Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Isla Isabella: January 30 to February 1

We left Mazatlan mid late morning hoping to catch an afternoon breeze. We got it right for as soon as we cleared the island in front of the breakwater we hoisted our sails and beam reached into a gently increasing wind all afternoon and into the evening.

Leaving Mazatlan - breakwater centre, El Cid to right

We sailed along averaging 5 knots. The wind never got much higher than 15 knots. The sun shone and the coastline slipped by. Dolphins (or were they porpoises?) cavorted around and we had several whale sightings. The monitor did a decent job of maintaining our heading and we were free to read, listen to music and relax. Unfortunately, after a glorious sunset, the wind began to weaken, but the wind waves and ocean swell continued, turning the passage into a rock and roll experience.

Mexican shrimper

About 2am we had to take down the flogging sails and turn on the engine, and continued to pitch on through to a rosy dawn. It had been a dark night with no moon, but that only enhanced the phosphorescence of the dolphins as they wove back and forth across our bow. We arrived at Isla Isabel at first light.

Approaching Isla Isabella at first light

I was worried that I might be seasick after a month on the dock, but I didn’t feel nauseous once. However, I had pulled a back muscle somewhere over the previous few days….backpack? hoisting Doug up the mast?...that caused some discomfort. Nevertheless, it was good to be back on the water.

We anchored tightly off the Monas, in coral, and were worried that we might have difficulty raising the anchor when we left.

The Monas - Isla Isabella

Our guidebooks had said there were more anchors “eaten” at Isabella than anywhere else in Mexico. Although we wasted energy worrying, it turned out to not be a problem at all. The fishing lines, however, were. As we approached these isolated, low lying islands 18 miles off the mainland coast, we noticed plastic soft drink bottles in the water. Huh? Then we noticed the lines connecting the pop bottles. Although we didn’t see them, we could only assume these were some kind of net or hook system to snare as many fish as possible. They were set up with periodic black flags, which were extremely difficult to see, and stretched for what seemed like miles. We managed to snare the line somewhere below our waterline and didn’t even realize it until I saw a plastic bottle waterskiing behind us. Somehow we were able to get rid of it. A couple days later, as we left the Island, the same thing happened. This time we were under sail and ended up hauling the line along side with our boat hook and cutting it. Unfortunately, as we were trying to avoid this second line we also saw a beautiful frigate bird hopelessly tangled. There was nothing we could do to help it. We wondered how many other animals were the unwitting victims of these nets.

bow watch for fish nets - heading toward Isabella in the early morning

Joining us at Isabella were Scout, Picara and Wendiwyn whom we had heard talking over the radio during the night as we made our way from Mazatlan. Scout, flying the American Flag, was a large sailboat with several adults and children aboard. Picara, from Sydney, Vancouver Island was crewed by Mike and Marnie, and Wendiwyn, a Vancouver 27 from Victoria, Canada had another couple aboard. The boats in the anchorage when we arrived, left, making the whole anchoring process much easier as there is not a lot of room in an area which requires settled conditions. We all dropped our hooks by the Monas and, we noticed later, no one dropped their hook in the other recommended anchorage by the fisherman’s camp.

Fish Camp at Isla Isabella (notice the birds in the air)

Right after breakfast, we launched our dinghy and headed to shore. There was a 4 foot swell and some wind chop so I was a little concerned we might not have enough power in our little 2 horse motor, but there was nothing to worry about. We landed the dinghy on the little bay beside the fishermen’s pangas and went ashore to explore. We noticed a big sign that declared Isabella a protected area and illustrated a map of pathways you could follow to explore the island. Unfortunately, many of these were overgrown and difficult to follow. We headed toward an abandoned research station and were soon engulfed in nesting boobies and frigates, as well as sunning iguanas all hanging out in an overgrown and stinky excrement covered landscape.

Nesting blue-footed boobies

Male frigate

Baby frigate

Frigates - mother and child  (Doug's photo)

There were many more in this area sunning themselves.


 Piles of fishguts littered the beach and we wound our way around a dried swamp-like area and through a forest of individual outhouses bearing their owners names, before we found some semblance of a pathway.

