The dive forecast showed a lot of promise for scuba diving in the Ryukus, and Saturday’s conditions would prove to be perfect for diving more challenging locations that are only recommended in ideal conditions. Rich Ruth, a local dive instructor and former Marine, offered an opportunity to dive the USS Emmons, which I eagerly accepted.
My dive buddy, Gene, and I headed up North to meet Rich and three other divers. After a quick drive up the expressway to Nago, we continued our journey to our final destination. Since I had never been to this part of Okinawa, I was extremely impressed with the beautiful scenery. The new bridge that connects the islands provided for some amazing photographic opportunities. Within minutes of crossing the bridge we found ourselves at the marina where we would depart on our vessel to the Emmons.
After participating in many local boat dives, I was a little surprised to see the substantially smaller vessel that we would be using to make our journey to the Emmons. However, the boat ended up being ideal for the number of divers and the less than 10 minute ride to the location of the wreck.
Once at the location, the boat was tied off to a permanent buoy that had been placed above the wreck as a marker. Once a thorough dive brief was provided by Rich, we all proceeded to don our equipment and enter the water. Wanting to see if I could see the wreck, I quickly looked down in the deep blue ocean. The conditions were perfect, but despite my efforts I could not see the Emmons.
After Rich placed an additional tank at a depth of 15ft for a good final decompression stop, we proceeded down the mooring line. As we got to 30ft you could begin to see the outline of the ship that had been laid to rest on the ocean floor. This was my first Emmons dive, so it was an emotional and eerie feeling knowing the fate of the ship and the 62 crew members who had died on April 6th, 1945. After honourable service during World War II, the Benson-Livermore class destroyer that was commissioned on December 5th, 1941, now lied on the ocean floor to provide divers an opportunity to experience history.
I levelled off at about 110 feet to visually absorb the destruction that was caused by the five kamikazes that mortally wounded the Emmons. The wreck was lying on her starboard side on a gently sloping sandy bottom. Descending to amid ship at approximately 135 feet I viewed details of the ships destruction. The bridge superstructure was entirely broken off lying in the sand some distance from the hull and the stern. The two forward five inch gun turrets were both facing to port and now pointed straight up at the surface, and the bow showed possible signs of damage from shellfire.
With less than twenty minutes of dive time, it was soon time to return to the surface. We made our way back to the mooring line and began a slow ascent to our first of three decompression stops. Once back on board our vessel, we all commented on the amazing experience we just had. With calm seas and a non-existing current, the first dive proved to be perfect.
Once we arrived back at the dock, we enjoyed a two hour lunch break sharing diving experiences within the Ryuku Islands. Being able to return back to shore during our interval provided a very relaxing opportunity to get to know fellow divers, talk about the dive and share other related experiences. Not only did it make the dive trip more relaxing, but it also helped pass the time. After what only seemed to be an hour, we were finally off once more and heading back out to the mooring line for our second dive.
Conditions for the second dive were much the same as for the first, but as we descended down the mooring line, it was obvious that the current had picked up causing a little more debris in the water. We again levelled off at about 135 feet amid ship and headed toward the remains of the aft of the ship. The propellers were massive in size, but the most eerie feeling came from discovering a stack of helmets resting along a bulkhead. Seeing these helmets put a greater sense of reality in what I was now a part of.
Moving back toward the mid section of the ship, Rich pointed out the bronze plaque that was placed on the ship in honour of the ship and its crew. It was a perfect way to end our second dive. We again began to ascend back toward our boat, and as we did I took one last look at the ship as it faded into the deep dark blue ocean. It was an experience that I will never forget.