Sunday, March 6, 2011

Isla Isabela and Dave's visit

: Mazatlan to Isla Isabela to San Blas (Feb 22 to Mar 3)

Travel Distance: 87.4-nm, 41.5-nm

Travel Time: 22-hr, 12.25-hr

Average Speed: 3.6 and 3.5-knots under sail, 6 and 5.5-knots under motor

Engine hours: 7-hr, 5-hr

We had made it to Mazatlan to meet Chris’ father, Dave, at the dinghy dock on Tuesday afternoon the 22nd of February. It was a little like Christmas as he had brought several items that Chris had requested as parts upgrades as well as some snail mail and a package from Shawn’s mom. This was the first time that we have had a third crew member so the three of us worked together to figure out ways to not only make it work, but so we all had fun.

The weather sounded a bit brisk for an immediate departure, with Don forecasting 25-30 knots and 8-10-ft seas in the Southern Crossing. Although we've found that wind intensity south of Mazatlan tends to be less than that forecast for the Southern Crossing (partially due to the mainland Mexico coast dipping SE creating protection)
we played it safe and stayed in Mazatlan for an extra day.
The first day we toured the Old Harbor area with stops to drop laundry off for someone else to do, at an amazing fresh squeezed OJ stand, a local hardware store, an internet cafe, the local eatery above the central market and then we caught a bus to the local Mega for a provision run. The second day the three of us took a different bus along the Malecon up to the Gold Zone to show Shawn Marina Mazatlan that Chris and Dave had been forced to sail into the previous season; engine-less. We had an amazing lunch (if you ever get a chance to try a "malcajete", arachera simmering in a delicious sauce in a hot basalt bowl, jump on it!) and it turned out to be a day of socializing as we crossed paths with crews from several boats; Gypsy Moon, Saviah, Begone, Pavane II, and Juniata too!

Over the couple of days spent in Mazatlan, Shawn painted 2 coats of varnish on our dinghy oars while Chris and Dave wrestled with the interface between our HF radio and our new Windows 7 operating system. In addition, Chris installed an extension to raise our GPS unit 12” so it was no longer shaded by our solar panels (we kept losing satellite connection on our passage down). Our chores done, the three of us took a nice hike up to the faro (light house) overlooking our anchorage as well as all of Mazatlan. The winds looked light and seas reasonable so we headed with excitement back to the boat and our passage to Isla Isabela.

At 1430 we weighed anchor, hailed the port captain, and sailed with the current out of Old Harbor Mazatlan under 100% jib. Shawn helped set Moni, Chris downloaded some waypoints to determined exactly what course we wanted to sail and downloaded GRIB weather files, and Dave, attempting to have an innocent beer in celebration of being underway, was rudely reminded that Tao is a small boat that heels a lot underway as he opened the refrigerator and the yogurt along with several other items dove at him and exploded on the sole. The GRIB files showed that winds indeed were light and going to lighten. So down came the 100% and up went the 165% for the night.

Shawn made a potato/spinach/lentil dish in the pressure cooker to put over rice whenever anyone was hungry throughout the passage and we decided on four 3-hr shifts through the night. Chris got the two end shifts that contained both sunset and sunrise and Shawn and Dave each stood one middle of the night shift. Winds were light and backing so between Dave and Shawn’s shifts we took the whisker pole down as the sail needed to be sheeted in to make our heading. The waning moon finally rose at 0200 and the winds continued to decrease until at 0500 Chris fired up Yannie and pulled the sail down. Except for the half hour we powered down to listen to the weather, we motored the rest of the way to Isla Isabela and set the hook at 1230 in this “mini-Galapagos”.

Isla Isabela is everything you hear about it and more! Blue and yellow footed Boobies (aka Bobos Azules y Cafes) nesting, breeding, fluffy white babies everywhere, frigates with their massive wing spans and their full bird condominium trees, both mama and baby whales breaching at the edges of the island, sea turtles bobbing along with the flow, iguanas, and crabs too. According to the scientists on the east shore of the island who have been studying this bird population for 30 years, this La Nina year has brought the largest cohort of Bobos ever recorded here, over twice as many as last year!


In addition, while we were visiting, it was the new moon; so the tides were at extreme highs and lows and at night with no moon the waters around the island teeming with life created brilliant phosphorescence. The anchorage itself was a little intimidating with long period swell rolling in from the south and repeatedly breaking over outlying reefs then coming in to crash on the SE point of the island with water exploding up to the top of the cliffs, and sending reflected waves back out to our boat- but Chris dove on Rocky when we got there and we put out our new-to-us flopper stopper (thanks s/v Nana!) and it combated the constant roll wonderfully.