Leaping lizards (Doug's picture)

 We followed this, battling spiderwebs, vines and leaping lizards until we came to the crater lake. It was brown and murky – very still – with hundreds of birds circling above. The air was very hot and we were tired from our overnight passage. Although a very overwhelming sight, the strange behavior of the birds who stared at you and allowed you to come very close, combined with the other sensory experiences I described, gave me the willies.

Dr. Doolittle talks to the Boobies

I did not have the sense of wonder I experienced at the isolated Bonitos Islands off the Baja, instead, Isabella gave me a bit of the creeps.

Guano covered canopy shadows the path

Looking out from the canopy to the rocky shores of Isabella

The frank and unnerving stare of a blue footed boobie

That night on the anchor, the wind rose and fell and the swell remained. Our uneasy feeling continued and by first light we had hoisted the anchor and were heading ESE, under sunny skies, to San Blas.

At anchor off the Monas at Isla Isabella - Ka'sala in the front of the line

Sunset on Isabella - can you see the thousands and thousands of birds hovering over this desolate place?

Despite running into another fish net, we had another glorious sail. Our passage to San Blas was only 45 miles, so we were determined to sail the whole way. The swell was in our favour and we moved along at about 3 knots at a broad reach for most of the morning. After a while we dropped the Yankee and flew the drifter with the mainsail and the wind began to fill in the afternoon. As the wind approached 15 knots we dropped the drifter, hoisted the Yankee again and ran down the swells at 6+ knots. We covered the distance very quickly and found ourselves approaching the breakwater a couple hours earlier than we had expected.

The San Blas harbor entrance has a bad reputation in certain swell, tide and wind conditions. There is a sand bar that crosses the entrance that shifts constantly and requires local knowledge and/or experience to get in safely. We found ourselves at the entrance just as the tide was beginning to rise.

Looking back on the entrance to San Blas - the bouy you see is red - the green bouy is actually within the breaking water you see further out to the right side of the picture

Based on recommendations from our guide books and an earlier cruiser’s request for a panga to pilot them in, we too requested a guide and were happy we did. We zigzagged through the entrance, down the long estuary, through some very shallow water by the marina (2 meters) and felt it was worth the unasked 100 pesos when were were safely tied to the Singlar docks.

Panga guides us in, Blue Moon ahead of us, waterfront of San Blas 

Originally we had thought to anchor in Matanchen Bay, just 3 miles south of San Blas, but with a forecast for strong northerlies and potential large swells from the Sea of Cortez, decided to play it safe. We were joined by Blue Moon (with the German Shepherd, Luna aboard, whom we had met in Mazatlan) as we made our way inside, and later, Picara, and Scout.

On our way into San Blas bay, we had some difficulties hailing the marina on the radio. Our initial transmission, several hours out, was fine, but as we approached the breakwater we couldn’t seem to get anyone to return our hails. Captain Norm, a local expatriate who is known to help visiting yachties, (Thank you, Norm) was able to get the marina attendant’s attention and we had an interesting exchange. We didn’t have enough Spanish to communicate safely and when Doug asked if the marina manager could speak English he came back by asking Doug if he could speak French! It turned out he had lived in France as a child and, although he is Mexican, French is his mother tongue. Happily, Doug is also a fluent French speaker, having spent four years in Paris when he was a teenager.

We were very pleased with this marina. The Singlar marinas are franchise marinas found in several places along the Mexican coast. ( Each is a cookie cutter of the other with a small swimming pool and hot tub (not functional at San Blas), gorgeous shower, toilet and laundry facilities, small market and bar, beautiful and clean grounds with immaculate docking facilities including power and water (though unpotable in San Blas). Although the San Blas facility was not locked, there was plentiful security and we felt entirely safe the whole time we were there. We felt it was very luxurious compared to other marinas we had stayed in so far on our voyage, but still maintained a casual and friendly environment. Mexico needs more of these amazing facilities!  We will enjoy our stay here!

Sunset at Singlar San Blas

1 comment:

  1. Amazing journey and truly beautiful written travel log. Hope to do something like that someday.