Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why We Love the Sea of Cortez

While we are really glad we spent time on the mainland Mexican coast this year, we’ve been reminded these past two weeks of why we love the Sea of Cortez.

1.       Mobula Rays
Mobula rays are a type of manta ray that frequent the waters of the Sea of Cortez.  Typically they travel alone, and can often be seen leaping out of the water for reasons unknown.  Unfortunately there hasn’t been a lot of research done on these wonderful creatures and so many of their behaviours are a mystery.  While we’ve seen many rays in our 3 years in the Sea, this year was spectacular.  

It turns out that April is ‘mating month’ and so the rays have been congregating in huge groups.  The group circles under the water while several rays at a time leap out of the water and do a belly flop.  We speculate that this is part of the mating ritual – may the best belly flop win!  The rays then seem to pair off and there is a frenzy of activity on the surface as they ‘chase’ each other around.

My friend Tanya and I happened upon one of these groups while kayaking off of Isla Espiritu Santo a few weeks ago.  Being pre-occupied, the rays let us get quite close, while they traveled underwater in a tight circle.  I kayaked into the middle of the fray and was caught in the whirlpool caused by their circling.  They spun my boat in slow circles for at least 2 minutes.  It was a magical experience.  Unfortunately neither of us had brought our cameras with me that day...


Rays underwater - the video is much better...
As luck would have it, we’d been lucky enough to encounter a number of these ray groupings over the last few weeks.  It is just nice to sit and watch them, which Gary and I have been able to do in pretty much every anchorage we’ve gone into in the last 2 weeks.



























2.       Grebes
Grebes are pretty common in the Sea of Cortez, but there seem to be more of them than usual.  They have provided endless entertainment as we’ve watched them all dive as a group, and come up as a group.  Some of the groups we’ve seen have been huge – up to several hundred birds. 


3.       Dolphins
Despite all the dolphin shows we’ve been privy to in the last 3 years, it is still a thrill when a pod stops by to play.  Spinner dolphins are especially fun to watch as they like to leap out of the water around the boat.


4.       Whales
We’ve been lucky in the whale department these last few weeks as well.  On a quiet motor a few days ago we encountered a curious Minke whale.  He surfaced just off the port side and so we stopped the boat and floated while he circled us 3 times.  On his last pass, he was less than a boat length away.  While only about 30 feet or so, he was still very impressive.  I’m glad he was only curious!
Minke Whale

We’ve also seen a number of humpback whales on our trip north.  We’ve seen them leaping and slapping the water with their fins.  All very cool.












5.       Turtles
This has been a great year for turtles.  We’ve never seen so many, both in the south and in the Sea!  Every anchorage has had at least 2  turtles swimming around.  I spent one day trying to get a good picture of one, but they are shy creatures.  Sorry, the picture here is the best I got.



6.       Expect the Unexpected
This morning the cry of gulls brought Gary and I up to the cockpit, where we watched a couple of gulls force a vulture into the water.  Vultures are not sea birds.  They aren’t very good swimmers and can’t take off from the water.  So basically the poor guy was screwed.  The gulls continued to dive bomb the poor thing while he bobbed in the water.  He eventually doggy-paddled his was over to our boat and seemed desperate to get out.  Gary got a bucket and I got into the dinghy.  The vulture came right over to me and latched onto the side of the bucket.  I then semi-scooped him out of the water while he clung to the side with his wings spread wide for balance.  The gulls looked on in disgust.

Now what?  I was sitting in the dinghy with a huge vulture on the other side of a bucket from me.  I gently put the bucket in the bottom of the dinghy.  While he made a move from the bucket to the dinghy seat, I made a hasty retreat.  He then sat on the dinghy seat looking pathetic for the next few hours while his feathers dried.  The gulls were incredibly persistent and continued to dive bomb him at regular intervals.  If we heard them coming, either Gary or I would go and stand on deck, which would deter the gulls from a full attack.  I don’t think we made any gull friends today.

