Transported to the mother ship via tender, bags turned up well later. Welcomed by Lance the captain, who although appears to be in a drug induced semi catatonic state is a sly old bugger whose real concern is the money. After a somewhat over lengthy introduction from Lance (mainly due to him playing for time) we were allocated cabins.
Our dive tender had been damaged the previous day and so most of us were only able to get a single dive in on the first day through the use of a large dingy. For those of us on rebreathers there was also the additional nervous wait until the Sorb actually arrived on the boat. Seems Lances planning is not as clockwork as one might expect. Eventually it was great to get into the water and have that first dive. All were well and truly buggered and needed a very good nights sleep.
The second day we were on the new dive tender, which is like chalk and cheese to the little dingy like thing we had the day before. What a pleasure they were to be on. Comfortable, protected, roomy even with twelve of us on there plus three crew. An absolute joy, quick clean and efficient. Best dive tender I've every been on. The crew was also great, helpful and friendly.
The following days were pretty much a routine. Get up have breakfast at 7am, first dive 8am, second dive 11am, lunch at 12.30, third dive 2pm, fourth dive 5pm, dinner 7pm and a night dive after dinner at 8.30pm and then a couple of beers before retiring to do it all over again.
Be warned Lance charges for every extra. Example, for O2 he charges for the number of times he fills the cylinder not for the litres or cubic feet you use and the charge is hefty due to the fact they need to import the O2.
The dive sites are best described by looking at http://truk-lagoon-dive.com/Wrecks.htm this is a better website than the Thorfinn's own site. The Thorfinn's site is http://www.thorfinn.net for information about the ship itself. I would wouldn't describe the Throfinn as luxury in any way, but comfortable. The dive tenders I would describe as luxury.
The diving is all about wrecks. There is some coral and a very little fish life, seems that Chuuk lagoon is well and truly fished out. Visibility is good mostly 20m, water temp is a constant 29C, no currents. The deeper the wreck the better, in my opinion. My notable favourites were the San Francisco and the Amagisan. Great dives, great visibility and some real interesting things to see not to mention the depths.
It became a bit of a joke with the dive briefings from Paco. Seems every wreck has an engine room, sake bottles, shoes and a gun somewhere (bow, stern or both). Paco was great, would generally take anyone that wanted to follow to the engine room and any other points of interest. Paco was also able to bring out a few bones and skulls along the way to wow some of us.
I did ask Paco to take me on a shark night dive one time but he was very reluctant. I did manage to do the shark dive as the last dive of the trip during daylight hours and having now done the dive I fully understand. Lots of grey reef sharks that come very close. No cage just the sharks being fed some 3-4m away. After the feed we had a relaxed look around the area and when it came time to get back to the dive tender I realised that the sharks were slowly circling below us while we were decompressing. What's more they were ever so slowly getting bigger/closer. Made my mind up not to be the last out of the water.
On our final day we all packed, paid up and readied for our long journey back. Make a note to check you extras bill before paying, Lance has a habit of making mistakes in his favour, at least on our trip this was the case.
Farewells to the crew as they were great and our first of many flights to get back home. Chuuk check in was painless and the flight left 50mins early. All were on board and they saw no reason to stick around. First ever flight where we took off early I must admit.
Uneventful flight to Guam where we got through customs and were greeted by our hotel transfer. We checked in had a quick beer or two and then off to the Lone Star to meet up with Hoho for a meal. Now Guam is a very strange cross between the good old USA and Japan. It's pricey. A steak meal and two beers on average set us back US $60 for an OK steak.
Next day was an adventure in finding breakfast and shopping for our better halves (all except Sly Richard that is). Some of us found a very ordinary breakfast at the Hard Rock other at McDonalds. All of us found the duty free shops and some of us found Tiffany's. Bugger they should have hidden it better. Then a quick beer and some of us a bite to eat before we got our transfer back to the airport.
More searching of bags and explosives checks. We're on our way back to Cairns for a nights stop over for most. Uneventful flight arrived near midnight in Cairns. Minor issue with Ben's luggage, one went missing/left behind on the tarmac but was quickly found. Quick taxi ride to the hotel/apartment most were staying at. I stayed behind to catch some sleep while Ben, Stephen, Richard, Chippisan, Jon and Simon went for a couple of beers at PJ O'Brien's where I discovered the next day they had all lusted over several of the scantily clad bar maids. All they could talk about for the rest of the day.
Finally back to the airport and another uneventful flight back to Sydney and home. Thanks to Simone and Chippisan for giving me a lift to and from the airport. I know it was at great pain that Chippisan offered as it delayed his welcome home.
I believe all had a good if not great time even those that came down with various bugs and ills. Thanks to Steve for organising the boat. Robert..
*Much contention about the word 'dove', according to latest dictionaries both UK and American, has the same meaning as dived and is more often used in North America.