Feb 25, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten: No. 7

(Video Enclosed)
Photo of the Week
A three man Japanese battle tank on the foredeck of the
San Francisco Maru.

Chuuk, Micronesia. Copyright 2007.

Just a Few Words First
     Coming in at my No. 7 Top Dive of all time is the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon, Micronesia.  This wreck is a very important segment to my documentary film, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon. I will be presenting on this, my second documentary, at Beneath the Sea dive expo in Secaucus, NJ on March 24. I will be expounding on the history of the region and how the video was made as well as showing a few highlight clips. I hope to see you all there.
     Also, for you photo buffs, don't forget to sign up for the Wreck Photography Workshop that I'm conducting at BTS as well. You need not be an expert to attend and you will obtain some great tips on nailing quality underwater images.
     Speaking of Truk....if any of you desire to dive there, Olympus Dive Center is conducting a trip in 2013. Call up the shop for more info and to book your trip today. There is no better group to dive with then these bunch of wreck junkies. This trip fills up quick so get your dollars down.
     A Photo Tip of the Week is included here. Scroll down to learn how to use Negative Space in creating a compelling image. If you like these tips, remember, you can sign up for a photo course as well. 

Happy Diving!

-Mike Gerken

No. 7
The Wreck of the San Francisco Maru

The San Francisco Maru prior to the war.  Date unknown.
     If you asked ten people who have ever dived Truk Lagoon, "What was your favorite dive there?", I would say at least 8 out of 10 of them would tell you that the San Francisco Maru was it. That is, of course, only if the 'San Fran' was part of their itinerary. Due to the average deep depth of about 160', only those with the skills and the nerve will make the plunge to see this epic piece of World War II history. 

     As with my last Blog Report on Shark Pass in Truk Lagoon, I am again making the stipulation that this No. 7 top lifetime dive is actually not a single dive, but a composite of many dives made on this shipwreck. During my 5 years living and working in Truk Lagoon (known today as Chuuk), I had many great experiences exploring, guiding, filming and photographing the San Francisco Maru.

     (Before I continue, those of you who are new to my Blog Report, please read "The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon" posting from December 6, 2011 to learn more about Truk Lagoon and why I was there.)

The San Francisco Maru at anchor and ablaze
on February 17, 1944.
     The San Francisco Maru was sunk on the morning of February 17th, 1944 during the US air raid codenamed, 'Operation Hailstone'. At the time, the 'San Fran' was at anchor, fully laden with a large quantity of munitions, supplies and weapons. So much so, that it is a wonder the entire ship did not explode when a torpedo, dropped from a US Plane, ripped through the hull on the starboard side. The ship went down to the bottom shortly thereafter in a fiery mess and sits upright today in 200' of water.

     Some of you may be wondering at this point, why is a Japanese merchant ship named after a US city. It's simple; during peace time the Japanese traded extensively with the United States and the San Francisco Maru's maiden voyage or its chief port of call was to San Francisco.

Beach head mins stacked to the ceiling of cargo hold
No. 1 on the San Francisco Maru.
      The 'San Fran' has become the wreck divers dream come true dive site. The amount of artifacts, weapons and munitions on board is staggering. So much so that the 'San Fran' has earned the nickname, "The Million Dollar Wreck", due to the supposed million dollars worth of cargo on board at the time of her sinking. The cargo holds contain hundreds of semi-spherical beach head mines; where a single one could take out an armored tank. Mixed in with the potpourri of military madness a diver can find whopping 2000lb aerial bombs, hundreds of crates of assorted anti-aircraft ammunition, stacks of depth charges, torpedos, artillery shells and anything else you can think of that could create havoc for the US military forces.

The bow gun on the San Francisco Maru.
      More photogenically, the 'San Fran' has a bow gun propped up on the foredeck while there are three Japanese battle tanks sitting on the deck just forward of the remains of the superstructure. (See the top of this blog for photo). These tanks were designed to operate with a three person crew and are tiny in comparison to any other tank designs from WWII. These artifacts are without a doubt the main highlight of the 'San Fran' and obtaining a photo is on every photographers hit list and can be found at a modest 160' deep.