After about 3 hours he did a test flight and landed on the solar panel.  After a quick thank you, he took off for shore, with about 5 gulls in hot pursuit.  The gulls forced him back into the water just as he got to shore, but he managed to crawl up onto the rocks.  The last we saw he was cowering beside a rock while the gulls continued to harass him. 

The lesson here:  don’t piss off a gull.  They know how to hold grudges.








7.       Interesting Sites
We toured 2 separate abandoned salt mines over the last two weeks.  We enjoyed poking through the old buildings and looking at the abandoned equipment.  Both mines closed in the 1980’s and it was amazing just how poorly the buildings have fared.  A good reminder that everything returns to dust at the end of the day...








8.       Breath Taking Scenery
It’s the Sea of Cortez... Need I say more? 

Our time here is almost up.  Tomorrow we will cross the Sea of Cortez back to Guyamas, where we will work furiously for the next week to put the boat to bed for another year.  

Overall it has been a great season.  We travelled to some wonderful new areas, swam in warm waters, made new friends, experienced a ton of wildlife and traveled some major distances (roughly 3300 nm).  Unfortunately we didn’t end up sailing as much as we’d have liked, but the gentler weather we experienced instead has been a nice change.  We’ll definitely miss Mexico next year when we leave to explore countries further south.
 
Buddy Boats:  Kialoa, Sea Rover II and Seadra



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our First Sewing Project - 18 Months in the Making

After our first year of Cruising, Gary decided we would buy a sewing machine and start making “useful things” for the boat.  The first project he had in mind was replacing our ageing stack pack (the bag that holds the main sail on the boom and protects it from UV).  I thought this was kind of ambitious for people who’d never touched a sewing machine before, but agreed we should give it a try.
So much material... so little space


First things first.  We needed a sewing machine.  And not just any machine, but one that would sew sail cloth and multiple layers of heavy duty canvas material.  As you can imagine, there aren’t very many machines that fit the bill.  While most Cruisers spend the big bucks and buy a Sailrite machine, Gary didn’t want to spend the mucho dinero required to purchase one (they almost never come up for sale second hand, and if they do, they are sold instantly).  Instead, he began scouring all the sewing shops in Vancouver for the right machine.  It turns out that shopping for a sewing machine as a man has its challenges.  In every store we went into the sales staff would immediately try to talk to me, not him!  I’d stare at them blankly and then Gary would start talking the sewing machine lingo, saying things like “does it have a pressure foot?” and the sales staff’s eyes would widen in shock...  It was an entertaining time.   

After much searching, he settled on a 1940’s vintage German-made Pfaff 130.  She is a beauty – black and sleek, but obviously likes her beer and bratwursts, as she is a hefty one.  I can barely lift her.  Even though she was built in the 40’s she came with an electric foot pedal.  We thought this was great until Gary used it for the first time and it started to smoke in our living room... So, his first task in his new career as a ‘sewing machine repair man’ was to re-wire the foot pedal. 
Making fasteners

Gary then spent the summer searching the internet and buying all the materials we’d need to build our stack pack.  Even though we didn’t buy a Sailrite machine, we spent many dineros buying all the bits and pieces from them that would be required to complete the project.  There were zippers, fasteners, the material itself, the instruction manual, basting tape, pins, needles for the machine, velcro, webbing, the list went on and on.  We bundled everything into boxes and drove it down to the boat in Mexico.

November 2015:  The project began.  We used one of the big empty rooms at the Marina Fonatur in Guaymas to spread the material and cut out the pattern following the directions in the Sailrite “how to make a stack pack” manual.  We measured, basted, and cut.  Then we started to sew.  And sew she did!  In fact, she sewed so fast that you couldn’t feed the material into the machine fast enough!  Since we were dealing with 18 foot long pieces of material (and doing the sewing in the salon area of our boat), this was a problem.  It didn’t matter what Gary tried, the speed was either dead slow (hand cranking the wheel) or lightening fast.  It turns out Gary is like my mother and you don’t want to be near him when he has a sewing machine in front of him. Needless to say, I started to question whether we should have just had a canvas maker make the stack pack for us...Nevertheless, he persevered and managed to get about half way through the project by the end of the season. 

