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
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