Depth charges in the cargo hold.
     One of my favorite moments diving the San Francisco Maru was when Woman Diver Hall of famer, Evelyn Dudas brought her dive group of Diving Duds to Truk on board the Truk Odyssey in 2008. Part of the her entourage was her daughter Suzie Dudas and entrepreneur boyfriend, Rodney Nairne of their company, Submerged Scooters, located in Juniper, Florida.  The diver propulsion vehicles that Rodney and Suzie designed and produce are radical dive 'toys' to say the least. These underwater rocket ships can pull a fully geared diver at speeds of up to 250' per minute. I'm not sure what that is in miles per hour, but you do the math. Simply...it is pretty fast.
Crates of ammunition.
     While the Duds were diving the 'San Fran', I brought my video camera down to gather shots that would be used for my documentary film, The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon.  Suzie and Rodney were diving with a pair of their scooters and I wanted to get some shots of them sprinting around the wreck. This task was easier said than done. Unfortunately for me, I was using the archaic method of finning to propel me around the wreck and the task of trying to keep up with these two and hold the camera steady was a daunting one at that. I must say for a few moments, I was able to keep a respectable pace with them while filming and cruising down the length of the wreck, but it was futile in the end. They left me in there wake.  All I could do was catch up just long enough to shoot a few seconds of footage before they raced off down to the other end of the wreck. Needless to say, I burned through my air supply at 160-170' rather rapidly. Watching these two buzz up and down on the 'San Fran' was enough for me to put a Submerged Scooter at the top of my wish list of dive gear.

     In the end I did manage to procure enough footage to accompany the documentary. In some ways this was one of the highlight segments of the film due to the popularity of this wreck. You can check the video out below and see for yourself:

View this excerpt video from the documentary,

The skylights leading into the deep recesses of the
engine room in San Francisco Maru.
     Diving the San Francisco Maru requires some deep diver training and is not really for the beginner diver unless you descend for a few minutes with an experienced dive guide to have a quick look around and then head up. Current is rarely if ever and issue, visibility is usually 50-80 feet plus and the water temperature is always in the low eighties. These conditions tend to make a deep dive, such as this, considerably easier, but common sense and caution should always prevail.

     If you ever find yourself in Truk Lagoon, be sure to check out this breathtaking example of what a real wreck dive is like. I promise you, the 'Million Dollar Wreck' will not disappoint.

-Mike Gerken

The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon DVD
View more video excerpts and purchase your copy today at:

Photo Tip of the Week
Negative Space

     I have heard that the famed photographer and film maker, Howard Hall had first coined the term, 'Negative Space' when describing the part of your image that was not your primary or even secondary subject but the background. How one uses negative space in their composition may determine the outcome of the photo. One can have a fantastic subject in front of there lens, but not look at what is around or behind this subject. It is of utmost importance that you do so and utilize this space correctly.

    Here are a few quick rules as to how to effectively use negative space:

1- The Negative Space of you image should contrast greatly from your subject. What good is your subject if you can't see it. (unless your trying to show animal behavior such as camouflage).
Getting low and shooting the bright white belly of sharks is a good way
to add contrast to your subject not too mention include his 'pearly whites' in the shot.
2- Negative space should have compelling color, texture and or shape. A hodgepodge of patterns and color may not carry the image.

This ornate patterned anemone was what caught my eye.
The Clark's anemone fish were an added bonus.
3- Negative space should highlight your subject and not detract from it.

High contrast accentuates the plate and the silty negative space
adds to the 'where' and the 'what' of the image.

4- Too much Negative Space is a bad thing. Scale your subject to proper size and practice the rule of thirds.

Wrecks make for ideal background or negative space when shooting
marine life such as sand tiger sharks.
     So the next time you look in to a view finder be sure to take a gander over the shoulder of whatever or whoever you are shooting and fill that negative space with some positive looking stuff. Your photos will love you for it.