Summer 2016:  Over the winter Gary had investigated ways to make the machine run slower (ie, in control!).  A friend of ours had a similar problem and had added an extra gear to the machine.  We got the name of the guy who did the work and Gary contacted him when we got back to BC.  The guy was based in Duncan, so Gary put the sewing machine in a rolly suitcase and wheeled it onto the ferry and over to the island.  He borrowed my parents car and delivered it to the shop.  The guy added the extra gear, and it worked like a charm.

Winter 2017:  It look us a while to get back to the project this year.  We spent a day in Guaymas in November cutting out the final pieces we needed, but now we were down to the hard part.  Joining the 2 pieces together (of course we didn’t end up following the pattern), fitting it to the sail, and adding all the bits and pieces required to attach it to the boom.  The priority of the project increased in January when the old stack pack finally blew apart in spectacular fashion.  So in early March we decided the job had to get finished.
Adding the fiddly bits


We pulled out the machine and tried the sew the first seam, only to discover that the machine had completely seized up over the season and wouldn’t move!  Gary reprised his role as ‘sewing machine repair man’ and spent a day taking it apart, oiling everything and then putting it back together.  Miraculously, it worked!

We then got sidetracked with things like sailing north, but finally managed to get back to the project this week.  It took us a day to join the critical front and back pieces together (I was quite proud of us at the end of that), and then it took us a day to mock up how it would fit on the boom.  We took final measurements, and spent 9 hours on Friday doing all the fiddly bits.  Gary doesn’t do well with fiddly things, so I ended up helping on the machine (usually he doesn’t let me touch his baby).  By 6pm it was done.

Doesn't this look like fun?
Now the install.  Conditions weren’t exactly conducive to trying to do anything on deck, but we both just wanted to get it done.  The south wind was howling in the anchorage and it took 2 of us to stop the stack pack from being blown overboard.  Gary then broke 2 drill bits and 4 screws trying to install 2 fasteners on the end of the boom...  While we battled with the cover, Sea Rover waltzed all over the La Paz anchorage as the tide changed and the wind started to fight against the current.  Finally, well after the sun had said goodnight, the install was complete. 


It looks pretty good if I do say so myself, especially for 2 newbies who really didn’t know what they were doing.  There are still a few tweaks to make, but we’ll live with it for the rest of the season and make some changes next year. 



The finished product
For the first time ever we are a fully colour coordinated boat, as our bimini, genoa UV strip and stack pack are all grey to match our decks.  I made the mistake of pointing out that all the fenders that hang off the back of the boat are still blue...and I think that planted the seed in Gary’s mind as to our next sewing project – grey fender covers!   Aaagggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Zen (Not) of Passage-Making North

Old 1700 Church in San Blas
We spent the last week travelling 400 nm or so north from La Cruz on the mainland to La Paz on the Baja Peninsula.  While the passage seemed to take forever, it was about as good a passage as we could hope for when travelling north against the wind.  

We broke the passage into 3 sections: 

Leg One: A long day sail up to the town of San Blas, 60 nm north of La Cruz

We arrived at the river mouth at about 9pm and so had to negotiate the river bar and very shallow depths in the dark.  Our plan was to follow our old track on the chart plotter from when were where last there in December/January.  Unfortunately it appears that in the last 2 months the Navy had moved one of the channel buoys… you guessed it, to directly onto the path of our old track!  This caused a few moments of hysterics while I yelled at Gary to turn hard to starboard and he resolutely continued on the ‘track’.  The mounting panic in my voice obviously had an effect as he did finally turn to starboard… and we cleared the buoy by about 2 feet.   

