"AsahiGraph." weekly magazine reporter, Yutaka Watanabe accompanied the 'Ocean Voyager' on the "YAMATO 99" dive mission. His daily account of the mission brings the reader on board, as he lives life aboard the 'Ocean Voyager and below the seas as he dives 365 meters to the Battleship Yamato.
CHAPTER ONE : August 16th
On this windy, rainy day, the ‘Ocean Voyager’ docked in the ‘Tanegashima Iriomote ’ sea port, in Kagoshima Prefecture, was being prepared for departure. My staff loaded video equipment and cameras aboard the vessel as the departure was advanced due to the incoming weather front. The hurried atmosphere could be felt throughout the ship, even the special researchers seemed concerned. As well as three of the Yamato’s former crew, bereaved families, and one of the archeological designers of the voyage.
At first the departure was scheduled at 1600 (4:00 pm) , however, the changing sea conditions moved the departure up to 1300 (1:30 pm). I’m eager to start interviewing, but everyone must settle in for the current voyage. It’s estimated that we will arrive at the Battleship Yamato sinking location at 600 (6:00 am) Tomorrow.
“All members are aboard” Could be heard throughout the ship as the embarkation confirmation is relayed to the crew. The gangway is lowered and the deep sounds of the engines could be felt throughout. A final confirmation of our departure could be heard from the blowing of a loud whistle. It’s now ten minutes to one, and we are under way.
When departing port, the Kagoshima sky was thick with rain clouds.
A guest staff meeting was called inboard, all of us that are not assigned crew. I receive information on all forms of emergency warnings, emergency materials, life vests, and locations of emergency positions. The meeting continued with designated smoking areas, and some general rules about life aboard the Ocean Voyager. Everyone was introduced and it was finally discovered that I was a reporter for the Asahi T.V. Network. Everyone introduced one another, when an announced could be heard the pilot was leaving the ship and the dive captains were to board.
It was also announced that the meteorological conditions could pose problems at the site. This news did not seem to effect the guests. The meeting continued and questions about the memorial began to be the primary topic. In the corner were bouquets of white flowers and a wreath, which is to be presented in the memory of the lost souls of Battleship Yamato.
Some of the crew of the Ocean Voyager arrived and were discussing the procedures for the dive boats. The dive Captains wanted a confirmed place beforehand, so they knew when to attend with the dive boats, and begin preparing them for their missions.
It’s apparently not easy to unload half ton dive boats from their stored positions. One of my staff includes himself with this discussion, as he would like to prepare the cameras onboard the dive boats. “I want to try and get a panoramic view of the Yamato” Akira Mitai requests. The staff consult with each other;
“I want both dive boats to capture images of the Yamato ...”
“The images of Yamato are of the highest importance ...”
“I also would like there to be images of the crew performing duties ...”
I leave them to their discussions as I investigate the ship.
Heading towards the wreckage site, the sea began to be rough.
The height of the waves and the grey weather were making me anxious. After we departed from port, the sea became rough because of a tropical depression generated of the coast of the Philippines. I overhear some of the experienced crew discussing whether or not to continue working as the weather is turning the seas rough. Swells of five meters are beginning to chop the ship in the open sea. An announcement is broadcast that all preparation work is to be put on hold until we arrive at calmer seas.
The fading light of day could be seen in the distance, external lights of the Ocean Voyager light up the surrounding sea. I arrive at another meeting of ships staff, as they discuss their options once they arrive at the site. High swells could hamper any salvage operations, as well as the operations of the dive boats. The crew decides that if the swells reach eight meters, they would have to cancel all operations. The weather advisor reports that the conditions at the site should be minimal, and to expect mild weather.
There is still concern. Even if it is windless, the depth of the dive boats could be affected by the undulation of the lower sea currents. The crew makes consideration of my presence and reveal the importance of capturing images of the Battleship. Judgments are placed on hold until tomorrow, after an updated weather report can be acquired.