Good luck!

-Mike Gerken
Sign up for one of

for Fine Art Photographic Prints,
Videos and Gift Certificates

Feb 14, 2012 - Mike's Top Ten : No. 8

(Video Clip Enclosed)

Photo of the Week
A common gray reef shark or Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, from 'Shark Pass', Truk Lagoon, FSM. Taken with an Olympus 5050 (5MP) point & shoot camera with a wide angle wetmate lens. © Copyright 2006

Just a Few Words First
     After returning from a fantastic week of skiing in the beautiful mountains of Montana, I have had to motivate myself to remove my head out of the mountain clouds and back in to the world of underwater photography.  Living sea side in high humidity and moderate climate is the polar opposite of living at 8,000 feet of altitude in the snowy cold dry air of the mountains, but enjoyable all the same. The scenery from both is stunning and skiing lifestyle for me is as appealing as diving. One day I hope to be able to share equal time in both regions doing the things I love to do most in life.  Diversity, after all, is "the spice of life". Meanwhile, I wait with anticipation, here in Beaufort, NC for the dive season to begin for me in April. Yes, I will be returning as captain of the 'Midnight Express' with Olympus Dive Center  for the 2012 season.  I look forward to seeing you all here for some world class wreck diving.

     In this weeks Blog I continue on with my Top Ten Dives of all time with Truk Lagoon's Shark Pass taking the No. 8 spot. Shark Pass is located on the outer reef and is visited only on special occasions to see up and close the gray reefs, black tips and silver tip sharks that dwell there.

Photo Tip of the Week
     Information is a powerful commodity. In this weeks Photo Tip of the Week, find out one way to obtain information that will most certainly improve your photography. It's not rocket science, but I am amazed at how few utilize this resource. Please scroll to the bottom to learn more.  

Old but important news:
     If you haven't already, please sign up for my Dive & Photo Newsletter here. I should have a new edition out this week. Within the newsletter you will find stories and current events in diving and marine conservation and updates on what is happening in my part of the dive world.  Here is a copy of the last edition.

     Just a reminder to all of you who are planning on attending the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo in New Jersey this March, I will be presenting and conducting a photo workshop titled, Wreck Photography Techniques: Wide Angle to Macro.  I will also be conducting presentations on my documentary film, "The Wrecks of Truk Lagoon" and one on "Wreck Diving with Sand Tiger Sharks of NC". Click here for more details or check out the newsletter above.

Happy Diving and Skiing!


Mike's Top Ten Dives

No. 8
Shark Pass - Outer Reef, Truk Lagoon
A gray reef shark commonly seen at
Shark Pass in Truk Lagoon.
©Copyright 2007
     Truk Lagoon is considered by many to be the wreck diving capital of the world. Some of you might be asking yourselves right now, "So why did Mike choose a reef dive with sharks in Truk Lagoon as one of his top ten dives of all time?" The answer is easy, "I love sharks" and this dive was way too much fun. Besides, if you stick around and keep reading future blogs you will see several Truk wreck dives that scored higher than this one.

     First off, this No. 8 top dive in actuality is not just a single dive experience, but the sum of all my dive experiences from this dive site. Nearly every one of the dives done there was as exciting as the others. So how do I pick just one? I don't. It's my list so I get to make the rules.

     While working in Truk Lagoon from 2003 until 2008 on board the Truk Aggressor II as a second captain, we took divers to a small reef within the lagoon known for an abundant shark population, named Shark Shoal Maru. Most were eager to take a break from wrecks and get their taste of what reef diving was like in Truk. This was a great dive site, but not as dramatic as the one we did from my next liveaboard job in Truk. Years later, working as captain of the M/V Odyssey, we took divers to an isolated part of the outer reef for their shark experience. This place was nicknamed, Shark Pass. In order to get to it I would have to take a 133' vessel through a narrow and shallow pass through the barrier reef in to the Pacific Ocean and anchor up close to the reef atop a sheer wall that plunged several thousand feet down. When the wind was blowing in the correct direction our stern would hang over the wall 60 feet below, but if it were blowing the wrong direction the stern was precariously close to the reef in only a few feet of water. Needless to say, this dive was strictly weather dependent.