Blue-footed Booby
In San Blas we spent a day touring the old fort and learning about the history of the town.  Apparently at one time it was the biggest port for the Spanish navy in Mexico.  Hard to believe when you see it now…  We then had dinner with 10 other Cruising boats all staying at the marina.  We met a lot of new and interesting people.

Leg Two:  A long day sail out to Isla Isabel, 40 nm NW of San Blas 

We spent the morning motoring in calm seas while dodging long lines.  The winds then blew between 7 and 13 knots all afternoon from the exact direction we were trying to go, but we had a beautiful sail almost all the way there.  We had to turn on the motor for the last 2 miles as the island seemed to have a force field around it.  No matter what tack we were on, we kept getting headed away from the island… Thank god for Myrtle (our trusty diesel engine).  Upon arrival, Gary jumped in the water to survey the bottom for a sandy spot to anchor (the bottom tends to be mostly anchor-eating rock piles and so some reconnaissance was required).  We had the hook down and set just as the sun went down. 

Baby Boobies at Isla Isabel
The next day I went to shore to check out the birds and lizards (Gary had a cold and needed to rest).  When we were here in December the frigate birds and boobies were all sitting on nests.  Now all the eggs had hatched and there were hundreds of fluffy white baby birds.  What is so amazing about Isla Isabel is that you can get within feet of the birds without them being afraid.  It was wonderful. 

In the afternoon I coaxed Gary into the water for what will probably be our last warm water snorkel of the year.  The visibility was incredible and we were rewarded by swimming with literally hundreds of fish and one turtle. 
Twin Boobies


The only downside to the island was the seas and swell.  Isla Isabel has 2 very exposed anchorages and so is susceptible to the whims of the ocean.  Conditions were extremely calm during our time there, but a slight SW swell made it uncomfortable, to say the least.  We kept joking that is was like we were already on passage!  Still worth the stop though.
Baby Frigate bird

Leg Three:  Isla Isabel to La Paz, 310 nm


As going north in strong winds is very difficult because of the short, choppy seas that you have to beat into, we agreed to do the passage in calm conditions.  This weather window was as calm as it ever gets.  There had been no systems in the Sea of Cortez for over a week, and there was no big ocean swell coming into the area.  Most of the boats travelling north chose this week to do the crossing.  We knew it was going to be a light air passage, but we agreed to sail whenever we could make over 3 knots per hour, and to motor the rest of the time. 

We left Isla Isabel and immediately put up the sails as there was a bit of wind.  Unfortunately the wind was directly on the nose… But, we sailed anyway and slowly tacked our way up towards Mazatlan.  I think Gary was hoping to sail the entire way to La Paz, but after 13 hours of sailing that day and only moving 25 nm in the correct direction towards La Paz (out of 310 nm), it soon became clear that it was going to take us a lifetime to actually sail there. 

I’m all about progress on a passage.  Yes, I try to be Zen about it - after all, we take our house with us when we sail and so have everything that we need to live.  But I just can’t get past not making way towards our destination.  So I guess I need to work on the Zen-thing… 

Pod of Pantropical Dolphins on Passage
Anyway, we turned on the motor and gave Myrtle a workout.  Conditions were bouncy in the evening, caused by seas left over by the afternoon winds, and then mellowed out to mill-pond-calm by morning.  Day 2 was much the same as day 1, but we only sailed for 7 hours in the afternoon (which got us another 10nm closer to La Paz).  Day 3 had no wind at all.  The sea was flat, flat, flat.  It was so flat that we actually transferred fuel from our jerry cans to the diesel tank while underway.  We were so bored that I actually agreed to play a game...

We had originally planned on stopping at an anchorage called Muertos, about 60 nm south of La Paz, but as we were going to get there after dark and we now had enough diesel in the tank to make it, we decided to keep going overnight all the way to La Paz.  We actually had a great sail up Cerralvo Channel and added another 20nm of sailing towards our destination.  We arrived in La Paz by 8am. 

