Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Southbound to Isla Isabela

Passage: Mazatlan to Isla Isabela

Travel time: 21.75 hours

Average speed: 4.1 knots

Approximate mileage: 88 nautical miles

After nearly 3 weeks in Mazatlan, it was time for Chris and Tao to make plans for their trip further south towards Banderas Bay. Isla Isabela was the first stop on the itinerary, an island about 30-nm off the mainland coast and 85 miles south of Mazatlan, reported to be the home of numerous frigate birds, various species of boobies, marine iguanas, and great diving. The island was featured in a National Geographic by Jacques Cousteau, but has a reputation for bad holding which may take the boat’s anchor as payment for the visit. Also, any weather from the south makes anchoring off the island untenable. These warnings found in Charlie’s Charts were confirmed by other cruisers, notably by Julia and Jacob from s/v Pisces, who had recently visited Isabela.

Chris and his friends from Estrella, Caramelo, and Plume all monitored the weather for a window to travel south. Nervous for his first attempt at truly single-handing Tao on an overnight passage, Chris was glad to have the support from so many boats for the journey. At long last, Sunday, February 28th, Tao sailed off her anchor on very light southerlies at the hands of her only crewmember. Problems arose immediately when Tao couldn’t out-sail the currents flowing into the Mazatlan harbor entrance. It must have been comical watching the only two boats attempting to sail out without motor, Caramelo and Tao, criss-crossing back and forth effectively blocking the entrance trying to make their way out. Eventually the newly fixed motor had to be employed and both boats putted out towards the south in pursuit of Estrella who opted for the engine from the start. Plume decided to stay for the night and wait for more wind the following day.

It turned out that it was a good night to test the Yanmar, as seas were nearly flat and wind was negligible with only a few minor gusts. She took to her new job with enthusiasm, pushing Tao ahead at a comfortable 5+ knots all night long. Coincidentally, this was also the first time the tiller pilot was able to be used, as Chris had just finished putting together the pieces for proper function amid the tornado of engine repair tasks. It only took a few minor adjustments before “Captain Tilly” took the helm and steered a straighter track than any helmsman could ever hope to.

With the assistance of two nearby boats with radar, Chris was actually able to take a few half hour catnaps throughout the early morning hours of the night passage. With only 20-nm to go, the sun rose, winds picked up from the NW ever so slightly, and Chris decided to fall behind the other two boats to sail the rest of his way in towards Isla Isabela. There’s nothing quite like sailing to anchor on an island in the middle of a large body of water. Chris came in under sail at 2.5-knots of speed over ground and watched as the island’s features grew more defined.

The sound of waves crashing against the volcanic basalts of the rugged island became louder, along with the constant bird calls and the sight of whales flapping their tails and pectorals while blowing spouts. Chris happily set the hook next to Caramelo and Estrella who were already anchored deep in the south anchorage. Guidebooks describe the anchorage as what remains of the primary caldera on the island. After inflating the dinghy and cleaning barnacles off of Tao’s bottom, Chris was barely able to cook a meal before crashing into bed in exhaustion.

The next 5-days were spent recovering and enjoying the rewards of finally exiting the big city of Mazatlan. First, Chris free dove to check Rocky’s set in the clear beautiful 20 to 25-ft depth. The chain was tending to wrap around rocks and other large items, so he put a float on the anchor to make it easy to slip (and subsequently retrieve) if necessary. Then, he went ashore and enjoyed a hike around an old crater and to the northern shores of the island and back. Along the way he visited a fish camp where fisherman were busily cutting up their catch of hammerhead sharks and a university camp where students were studying the blue footed boobies. Next, he finally broke out his newly acquired SCUBA equipment going for a small dive among the rocks and around the anchorage to reacquaint himself with the process. He had forgotten how amazing it was to be able to breathe under water. On a very calm Thursday, March 4th, snorkeling and spear fishing were the main delight on the east side of the island around two striking rock pinnacles called Las Monas (the monkeys) and the north side of the island, where friends Ryan and Adam and the two Kristinas from Caramelo and Estrella joined.

This mini-Galapagos was truly amazing. Pelagic and reef fish were mixed together among the crags of the ancient volcanic flows that formed the northern shore of Isabela, where strong currents of cooler nutrient rich water intermixed with the warmer surface waters of the area. Whales could be heard making their calls while the group snorkeled, especially at depths greater than 20 feet. Numerous frigates and boobies were constantly seen flying overhead and as a black mass in the distance over the island, mixed with pelicans and gulls. It was hard not to stumble into a nesting booby on the ground or pass within a few feet of the frigate nests in the small trees while walking around the island. You wouldn’t want to hang out under the branches of the trees, as you were sure to have something unwelcome drop onto your head from one of the frigate birds perched above. Land iguanas scuttled around the ground sounding like mice fleeing from your footsteps on a leafy forest bottom when walking through the grass clumps that clogged the moderately well marked trails on the island.

On Friday, March 5th, Chris awoke to the deep red colors of an early sunrise reflecting off the dense cloud cover brought from nearly 4,000-miles away on the Pineapple Express. Most of the Sea of Cortez as well as a large portion of the Mexican Riviera is often affected by this stream of clouds that is formed to the southwest of Hawaii before making its way east to the continental coast. Chris spent this day taking care of a few boat tasks and preparing for the roughly 40-nm journey south to San Blas, planned for the following day. Overall, the stay was well worth the effort to get there, the requirement of diving on one’s anchor several times to make sure it was secure and the chain was not wrapped around the rocky bottom, and the moderate roll in the anchorage caused by the southwesterly ground swell.

1 comment:

  1. So happy to hear Tao is sailing again. Looking forward to catching up on the mainland!