Waiting for Faxai

The northeastern shoreline of Guam, Pagat Point.
The northeastern shoreline of Guam, Pagat Point.

 

We’ve been in Guam for a couple of weeks now, waiting for Faxai, an indecisive typhoon, to pass us by while we enjoyed a visit from a friend.  We left Pohnpei about a month ago, and had a relatively smooth passage here.  The winds hit us further on the nose than we expected, and the bashing from big waves made for a bouncy trip, but we made good time and had a reasonably pleasant passage.  On our way to Guam, we made two short stops–one at Oroluk Atoll and one at Nanonuito Atoll.

A tiny bit of sand, a bunch of boobies, Rob on a packraft, and a big ocean.
A tiny bit of sand, a bunch of boobies, Rob on a packraft, and a big ocean.

The first of those, Oroluk, can hardly be called an atoll.  It’s more of a giant lagoon with about a quarter mile of sand piled up into a few tiny islands.  People nonetheless garden on the biggest of those patches of reef.  We stopped at a particularly tiny protruding chunk of sand, where a few boobies were nesting, and had a close encounter with a devil ray while we circumsnorkegated the tiny island.  The visibility was incredible, and we were delighted to discover that we are now just far enough from the equator that the water temperature is no longer that of sweat, but once again feels refreshing.

A Micronesian sailing canoe from Ulal, where the best boats are built (or so they tell us).  They are similar to the boats we saw in PNG, but there are differences.  They take these boats fishing near home, but they also take them to Saipan.  Or even Japan.
A Micronesian sailing canoe from Ulal, where the best boats are built (or so they tell us). They are similar to the boats we saw in PNG, but there are differences. They take these boats fishing near home, but they also take them to Saipan. Or even Japan.

From there, we hopped another couple of days to Ulul, a small island in Nononuito Atoll, in the state of Chuuk, where we met some of the last remaining traditional navigators.  Folks in Ulul have decided that outboards take too much gas, so they are sticking with their sailing canoes for fishing and traveling.  The navigators measure the stars and pay close attention to waves and swells as they follow traditional star maps and sailing directions from island to island, using the same techniques that helped the islanders settle the Pacific centuries before Europeans knew there where any islands out there to find.

Canoes are built from breadfruit trees, and without power tools.  Check out that traditional adze hanging in the middle.
Canoes are built from breadfruit trees, and without power tools. Check out that traditional adze hanging in the middle.

Folks were extremely friendly, and people offered us food at every thatched roof we passed.  We enjoyed meeting the chief, who was an elderly woman, and chatted with a bunch of very thoughtful locals, from whom we learned that there are many very cold Micronesians fishing in Alaska.  If you happen to meet one of them, offer him an extra jacket.

They call this side of Ulul "Alaska," because it gets a strong, cooling breeze.  The other side, where we anchored, is "Africa," because it has no such breeze.
They call this side of Ulul “Alaska,” because it gets a strong, cooling breeze. The other side, where we anchored, is “Africa,” because it has no such breeze.

The anchorage in Ulul, unfortunately, was a bit exposed, and the forecast showed a low pressure system kicking up nearby in the next couple of days, so we had to leave for Guam after just a short visit.

Alex and Rob, below Two Lovers Point in Guam.
Alex and Rob, below Two Lovers Point in Guam.

We made it to Guam with a broken staysail boom, thanks to bashing waves, but managed to fix that pretty easily a couple of days ago.  We had a visitor arriving two days after we made it to Guam, and had hoped to stock up on groceries, then sail north with him to the reportedly quieter island of Rota in the Marianas.

Faxai would have none of it.  That low pressure system churned in place, with forecasts for more churning.  It grew.  It turned into a tropical storm.  They said it would pass right over Guam, smacking us with 65 knots of wind.  We moved to Guam’s harbor of refuge and Rob spent three hours securing our boat, with chain, to four mooring lines.  Tropical storm Faxai decided to do circles, and danced south of us.  Then it decided to get serious and it headed north.  It passed to our east, and things were pretty mild here, with no truly noteworthy wind.  It reached typhoon strength for a short spell just north of us, then fizzled out as it headed west.  The locals tell us that, although it’s true that typhoons can happen any time of year in Guam, it’s pretty unusual to get one in February  (yes, typhoons and hurricanes are exactly the same thing).

The red cliffs of Guam.  Much of Guam is volcanic, and these hillsides of sticky, red, clay are common.
The red cliffs of Guam. Much of Guam is volcanic, and these hillsides of sticky, red, clay are common.

Alas, we did not get to go to Rota.  But, we had a great time in Guam instead.  We ignored all the chain stores, big highways, and throngs of tourists, and headed for the beaches and the hills.  We had some great hikes, swam in underground freshwater pools, explored limestone forests and caves, and found squids, stonefish, and pipefish in the ocean.  We went to the Discovery Day festival in Umatak Bay, where the locals construct an old village, then burn it in a reenactment of Magellan’s landing, but they mostly celebrate their own heritage and eat good food.

And we were overwhelmed by the incredible kindness of all the local Chamorros we met (Chamorros are the traditional Guamanians).  People just kept coming up to us to say hello, invite us to try some local food or drinks, and just chat for awhile.  Tomorrow, we’re scheduled for a barbecue with some folks who just noticed us walking by their office a couple of times and wanted to say hello.  We just keep learning that we really need to be friendlier–it’s hard to be as friendly as the islanders!

A hermit crab in the tidepools of Guam.
A hermit crab in the tidepools of Guam.

The weather has settled a bit, and we are now just cleaning up the boat and trying to decide whether we still want to head to Rota and up the Marianas Island chain, or whether it might be smarter to just head straight for Japan from here.  We’re terribly undecided, so we’re waiting for the wind to tell us what to do.

Caribao, otherwise known as water buffalo, were introduced to Guam by the Spanish, who took Guam by storm back in the 1500's.  There is a small population of actual caribao on the island today, and a very large population of caribao statues and postcards.
Caribao, otherwise known as water buffalo, were introduced to Guam by the Spanish, who took Guam by storm back in the 1500’s. There is a small population of actual caribao on the island today, and a very large population of caribao statues and postcards.

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