The smaller black tip sharks were regular participants
in the melee, but rarely won any of the spoils.

©Copyright 2006.
     Before I go any further with this story, it is important to point out that the sharks were fed at this dive site. For any of you readers out there who may have an issue with feeding sharks, hear this first. The sharks were visited on the average of only three days per month and fed a small quantity of fish carcasses or whole fish only. Never at any time did I witness harm to another shark during the feeding. In fact, touching the sharks was strongly discouraged. It is my opinion, that with the decimation of shark populations worldwide due to overfishing and shark finning, local people from low income communities, such as those from Truk Lagoon, must be given an economic incentive to want to protect sharks in their own waters. Show them that a shark alive is worth 100 times that of a shark dead and they will most often protect those sharks with their own lives. This holds true for any other part of the ecosystem as well.  Shark dives such as the one's I used to conduct at Shark Pass were a perfect example. Divers paid good money into the local economy to dive with these sharks and at the same time many divers were educated that sharks are not the demonic creatures the media plays them too be. It is a win win for all involved. The locals have an income, divers have their entertainment and excitement and the sharks get to live and continue to act as important link in the marine ecosystem.  In a perfect world, sharks could be left alone and observed from a distance underwater, but the fact remains that shark feeding is a very large lucrative industry and has proven to help protect shark populations.  With that said let me move on with the dive.

A shark tamer readying for the show.
©Copyright 2006
     Once the Odyssey was tied up to the reef on to a permanent mooring, divers were briefed on the procedures for the dive. All would enter the water about the same time, proceed to the spot on the reef where the feed took place and find a spot to sit on the rocky ledge in a semi-circle with the drop off in the front of them all the while with gray reef, black tip and silver tip sharks circled in close proximity.  In the middle of the 'arena' was a metal cable with one end floated to the surface on a buoy and the opposite end with a clip that passed through a pulley that was fastened to the bottom. Once all were ready, the dive leader would signal to the crew above on the surface that they were ready. The crew would then clip off a frozen skipjack tuna to the top end of the cable while the dive leader below would clip off a lift bag to the opposite end. Once the lift bag was inflated the bag would shoot up and the frozen fish would propel downwards in to the middle of the viewing area. All could now watch the feed from a safe distance.

    What proceeded each and every time the fish entered the water was a perfect demonstration of apex predators at work. Immediately, a shark would latch on to the tuna and start shaking violently back and forth while it's rows of razor sharp teeth sawed through the frozen carcass. Once a piece had broken off another shark would come in swiftly to pick up where his predecessor left off. This often happened in rapid fire sequence with not all of the sharks getting a piece of dinner.  In the mean while, hundreds of smaller fish swarmed about the feed area picking out the small scraps from the water column. Nothing went to waste. Frequently, majestic silver tip sharks would show up to the frenzy. At sometimes ten feet in length these sharks dwarfed even the largest of the gray reef sharks. For reasons I do not understand, these larger sharks tended to circle around the perimeter of the excitement using more caution before approaching the bait. Most often they were not successful at landing a meal, but every once in a while they would succeed putting to shame the bitty gray reef sharks.  Watch the video link below for a prime example of what I am saying.

One of my earliest photos from 2006 at the
Truk Aggressor II dive site,
Shark Shoal Maru. 
     Not only was the shark feed exciting to behold, but it was very interesting and educational as well. After conducting dozens of feeds such as these I never once saw one shark attack or bite another shark, even at the most frenzied of moments. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a shark attack or eat another healthy species of fish during the feed. Large red snappers, trigger fish and numerous other fish species present, always went unmolested by the sharks. It goes to show you that they are not the indiscriminate hunters that many perceive them to be, but will hunt injured, weak or in these cases, dead fish. They are not only hunters, but the scavengers of the oceans. 

