I had already booked and paid for my March 2022 to trip to Palau when Aron Arngrimsson from The Dirty Dozen Expeditions reached out to me and said that they were organizing an inaugural expedition to Palau and asked if I wanted to go.
I was having troubles getting wreck dives scheduled for my March trip and Aron and I had been trying to dive together for a while, so I decided to sign up and plan for second trip to Palau in 2022.
I had dove four wrecks during my March trip but I knew that there were a LOT more to dive so I was excited for the opportunity to explore so not-so-oft dived wrecks. The Dirty Dozen Expeditions specializes in wreck diving in locales such as Truk Lagoon (Chuuk) and Bikini so I knew it would be epic. I was not disappointed.
Below is a full report of the trip including logistics, where I stayed, the diving live aboard Palau Siren and, of course, information on the diving and the wrecks.
Travel and Lodging
By now, I am very familiar with getting around the Pacific for various destinations for diving.
Similar to my trip in March, I took the “standard” route of LAX-HNL, HNL-GUM, GUM-ROR. If you time it correctly, you don’t need to overnight in any of those location and can make it to Palau in about 24 hours. This time, I had a wonderful layover of almost 5 hours in the Guam airport waiting for our flight to Koror, Palau. There is really nothing to do in the Guam airport late at night waiting for a 10pm flight. Also note that, unlike my trip in March, there were no pre-arrival Covid tests required for Palau or my connection through HNL or GUM.
The travel was uneventful and I made it to Palau right around midnight and then got the The Cove hotel around 1am with a few other divers who were scheduled on the trip. Most of us decided to arrive a few days early to adjust to the timezone changes and to do some land-based diving with Sam’s Tours (more on that in a bit) before boarding the Palau Siren.
I actually prefer The Cove hotel to the Palau Pacific Resort which is where I stayed in March. The Palau Pacific Resort is a bit “nicer” but it is a little bit of a drive to get to anything and I preferred the convenience of being able to walk to Sam’s Tours (5 minutes) and mini marts for water, snacks, sodas, etc. and to local restaurants.
If you stay at The Cove, I recommend getting a ground floor room next to the pool. I usually avoid ground floor rooms but, in this case, it is much better. The pool is literally “at your doorstep” out the back sliding glass door and it makes getting a lot of dive equipment to/from your room much easier without worrying about stairs and elevators.
The Cove is also walking distance to a variety of restaurants including The Drop Off and Kramers which makes it easy to eat at a variety of places as opposed to always eating at the resort.
My return trip was a 1am departure on ROR-GUM, GUM-HNL, and then a red-eye from HNL-LAX with an arrival at 5:17am the same day I left even though I had traveled for about 24 hours. Each of the layovers was about 2-2.5 hours which I highly recommend with all this equipment and airport delays.
Once again, the customs and immigration on the return trip is quite odd. I’m not sure exactly the status of Guam as a US Territory, but you basically clear immigration (but not customs) in Guam which means you do NOT need to claim your bags and re-check them. Then, upon arrival in Honolulu, you get and re-check your bags and clear customs (but not immigration). Very odd indeed. I would also note that the bag claim at Honolulu airport was a complete mess. I guess due to the number of bags, they were actually using two baggage carousels which meant that a TON of people were all trying to figure out which carousel there bag(s) would end up on. What a zoo that was.
The Palau Siren
After a few days on land, we all boarded the Palau Siren for a week of technical wreck diving.
There were about 16 divers and all of us were technical divers which means a metric-shit-ton of equipment, a lot of O2 for rebreathers and helium for our anticipated deeper dives. The Palau Siren team had never had this many technical divers on board and they were VERY good about dealing with the challenges.
I can’t emphasize enough how challenging it can be to support a technical dive expedition — especially for 16 divers (most of which were diving a rebreather with multiple bailout cylinders). The job of pumping the O2 and Diluent bottles for sixteen divers for two dives/day is hard enough. We had large bottles of O2 and Helium all over the dive deck of the Palau Siren.
The team at Palau Siren and The Dirty Dozen did a fantastic job dealing with those challenges and always keeping a smiling face.
The Palau Siren is a really cool ship. It is crafted in the traditional style of the Indo Pacific and is made from ironwood and teak. The cabins are spacious for a live aboard and the food was fantastic. A typical day would involve breakfast at 7am (you could pick from a wide variety of choices that were all made to order) then a briefing/dive followed by lunch, a second briefing/dive and then a snack with dinner around 7pm or 8pm.
