O-PRIME WRECK


Chapter 1

In the fall of 1984, while living in the Kwajalein atoll, my dive buddies and myself decided to find a sunken ship that had lost its marking buoy a few years before. We anchored our marina boat in about 120 feet of water near the dive site according to a map we found in a 1970s book by Broadwater. The team consisted of myself, Ray Capes, Tim Grimm, and Bevan Jacobs. We formed two 2-man teams and took turns swimming around the area at about 80 feet deep. After an hour, we gave up and returned to the marina. The ship we were looking for was marked "the O-bout wreck", a 2000 ton Japanese freighter sunk in January 1944.

The next day, we again took up the search, the team was myself, Bevan Jacobs, Phil Copeland, and Charlie Zambon. This time we decided to cover a larger area, so we used the standard wreck-finding search procedure - drag a diver at about 60 feet down on an anchor line. Bevan agreed to be dragged first. I was at the stern of the boat holding on to the rope, waiting for a preplanned series of tugs from Bevan: one meant go slower, two meant go faster and many meant put the boat in neutral and let out more line. Within ten minutes, I felt a series of many tugs, told Charlie to stop the boat and I let out about 100 feet of rope. Bevan swam down to 120 feet and hooked the anchor to the wreck. Upon his arrival back to the boat, he notified us that the wreck was only about 90 feet long and thus was not the O-bouy wreck. Charlie, Phil and I quickly suited up and followed the line to the wreck.

Bevan was right, what we had found was a virgin wreck - never found to that date. The boat was later identified as CHA-18, a Japanese submarine chaser which was sunk January 30, 1944 according to US Navy records. The boat had a steel hull and wooden deck, was upright in 130 feet of water, and most of the deck structure had fallen through the rotted water-logged deck. I swam to an area where I could see teo Japanese toilets; they were filled with various Japanese beer and saki bottles. I immediately put six of them in my dive bag and move over about 10 feet where I could see what appeared to be some aluminum mess bowls on top of each other. After 40 years the whole wreck was covered with silt and muck, 3 to 4 feet in depth. Grabbing the bowls I was astounded to find that they were actually two china bowls in perfect condition. China is very smooth and no coral or corrosion covered them. I swam over to Phil who was looking excitedly for a machine gun as he found literally hundreds of machine-gun bullets in the silt. When I showed him the bowls, he followed me back to where I had found them, and as I put my hand in the hole they came from, I found another one. Suddenly my watch alarm went off and we grabbed Charlie, moved the anchor to the sand off the wreck and headed for the surface.

The "finds" of that first day consisted of three bowls, six bottles, a complete medical kit, four aluminum bowls, and may unspent 5" machine-gun bullets. Prior to pulling the anchor, we got visual sightings of three landmarks on Kwajalein and Ebeye to help us triangulate our position so that we could find the wreck again. This virgin wreck, the first found in over 15 years in the Kwajalein atoll, would remain a secret for over 18 months. More on that part of the story later.