    After repeating the process a second time within 15 minutes the feed would be over and all were left to explore the outer reef and the wall beneath them. I usually returned to the boat to unload my video camera from the housing to capture the excitement of the divers as they returned from the dive. Rarely did a diver return to the boat and not display signs of an adrenaline rush. Wreck diving has it's own form of excitement, but it is most definitely on a different level than being in the middle of three dozen ravenous sharks going ape on a dead fish. These wreck diving aficionados had just found out that Truk Lagoon is certainly much more than just a wreck diving destination.

"Seeing is believing." 
Here is a video montage of some of my best 
Shark Pass moments at Truk Lagoon. 
©Copyright 2011; Mike Gerken; www.evolutionunderwater.com

After leaving Truk Lagoon in 2008, I am not aware if any of the dive operators are offering shark diving on a regular basis. I would recommend contacting the operator directly to inquire first before visiting.

Photo Tip of the Week
Dive Briefings

     If you want to know the where, what and when's of photographic subject matter on a dive site, I highly recommend you listen to the dive briefing if you don't already. Listening to the guys and gals who know the dive sites like the back of their hand is a sure fire way to find out what is hot and what is not. Most often the person briefing (that would be me in this case) is a keen photographer or videographer who is willing to share some of their secrets with you. Even if the person is not a photographer they will have enough knowledge to assist you in finding what you seek. It is also imperative to ask as many questions as the dive leader or person doing the briefing will answer. ie Where is the best place to find sharks? Is the wreck intact? What is the most photogenic part of the wreck? etc etc. Don't be afraid to find out the important details that will benefit you photography and maximize your bottom time. I know for one that I will share what I know in the name of photography.
    Over the years, I am astonished at how few questions photographers on my boats ask me about subject matter and how to find it. I once volunteered information unsolicited, but stopped doing so when most were not interested. This isn't always the case though. Surprisingly, it is usually the most accomplished professional photographers who seek local knowledge of a dive site from me. These photographers have learned over the years that it is the locals who can steer you in the right direction towards award winning publishing quality images. The same goes for me as well.
    When I dived the Maldives in 2008, it was a local dive guide and photographer, Moosa, who worked on board the liveaboard dive vessel, Manthiri, who was invaluable to me in obtaining some great images. I picked his brain as much as I could during the week long stay on board. I knew this guy had a strong knowledge of the region and I wanted a piece of it. "What lens should I shoot on this dive?", I would ask Moosa beforehand. He would say, "use your 16mm fisheye. There is a large Napolean Wrasse down there that loves having his photo taken". Sure enough I had a field day shooting 'George' a tame wrasse the size of a Toyota Prius. One of the photos that I took landed on the cover of Sport Diver Magazine in Aug of 2010.  If I had brought my 60mm or even my 10.5mm fisheye I may not have gotten the shot I wanted. Thanks Moosa!
The cover of Sport Diver Magazine.
Aug 2010 Edition.
    In short, do your homework, learn a dive site before you get there, read books, talk to other photographers and most of all listen to the dive briefings and ask lots of questions. Besides, the briefings are not just for dive information, but have lots of important safety advice as well. I may regret ever posting this piece since I may get inundated with questions now, but that's ok since I love talking shop. One word of warning though, once you get me rambling on about photography you may have a hard time getting me to shut up.

Good luck!

If you would like to sign up for one of my online photo lessons, visit my web site www.evolutionunderwater.com or contact mike@evolutionunderwater.com to learn how.

If you know someone would might enjoy this Dive Blog Report, then please share this page.
Thank you!

Visit Mike's Facebook Page

Please visit Mike's web site

to peruse his portfolio of underwater photography, view his video excerpts from his documentary films and purchase fine art prints from his online gallery.

If you wish to dive North Carolina contact
Olympus Dive Center, Morhead City, NC.
Please leave comments. 
I would like to hear from you.