CHAPTER TWO : August 17th
It’s six o’clock in the morning, there is a light rain and cloudy skies. The sea still has high swells, though not as high as yesterdays. There is no land to be seen, the Ocean Voyager has surely been approaching the Yamato’s sinking point. There is already some concern about the memorial, whether or not it will be performed before the dives or after. The schedule has been updated for the memorial. It will be performed soon after we arrive at the exact point of the Battleship Yamato sinking.
It was also confirmed that the memorial should include all people. All survivors and bereaved family members (who are aboard) will perform the floral ceremony. All staff and guest should pay respects to the lost crew of Yamato. The Ocean Voyager begins to slow. It is announced that we’ve arrived at the exact position of the Battleship Yamato sinking. All crew and guests begin to group on the forward-upper deck.
It’s exactly nine o’clock, and the memorial begins.
There is silence when two Yamato survivors began to tear up and cry out to the Yamato.
“Our hearts remember you fondly!”
There is silence. Just the waves splashing against the hull and the soft breeze blowing against the mournful souls on deck. A widow moves slowly to the railing and lets go of floral wreath. We all watch as the flowers float … It becomes a very emotional moment.
The ship begins to move again, foam from the propellers can be seen from the railing. One of the crew says we have to move about half a mile to the spot of the wreckage. Everyone goes back inside as the crew makes preparations for the dive boats to submerge. It’s taken the Ocean Voyager about seventeen hours to reach the area and a total of twenty hours to the exact spot of the wreckage. Inside, there is a technical staff working with special equipment. Sonar and GPS machines are fully active.
Suddenly the engines cut out and the Captain calls off some numbers which are confirmed by the technical staff. The Ocean Voyager is now right above the battleship Yamato. Special sonar creates electronic images on a small screen. It appears that splinters of the wreck can be seen. The technical crew make adjustments and scan the floor bottom for more of the Battleship. The sea floor is very deep, so the sonar can not penetrate so clearly.
The dive boat Captains come into the sonar room and look over the data. They are concerned about the condition of the sea floor, whether it is flat or cavernous. All eyes are watching the undersea radar looking for any familiar shapes. I could see a large object on the screen and asked; “Is this the Yamato?” The technician replied: “It could be.” As he made adjustments to his equipment. He scanned another fifteen meters, then he gasped.
“Confirmed! Three hundred and fifty meters, thirty degrees North by three minutes, hull of Battleship Yamato has been located!” There is a growing excitement, smiles on everyone’s face.
There is an announcement that the memorial will continue on the upper deck. Once outside, everyone was gathered again. The ships staff lowered more flowers and then poured several liters of sake (from Kure) over the side as a resounding whistle was blown. Then there was silence, and everyone had a renewed understanding of the historical significance of the Naval Battleship Yamato.
Then the crew began to make more preparations of the dive boats. The sea began to pick up a little so all efforts are being made to get the dive boats into the water. I could hear the cross checks being made by the dive boat Captains, as the ship crew hastily hoisted the dive boats in preparation for submersion.
Mr.. Mizuno looks over the chart with Mr. Aihara.
The dive boat Captains arrive on deck and take to their small vessels. Each vessel has a name; “Jules” and “Jim”. Both are small, about 2.5 meters high and about 3 meters long. Each weigh about 6 tons and can seat a pilot and an observer. The cockpit lays in a clear acrylic dome, 13 inches thick and offers a 360 degree total view for the occupants.
The Pilot can control the engine, speed, angle of degree and depth with one joystick. A computer controls air supply and other vital functions. I bring a panoramic camera, the latest technology, which must be weighed. All extra items are judged by weight and importance, such as the external altimeter, sound equipment and other items.
The plan is to recover items found on the sea floor, but the more we take with us, the less we can carry in the recovery basket for our ascent.
Both Dive boats are equipped with a total of four cameras, three underwater cameras, three recorders and three monitors. It’s expected to be very dark on the sea floor, so extra lights have been installed. The boats will use each other’s light to help take better images.
The “Jim” (dive boat) is piloted by Sydney Raremet and in the observers position is George Taroc. The “Jules” is first in the water at 2 minutes past 1:00 (pm), her pilot is Dennis Plano with observer P. Najora. The small engines were new and powerful and began to turn up the sea as she was set on the oceans surface.
To be continued ....