Overall the passage took 72 hours.  48 hours of them were under power (contributing to 240nm towards our destination) and 24 were under sail (contributing to 55nm towards our destination).  We basically used an entire tank of fuel to get us from La Cruz to La Paz.  Unheard of for us.  Gary is horrified over what this does to our sailing/motoring numbers this year, but I’m just happy we got here in 3 days versus 10.  Three days was definitely long enough.

We are now in La Paz, anchored in our usual spot off of the main marina.  We must be back in the Sea as the water temperature is down to 21oC, we’ve had to put on sweaters during the day, and it is blowing like hell (yup, a Norther). 

We will be in La Paz for 10 days or so finishing up some boat projects (like the stack pack for the mainsail we started sewing last year).  We will leave La Paz April 1st and sail with some friends from Vancouver who have rented a catamaran for a week.  We will then continue north up towards Guaymas and put the boat to bed by the end of April.  Hopefully we’ll start to see some southerly winds by the time we have to head north.  Fingers crossed.  Myrtle could use a break.


Monday, March 13, 2017

The Perfect Combination...

...Warm Weather, Warm Seas and Gentle Winds

Part One:

After a cold and windy season in the Sea of Cortez last year we decided to travel south in search of warmer weather and warmer seas.  I’m happy to announce that we have been successful in our quest and have spent the last 3 months on the Mexican mainland coast between San Blas and Manzanillo. 



We arrived in the area mid-December, and after a quick trip to La Cruz (near Puerto Vallarta) to visit friends, headed up to the town of San Blas.  We spent a week working on the boat and exploring this lovely little Mexican town.  While we were there I convinced Gary to do an inland river to tour to see the crocodiles that populate the area.  The tour did not disappoint!  We saw several baby crocs as well as a couple of the big boys.  The tour turned around at a crocodile reserve where you could get up close and personal with your favourite croc with nothing but a chain link fence between you and the beast.  You could even pet them if you wished…


We left the boat at the marina in San Blas and flew home to Vancouver for a cold, snowy Christmas.  Gary returned in early January, while I suffered through the horrendous weather in the Pacific NW for another month.  I was certainly happy to return to the boat at the end of January!


Barra de Navidad from the Hotel/Marina
Gary single-handed the boat down to PV, then tortured his cousin Karen with several tough passages 150nm south to Barra de Navidad.  Flight schedules (me arriving, Karen leaving) meant they had to sail south through several days of strong southerly winds.  Normally this is just an uncomfortable point of sail (my least favourite), but unfortunately the hatch in the salon got left open one of the days… and the bilge pump switch got jammed in the “off” position… and so there was a bit of a water disaster below decks.   Luckily they discovered the issue fairly quickly and so there was no major damage to any of the systems (thank god for lithium batteries), but there were a lot of things to rinse out and dry (ie, the salon cushion, all our log books, all our guidebooks, the lithium batteries etc).  Luckily the sunshine is hot and dry in this climate, so we had the boat back to normal in a couple of weeks.

Hotel Attached to the Marina in Barra
I met up with Gary in a town called Barra de Navidad.  It is a wonderful place just north of Manzanillo.  It is the only completely protected anchorage on the mainland Mexican coast.  In addition, it has a fabulous marina attached to a world class hotel.  As the two halves of the town are located on either side of the lagoon, there is a flotilla of water taxis that service the area.  While they are there primarily to take the locals from one part of town to another, they will also take the Cruisers into town or back to the boat for a very reasonable fee (about $1 per trip).  Very convenient!  We split our time between the calm lagoon anchorage and the marina, where we enjoyed the pool facilities to their max.  It was expensive, but worth it!  

One of the best things about Barra is the French Baker who sells his goodies from his panga 5 days a week.  He visits both the marina and the anchorage, which was both a good and bad thing, as we ate way too many chocolate croissants while we were there!  
Chocolate Croissants, Anyone?