We lucked out with the stable weather and the next morning after fueling up with an immense pineapple/papaya/pear/coconut salad and ham/egg/cheese croissants, we hopped in our surf mobile and putted around the island. The weather was quite calm and as we motored around the outlying crescent shaped Islote Pelon off the NW end of Isabela, we watched a baby whale breach repeatedly only a few hundred feet from our dinghy! We were subsequently surprised at the massive size of the mama whale that only showed us her back. After noting a possible nice surf break just the other side of the island from our anchorage, we completed our circumnavigation stopping back at Tao to make lunch. Ready to see the island, we dinghied ashore at the fish camp and readied Eeyore for several hours on the beach by putting on his canvas cover, tying him to surrounding rocks as well as setting his anchor.

We chose to start our island exploration by hiking up to the lighthouse, thinking we’d have our picnic lunch atop the island. But when we reached the peak there was nowhere to step without disturbing a Bobo, so we hiked back down and lunched in the shade of an outcrop on the dazzling Iguana Beach instead. Still ready for more, we hiked back to the fish camp, up to the Crater Lake, and down to the east side of the island just across from Islotes Las Monas.


It was from here we went for our first real swim of the season from the beach made of coral, dotted at its upper edge with Bobos and their newborns, and flanked by lava created rock features on both ends. On our hike back to the fish camp and our dinghy, we detoured to the peak above our anchorage and doing our best not to disturb the Bobos that have nested in the cliffs, watched the swells roll in and under Tao and crash into the beach from above.

The next day we dinghied around to the beach inside Islotes Las Monas, walked Eeyore through the reef protecting the beach, and brought it up above the high waterline so we could hike more of the island. This time we walked the entire east edge of the island to its NW extremity; among Bobo colonies, then past an area where pelicans seem to reside, and to the end of the island where turns and gulls nest and crabs cling to the rocks as the ocean roars in and out of lava formations like a Class V raging river.

In Flight


Another stunning lunch spot and we continued our loop hike this time heading into the island through the central valley lined with frigate birds up to the Crater Lake and then back down to Las Monas beach where we had lengthy discussions with the scientists living and studying there. After motoring back to Tao we spent the rest of the daylight relaxing watching the busy world around us with birds squawking, fishermen getting ready for their night’s work, and whales at play just off the island.

The sunrise on our third morning beckoned us to stay, but it was time to pull the hook and head toward San Blas to ensure a relaxed passage and get us there in a timely fashion for Dave to make his connection out of Puerto Vallarta. We pulled Rocky aboard and noted that at some time (likely when we were setting as he dragged over some rocks) his point had been bent ever so slightly. We motored away from the island in the calm conditions and were all fortunate to see plentiful wildlife with huge sea turtles bobbing at the surface and a grey whale that breached no more than 100-meters off our port.

After 5-hours of motoring in completely calm conditions the slightest breeze came up. We turned the engine off and raised first our 100% jib, then our main to sail and spent the next seven hours on a beam to broad reach all the way to the marked entrance to the San Blas estuary. Though we had purposefully timed our entrance for good entry conditions (i.e. high flood, NOT an ebb or low tide) we fully expected to have to motor in. However, as we got closer and sheeted in to follow the recommended waypoints that avoid shallow silted areas we realized the conditions were good for sailing. Rich and his son Jason from Third Day had motored out in their dinghy to meet another cruiser requesting help into the estuary and they stayed out to show us the way as well and even took a couple of pictures of us underway.

The entrance was a bit nerve-wracking as swells jacked up over silted shallows and rolled in on our beam, breaking just ahead and then just behind us. We were pointed as high a possible and were barely able to make it above the red mark. In the end (at Shawn’s request) we turned the engine on in case we needed a boost but we never needed to engage it. We did see depths as low as 5.5-ft from the water surface just at the channel entrance, but the current flooding in carried us past. Once inside the estuary there was still enough breeze and the three of us worked the jib and main sheets and helm up the channel to the anchorage where we dropped the hook in 12-ft just as the sun set over the mangroves and palm trees on shore just a couple hundred feet away.

We had homemade pizza to celebrate our entry into San Blas Estuary and slept well in completely flat calm waters, the polar opposite of the anchorage at Isabela. We were able to explore San Blas the next day, figure out the bus schedule, and buy Dave a bus ticket to get to Puerto Vallarta in time to stand by for a flight a few hours earlier than his original flight. After the day of exploring Dave took us out to a yummy early dinner and we retired to the boat to exchange pictures, pack, and eat specially prepared homemade flan.

Dave's visit was great- very special for Chris. Although it was quite tight here for 3, we were impressed that Dave rolled with the close quarters and wonder if we know anyone else who could enjoy the realities of visiting us as much as he did. Although Shawn had to wear ear plugs with the symphony of snoring and we pushed quite faster down the coast than we likely would have otherwise, we had just enough time everywhere and the weather worked out amazingly. It has been a spectacular couple of weeks since we left San Carlos. Now that we’re back at our own pace, we plan to enjoy San Blas, and you guessed it, get a few more projects done.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I'm jealous now! Make sure Chris takes you up to the fort to have Guillermo serenade you. He's got a particularly good song about Julia ;-)