Pre-boarding Land Based Diving
As mentioned earlier, most people had decided to arrive a few days early to make sure our equipment arrived before boarding the Palau Siren and to do some land based diving to work out any equipment issues and to adjust to the timezone changes.
Aron had teamed up with two Palau diving experts : Richard Barnden (who spent 18 years in Palau) and Matt Boyle who works with Sam’s Tours and Palau Expeditions. Richard had helped organize the land based diving at Sam’s Tours. I spent my first day (1 Aug) just organizing and getting equipment ready and then dove with them on 2-3 Aug.
It was very cool to “re-dive” a few sites from March — but this time on a rebreather with “unlimited” dive time. On the first day we dove Ulong Channel and the cave Temple of Doom. With a rebreather, I really had time to explore all the different areas of the cave instead of zipping in-and-out and snapping a quick picture of the turtle skeletons. On the second day, we dove Saies Tunnel and then we all couldn’t resist the call of rust and did a dive on the IJN Iro. Once again, I had dove both of those sites back in March on a single AL80 tank, but it is very different to dive it on a rebreathers.
Thanks to Richard, Matt and the team at Sam’s Tours for arranging those dives. It was the perfect way to adjust to the timezone and to get ready for an intense week of wreck diving.
Diving on the Palau Siren
The dive deck area is actually at the front of the ship on the Palau Siren but all of the diving is conducted from skiffs. Due to the number of divers and the amount of equipment, they had added a third skiff for this expedition. We had one large skiff with 8 divers and then two smaller skiffs with 4 divers each.
We generally kept all of our rebreather bailout tanks and other dive equipment on the skiffs and would only take cameras and rebreathers on and off the Palau Siren dive deck each day to clean them and prep them for the next day. For the dives, we would don our rebreathers on and then do a back-roll off the skiff and then they would hand us our bailout tanks and cameras.
I cannot stress enough how different it is to dive these wrecks on a rebreather. For example, when I first dove the IJN Iro (probably the most iconic wreck in Palau), it was on a single AL80 tank and my runtime was 54 minutes. We dove the IJN Iro twice on this trip and my second runtime was 125 minutes! I basically had two dives in one.
In my opinion, this is the huge benefit of booking a trip with The Dirty Dozen. Aron caters to technical wreck divers and you have the ability to conduct dives with extended run-times.
We obviously focussed on the wrecks in Palau.
The wrecks are largely the result of multiple attacks during the US Pacific campaign in WW II. I am fascinated by the Pacific campaign and have read many books on the subject and dived in quite a few locations including Truk Lagoon, Palau, Bikini Atoll, etc. I still have many more to go!
Matt Boyle and Richard Barnden provided excellent pre-dive briefs that included some WW II history and also specific information on the wrecks. I’ve included pictures below some highlights from a few of the wrecks and will write some specific posts on a few of them.
In addition to the wrecks, we also had the opportunity to dive during the Red Snapper Spawning event and I will detail that experience in a separate post.
I was hopeful that we would get a chance to dive the iconic USS Perry wreck. It is one of those dives that has to have perfect conditions in terms of both above water (wind, etc) and below water (current) to do. Unfortunately, for both days we had planned an attempt, the conditions didn’t permit it. However, Aron didn’t give up and some of the team was able to dive that wreck but it was on the day after we had departed the Palau Siren I was flying and I couldn’t change my flights so I didn’t make it. I will have to return…
Below are some of the photo highlights from the wrecks. I shot all pictures with my Sony A7RIV in a Nauticam housing with the WWL-1B wet lens and Retra strobes (note: I’m not paid or sponsored by any of those companies). I won’t spend much time on the wrecks that I dove back in March since I already posted extensively about them (the IJN Iro, the Teshio Maru, the Chuyo Maru, and the Jake Seaplane).
A few tips to keep in mind when diving the wrecks in Palau.
- Most are in the lagoon so the visibility is nowhere near as good as the outer reef sites. The visibility is highly affected by the tide schedule. Keep that in mind when trying to shoot any wide-angle pictures.
- The interiors of the wrecks are covered in silt that gets kicked up very easily. You need to have great buoyancy and trim in order to not silt them out quickly. I’m a decent diver but I struggled inside tight spaces and often found myself kicking up tons of silt clouds.
- Given the above, if you are diving with teams of divers, try to have the photographer go into the tight space first if you want photos that aren’t obscured by a ton of silt
- If you go inside, consider putting in a line. I’ll discuss that in more detail when I cover the wreck of the IJN Sata.
A Few Highlights
I will provide additional photos in specific, separate posts, but here are a few interesting pictures from the dives.