The bridge to Peale burned down a decade ago, so the only way to reach this part of the atoll – once bustling with activity but now a silent jungle – is by water. We sailed on a Hobie Cat across the turquoise lagoon to explore the beaches and ruins. When I walked into the brush alone, snow white fairy terns hovered overhead, watching me.
Only the buckled remains of an old concrete causeway and a twin line of stunted piers poke out of the channel between Wake and Peale now. One can swim or kayak across the channel to Peale, but Barbara Bowen asked MSgt Gene Fleury to sail us to the lagoon shore on this little catamaran and we skimmed over the clear water with the wind. (Minus a jib it was a long, scenic tour of the lagoon getting back!)
In 1935 Pan American Airways chose Peale for its transpacific Clipper station. The complex soon included buildings, streets, a full-service hotel, gardens, tennis courts, and a long pier stretching into the lagoon for Clipper access. Peale was also the location of the naval air station under construction by the contractors when war broke out in 1941. During the war the Japanese occupiers built extensive fortifications and underground facilities on Peale; their big eight-inch gun still points to sea on the northwest beach.
Now without land access, Peale is vacant. Native brush and vines fill the forgotten spaces and creep over old foundations, swallowing the vestiges of human occupation. A lone stone etched by an anonymous Pan Am worker in 1935 marks the location of the Clipper pier. Hermit crabs skitter over the concrete slabs of the seaplane ramp built by the contractors, and scattered flotsam litters the seaward beach near the rusty Japanese gun and pillboxes.