To most of us Guam is a remote island in the Mariana Islands somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean, best known as a US military base. But Guam, naturally, is not remote to the leisure sailors who live there. It's Maug that is remote - so remote that few sailors had ever ventured there, until Jim, Wayne and Bill, Guam sailors, set off recently in a 38ft Galaxie and told their story to Pacific Daily News.
Maug as seen from a satellite
On April 13, James 'Jim' Cafky, Wayne Baumunk and William 'Bill' Hagen left Guam's Agat Marina for the wild, mysterious and uninhabited island, which sits at the very top of the chain of islands which make up the Marianas, a 400 nautical miles voyage.
'Even to residents of Guam, Maug is somewhat a mysterious, faraway place, if it is known at all by residents,' Cafky told the Pacific Daily News. 'The sailing community of Guam is somewhat familiar with the island and pilots of the national airlines located on Guam fly over Maug routinely in the north-south shuttle traffic between Guam and Japan. However, Maug remains a faraway enigma to those of us who know of its existence. Maug is a name written on a scrap of paper that is placed in some folks' 'bucket list.'
Maug is the peak of a volcano and resulted in three islands that form a circle around a lagoon, called a caldera, more than a mile wide, Cafky says.
There are reasons why few sailboats or even powerboats make the trip up the Marianas -- especially all the way up to Maug, Baumunk says.
'It's more of a challenge,' he says. 'Sailing ... is more difficult because you have to sail into the wind to go there.
Packed with provisions, the crew first had to stop and declare entry into the Northern Marianas by way of Saipan to get permission to go to Maug. It took two days to get to Saipan and a few hours to get permission to sail north.
Three hour watches at night made sure they would not encounter ships, but they saw just one large commercial sailing vessel, far in the distance, during the 12-day trip, Cafky says.
And there wasn't much of any life up the chain, Baumunk says. 'I've gone fishing on Guam for many years. You usually look for the white birds or the black birds or any school of birds,' he says. 'There was none.' After a long while, they finally spotted a school of birds, about 400 yards ahead of the sailing boat.
When the wind died down the crew was forced to run the boat's engine for a while. 'It was a hurt,' Baumunk said. 'Sailboats aren't designed to go motoring.'
On the way up, the crew passed all the northern islands, some inhabited by small populations or research crews.
'We passed several of the islands at night, but we were fortunate enough to sail by and view several during the daylight,' Cafky says. 'Islands along the way first appeared as dim shadows on the horizon and slowly surrendered their details as we approached. One of those islands, Pagan, held a special interest for us: Pagan is an active volcano and was belching smoke and fumes high into the air as we passed.'
Five days after leaving Guam, the Galaxie was in the caldera of Maug. Finding a safe and shallow spot to drop anchor was a challenge. They settled in the central shallows of a plateau and dropped a 35-pound plow anchor with 140 feet of chain down.
'The initial impression after anchoring that evening was of the silence, the isolation, the overbearing rugged nature of the surrounding islands,' Cafky told Pacific Daily News. 'Maug was unlike anything we had ever previously observed.'
He describes the interior walls of the three islands as vertical surfaces likely too steep to climb.
'They present a striking appearance, one that must be seen to be believed,' Cafky says. 'Striations of sedimentary rock rise vertically up their surfaces. We would need the explanation of a geologist to understand the patterns of these surfaces in their formations.'
Once daylight broke, Baumunk and Hagen jumped on a folding dinghy to explore the island while Cafky stayed back for maintenance.
'And, I confess, to consume some celebratory beer,' Cafky says. 'It's my practice to never consume alcohol underway; however, after the hook is dropped, the drinking light is lit.'
Maybe he didn't say it, but leaving a boat unattended in a strange anchorage is not what good seamen do anyway unless conditions are ideal.
Cafky later explored the north and east islands of Maug and said you can't exactly use the term 'shoreline' to describe the island's edges.
'Rugged rocks from the size of golf balls to small cars are the exclusive characteristics of these Maug island shorelines.'
With their visit complete, the men set sail back home, first stopping in at Rota to check out of the CNMI.
About the Pacific Daily News:
The Pacific Daily News, formerly Guam Daily News, is a morning edition newspaper based in Hagåtña, in the United States territory of Guam. It is owned by Gannett Corporation and is published seven days a week. Joseph Flores, later the Governor of Guam, founded the newspaper. www.guampdn.com is the online version.