Witness to War with Dianne Strong

Dianne Strong is one of my favorite divers and authors. First certified in 1969, she’s been diving Guam and Micronesia since 1972. When it comes to diving, she has done and seen it all. She talked with us recently about her diving history, and her dry suit dives in Monterey, California.

Dianne Strong with her book Witness to War

Dianne Strong with her book Witness to War

How long have you been diving?

Certified by YMCA in May 1969, I logged 56 dives that summer. I have been diving every year since. I was a member of an active scuba club in Syracuse, NY, and became a YMCA Scuba Instructor in 1970. I moved to Guam in 1972–where the diving is accessible and great. So that makes 45 years, thousands of dives.

What was the defining moment that made you want to become a scuba diver?

I spent my childhood summers swimming 8 hours a day in Candlewood Lake, CT. By my high school years I had become a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (WSI) and felt bored teaching swimming. I had never had access to a face mask or snorkel. In 1969 at age 25 I was tired of “looking for Mr. Right.” I saw a sign for a YMCA scuba course in West Chester, PA, taught by an underwater recovery unit of the fire department. I took the rigorous 8-week course, and fell in love with the sport! My life changed! There were very few female divers in 1969, but I still have a best friend from then.

How did your life change after you became a certified scuba diver?

I was living in Syracuse, NY, earning my masters degree, and joined three scuba clubs to be sure to have a buddy. I found mine: Ron Strong, the treasurer of the Syracuse Scuba Society. We were “buddies” and married in 1970. We were “soul mates” until his death from cancer in 1996. We taught scuba, led dive tours from Guam, did underwater photography, and did a lot of traveling. Best of all, we made friends everywhere! We were known not as individuals, but as a couple, “Ron and Dianne Strong.”

What is your current cert level?

Normoxic trimix (certified to use Helium to a depth not exceeding 200′) by the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers  (IANTD), 2000, and Cavern Diver, 2004. I am also instructor #4883 National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), inactive.

What does your current scuba kit include? The whole shebang… from exposure suit, to BCD, to favorite accessories…

My gear is for tropical diving, in waters 79-84 F.

Tell us about your first cold water dive.

May 1969. COLD! YMCA “check out dive” in fifty-degree water in Richland Quarry, PA. I took the wrong advice and chose the wrong thickness: 3 mils instead of 5 mil for my Evelyn Bartram Dudas custom tailored wet suit. But it wasn’t the cold that I hated. It was the much dreaded “blow and go” free ascent from 50 feet. I held my second stage in my right hand, looked up, and exhaled FOREVER! My check-out YMCA instructor did not hold onto my BC, just followed me up. This practice is no longer done in this manner for scuba certification!

What is your favorite dive spot currently?

Hands down, the shipwrecks (and sunken airplanes) of Truk Lagoon, Chuuk State, an 80-minute non-stop flight from Guam! For reef diving, my favorite spots are in Indonesia. My favorite wreck dive there is the Liberty in Tulamben Bay, Bali.

How often do you get to dive?

Prior to my book being published in 2013, I would dive at least 4 times a month (weekly, two boat dives). But with promoting my book and the Kimiuo Aisek Memorial Museum, my dives have been mostly in Truk. Maybe at age 70 I am slowing down!

Have you been able to do any dive traveling?

Most of Micronesia — Chuuk (hundreds of trips) since 1973, Pohnpei, Yap, Palau, the Marshalls, the atomic fleet at Bikini Atoll, Saipan, Rota, Monterey Bay, CA, the Florida Keys, Hong Kong, the Maldives, Fiji (love the shark dives at Aqua Trek, Pacific Harbour), the Galapagos Islands, 14 islands in Indonesia (including Bali and Komodo). And I have ALL my dive logs!

How do you prep for a dive trip?

Make sure my DAN dive insurance is current. Make sure my passport is valid for more than 6 months. Check airline baggage requirements. Get regulators serviced and dive with them long before the trip. Check BC for leaks. Make a packing list. Get 1st aid and medicines to share with others (especially for ears). Make sure I have all chargers, batteries, cables, memory cards. Pack carefully. Then unpack all the extra clothes. Weigh my dive bag. Download books to my iPad. I no longer do underwater photography, so that makes packing easier.

Do you have any dive locations on your bucket list?

The Philippines, Cuba, Yonaguni and other spots in Okinawa.

Who is your go-to dive buddy?

My trimix buddy, Dave Hendricks, RN. Very good planner and safe diver.

What advice would you like to share with people who are considering cold water diving?

Don’t dive WET! That’s stupid. Take a dry suit course. Master inversion. No uncontrolled ascents! Rent a dry suit until you know which brand to purchase or to continue to rent if you live in the tropics like I do. Always record your dives, weight used, water temp, buoyancy issues, etc. Learn from your dive log as well as your instructors and buddies.

What has been the most memorable dive of your life?

My first dive to the San Francisco Maru in Truk Lagoon in 1973. To descend to almost 170 feet to the deck is a long way to go on a single steel 72-cubic foot tank. The water was 82 degrees but the depth was guaranteed to cause Nitrogen Narcosis. My first sight was the hemispherical beach mines loaded to the tops of the hatches. The wooden hatch covers had disappeared in the 29 years the munitions transport had been lying there upright. I knew I was “narked,” as I reviewed my f/stops on my Honeywell Strobonar in the Ikelight housing, the cord connected to my Nikonos II rangefinder camera. I spotted the first of three midget tanks on the bow. Our 12-minute dive flew by as I reluctantly made my ascent to our first 20-foot decompression stop. The San Franciscowas nicknamed “The Million Dollar Wreck” by Klaus Lindemann, and remains as one of the favorites among wreck divers in Chuuk today. Regretfully, most of the formerly visible mines in those hatches have been removed by dynamite fishermen.

What do you like to do when you are not diving?

Read about WW2, and the adventures of closed circuit (rebreather) divers exploring deep shipwrecks (200-400′. I still do a lot of work on my book, with the electronic editions (iBook, Kindle, Kobo) and Japanese translation editions being released early this year. I also promote Truk Lagoon history as a guest speaker. I am the keynote speaker in Chuuk on 17 February for the 71st anniversary of Operation Hailstone, the American aerial attack on Truk.

Her story is an impressive one, without a doubt. Her book Witness to War: Truk Lagoon’s Master Diver Kimiuno Aisek is available on Amazon.com. E-mail Dianne at strong@guam.net to for more information!