My friend Libby joined us for a week in early February.   We enjoyed the marina for a few days and then sailed up to a bay called Tenacatita, about 15nm north of Barra.  We put Libby to work doing some boat jobs (thanks for the anchor chain splice and winch cleaning Libby!) but also spent a few days snorkeling and enjoying the beach.  We survived several surf landings and didn’t manage to break her this year (except for a slightly damaged toe).  At some point she'll forgive Gary for the long walk into Colimilla when we could have taken a water taxi...

Guest-Labour
We decided Barra would be our turn-around point for the year.   We spent about a week back in Tenacatita after Libby left enjoying the daily routine of surf landing the dinghy to get to shore, walking the beach, playing bocce and hanging out at the palapa restaurant on the beach with all the other Cruisers.  

Then a big up-welling from the ocean brought in a nasty algae bloom and dropped the water temperature by 4oC.  Clearly it was time to start heading north back to the Sea of Cortez.


Part Two:  The Slow Trip North Begins

Blow Hole in Paraiso
We left Tenacatita during a period of unsettled weather.   Strong southerly winds, huge seas and thunderstorms were forecast.  While everyone headed south back to Barra for protection from the ‘storm’, we of course went north.   Luckily the ‘storm’ didn’t end up traveling as far south as originally predicted and so we were able to spend 2 nights in a ‘calm weather only’ anchorage called Paraiso.  

Gary and Karen had stopped in this anchorage on one of their awful sails south the month before, and had spent a very uncomfortable night in this very tight spot with 2 other boats.  They also had our famous ‘no water through the engine’ issue on the way into the bay and so had to sail-to-anchor as the conditions were too rough to attempt to fix the issue in the open ocean.  Now, this anchorage is small.  When we entered the bay under very calm conditions I was worried we wouldn’t have enough room to turn the boat around without running into the rock reefs on either side of the bay.  Needless to say I felt pretty sick looking at Gary and Karen's sail track from the previous month on our chart plotter...  It is a testament to Gary’s good sailing skills that they and Sear Rover made it into the anchorage unscathed!

Sea Foam in Paraiso
Despite the presence of a small hotel on the beach, the anchorage has a very remote feeling to it.  It is fairly open to the swell and so the waves tend to crash on the rocks surrounding the bay and on the beach.  As we were the only boat in the bay we were able to set a stern anchor to keep us pointed into the swell at all times.  As a result, we spent 2 pretty comfortable days exploring the area.  We kayaked and snorkeled, enjoyed a wonderful sunset and watched the bioluminescence in the water, as well as a lightening storm off in the distance. 
We felt like we were the only people on the coast (which we pretty much were as everyone else was in Barra or in Puerto Vallarta).  It was quite magical.
Unsettled Weather in Paraiso


Dinner on the Beach in Perula
From Paraiso we moved on to a bay called Chamela, the last anchorage before you have to round Cabo Corrientes.  Being a Cape, Corrientes tends to have big winds and uncomfortable seas associated with it.  We liked Chamela so much we ended up spending a week there.  We made daily trips into the town of Perula for ice cream, despite the dinghy surf landing it required.   We almost flipped the dinghy upside down on several occasions, but luckily only managed to either fill the dinghy with water or get very, very wet.  All in all it was pretty fun.


Hungry Hermits
As conditions were calm we spent one day anchored in a set of islands in the bay with the crews of Kialoa (Tanya) and Seadra (Ed).  Kayaking around the island with Tanya, dinner on the beach, watching thousands of hermit crabs pick apart a tortilla chip, and seeing an octopus while snorkeling were the highlights.  What an amazing place. 

All too soon it was time to head north back up to Puerto Vallarta.  For once we managed to pick the right weather window and had a good upwind sail almost all the way to Cabo Corrientes.  We even heard whales calling through the hull!  The conditions couldn’t have been more calm going around the notorious Cape at midnight.  It was like glass.  The wind then picked up enough to enable us to sail up Banderas Bay.  We arrived and anchored in La Cruz at dawn.

We’ve been based in La Cruz for the last 2 weeks.  My sister rented a condo in nearby Bucerias and invited my parents down for the week so we hung out with them and did boat jobs (never ending).  As La Cruz is a pretty rolly anchorage, especially in the afternoon, we’ve been treating ourselves to a week in the marina.  It made it much easier to get the family on board.  We are now just waiting for some repair work on our genoa to be completed (hopefully on tomorrow??), and we will start the long trek north back up to La Paz and then Guaymas.  Only 750 nm to go!  

Impressions of Mainland Mexico:

Despite being lovely and warm, with predictable afternoon winds and calm nights, the mainland Mexican coast is a challenging place to Cruise.  Unlike the Sea of Cortez, there are very few truly protected anchorages.  Most anchorages are fully open to the Pacific Ocean.  This makes for some absolutely stunning beaches, but means the anchorages are rolly and going to shore requires a surf landing in the dinghy.  At anchor, the boat never stops moving.  While this motion doesn’t bother me, it drives Gary bananas.   After a horrendous January battling contrary winds and rolly seas, Gary was pretty much done with this coast.  Luckily a few weeks of calm seas in Barra de Navidad, plus improvements to our “flopper stoppers” (which do just that – stop the boat from flopping from side-to-side at anchor) have helped to change his perspective and he has grown to like it here as much as I do.  The weather helps too.

We used to think that all the sailors that came to this coast for the winter were ‘wussy’ and that we were the tough ones by staying in the Sea of Cortez all season.  While the Sea of Cortez certainly has its challenges, travelling 900nm south and then 900nm north again 3 months later isn’t that easy either, as we are now discovering.   

Overall, we are both glad we made the effort to come to this coast.  It has been a really rewarding trip.  We will certainly miss the warm water, sunshine and easy lifestyle next year when we leave Mexico for waters further afield...



Monday, December 12, 2016

We Love Boobies!

Ten days ago we did a 3-day, 320 nm passage from La Paz to a tiny island off the coast of mainland Mexico called Isla Isabel.  Unlike our first passage across the Sea, this one was almost pleasant.  Almost.  We thought we’d picked the perfect weather window.  The “Fast Sea” weather/passage planning software we were using predicted we’d have no more than 16 knots of wind from the NW and small seas for the entire crossing.  That was once the cold front that was travelling down the Sea of Cortez had passed, which it was supposed to do the morning we left…BEFORE we left.

The first 12 hours of the passage were pleasant.  We did indeed have 15 knots of wind and had a beautiful sail down the Cerralvo channel.  Just after nightfall, after we’d left the safety of the Baja coastline, we looked behind us and saw a sight guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any offshore sailor.  Lightening.  And LOTS of it!  Unfortunately I had just put lasagna in the oven for dinner and so we weren’t able to put our spare GPS and radio in oven (our faraday container on board) to protect them in the event of a lightening strike…  

With no choice but to carry on, we reefed the main and watched the squalls form all around us.  At one point we were in the centre of 5 different squalls, with lightening hitting the water all around us.  It was nothing short of terrifying.  By midnight the thunderheads had moved off to the east, but the wind climbed to 30 knots and stayed there for the duration of the night.  We sailed with just a double reefed main and made amazing progress.  So much for the “Fast Seas” prediction.  By morning we were 12 hours ahead of where we were supposed to be by their calculations!

Male frigate bird on Isla Isabel

Days two and three were much tamer.  The seas were still big, but the winds were a gentle 10-15 knots.  Unfortunately we ended up travelling too quickly and our arrival time to Isla Isabel showed after dark.  We slowed the boat way down and sailed at 1.5 knots for the last 15 miles so that we pulled into the island at first light. 

Isla Isabel was spectacular.  The first thing that hit us was how green it was!  I don’t know why that surprised us so much, but after sailing in the Mexican desert for the last 2 years, you get used to seeing brown, not green.  The second thing that struck us was the birds.  There were literally thousands of frigate birds and boobies circling over the island.  Talk about wild. 

Isla Isabel, south anchorage.  Boobies and frigates fore and aft.
The island has 2 anchorages, one on the south side, and one on the east.  Neither is tenable in anything other than calm seas.  The seas were definitely calming down when we arrived, but the breakers rolling across the south anchorage and crashing into the rocks were humbling, to be sure.  We anchored in the south bay.  As the anchorage is known to have a rocky bottom that has “eaten more anchors than anywhere else in Mexico”, we attached a trip line and Gary got in the water and manuevered the anchor into a favourable sandy spot (there is only one – the joy of being the first boat to arrive!).

Despite only getting snatches of sleep for the last 3 days, we put the dinghy in the water and went to explore.  The island is called the Mexican Galapagos as the inhabitants have no predators and so aren’t afraid of people.  As a result, you can get up close and personal with frigates, iguanas and nesting boobies.  It was incredible. 

People must feed the iguanas, or they just like the camera, because they literally ran up to me when I knelt down to take pictures.  You had to watch where you stepped in the grass to avoid squishing them!
Gary and the Iguanas

Boobie on its nest
The Boobies were the most amazing though, as we’d arrived at nesting time.  We hiked to the top of a ridge overlooking the anchorage, and there they were, nest after nest of boobies sitting on their eggs.  They watched us wearily as we walked slowly through them, but they didn’t leave their nests and didn’t seem put out by us at all.  







Building a nest, Booby style!
The highlight was watching a pair building a nest.  The male would gather grass then prance over to the nest and place it around the female.  They’d then click bills and cackle at each other.  It was adorable.  I got the most amazing video. 

The island itself is a national park and was home to an impressive looking research station which was built in 1980, but like so many buildings in Mexico, has fallen into disrepair.  Supposedly researchers still go there and camp in the abandoned building, but no one was present when we were visiting.  

Fish camp, with thousands of frigate birds hovering above
The island is also home to a well-run fish camp.  The Mexican government must have built the huts on the beach at the same time as the research centre, as they are identical and are painted green to blend into the background.  It is a very active camp, which houses the long-line fisherman.  The fisherman go out and set lines with thousands of hooks on the surface, marked with pop bottles, that go for miles.  Each end is marked by a pole with a black flag.  We regularly saw the fishermen going out with nets full of pop bottles and reels of line wrapped around the poles.  While we were impressed at how hard these men worked, we were saddened by their impact on the ocean.  These longlines are extremely hazardous to by-catch (dolphins, turtles, whales), not to mention sailboats trying to traverse the area!  We caught one on our passage from Isla Isabel to the mainland, but luckily it came off with a bit of coaxing.  As you traverse this area of the coast in a sailboat you can’t help but feel like the ocean has been booby-trapped.  But, I understand people have to eat and it isn’t a simple problem and doesn’t have a simple solution.  Like so many things in life.


After spending two lovely days soaking up the atmosphere on the island, the wind and waves picked up and it was time to go.  We had a pleasant overnight sail to La Cruz, in Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta) and spent a few days catching up with friends and enjoying the Cruiser activities (Movie Night, Cruiser Welcome Party etc). 



Impromptu Blue Water Cruising BURP (unplanned rendezvous) in La Cruz
We weren’t planning on going that far south before Christmas, but Gary wanted to do a reconnaissance trip as he will be single-handing the boat back to this area in January while I am in Vancouver working.  After 2 days there, we took advantage of the calm conditions to motor (with some sailing) 60 nm north to the town of San Blas, where we will keep the boat over Christmas while we return to snowy, cold Vancouver.  I expect it will be a bit of a shock for us on Friday when we travel from our current jungle/river area location where it is 30oC and humid (we are both dying) to -2oC (we will also be dying).

Here are a few more pictures of the inhabitants of Isla Isabel:

Frigate doing god knows what

Posing for the camera

Juvenile male frigate developing his red throat sac (sign of maturity)