Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Archive for the ‘Isla Isabel Mexico’ Category

Two Rescues

In the history of sailing tales, there are many stories of epic rescues from danger, and just in case family and friends got worried by the title of this blog, we did not capsize, run aground, get run over, hit by a tropical storm, or otherwise endanger ourselves in the Sea of Cortez. However, we did participate in two rescues.

After leaving La Cruz April 2, only three days after getting back from Copper Canyon, we once again mostly motorsailed in a headwind or no wind up to Mantenchen Bay near San Blas to overnight, then across the 40 miles to Isla Isabel, the island of thousands of nesting birds. ( See the post Island Mystique to see how we viewed Isla Isabel during our eight-day stay a year ago.)
One afternoon Nikk and I were sitting on Balance, watching the island, pinnacles, sea and shore, when we saw a female Magnificent Frigatebird struggling in the water. Frigatebirds have huge wings which don’t have the oils needed to resist waterlogging, so they can’t land in the water and fly off again like many seabirds do. We watched the bird flapping, hoping she would drift over to shore, but instead she was only being taken near shore by the current, and soon would be past the island. Nikk hopped into my kayak and paddled to effect a Frigatebird Rescue, and was soon joined by Ian from our buddy boat Freyja.



It looks like the bird is struggling, but according to Nikk she was so tired that she just let Nikk fold up her wings and stow her between his legs in the cockpit of the little kayak. He did face that long beak away from this body, in case any readers were worried about Nikk’s delicate parts being in danger. Ian towed Nikk, kayak and bird to shore with his dinghy, and the bird was carried to a small tree, since frigatebirds nest in trees on the island. The poor bird was so tired that it soon fell out of the tree, and it got too dark to see her on the ground, but the next day she wasn’t there anymore. There are no predators except humans on the island, so birds can safely nest and rest on the ground. During our five days anchored at the island we watched many frigatebirds soar, and wondered if we were watching the bird we saved from a watery grave.



On April 8 the voyage of the “vagabundos” continued across the Sea of Cortez to Baja California Sur. Ian received a weather report on his SSB that the next few days would see NE, and then light SSW winds. So much for weather reports, we had 15-20 knot winds NW on the nose, and had to motorsail first west, then north towards Mazatlan, going way out of the normal sailing course for La Paz. Instead of taking a little over 2 days to reach Puerto Ballandra, 12 miles north of La Paz, it took 2 days and 18 hours. Freyja kept falling further and further behind, due to babying their engine which had problems with fouled fuel filters. Balance had to anchor at Puerto Ballandra in the dark at midnight, surviving somewhat ferocious headwinds the last 10 miles. We kept in touch with Freyja all the way across the Sea, and they were only about two hours behind us, but the next morning they were not in the anchorage, and were without their motor, which had conked out in the middle of the night, forcing them to tack back and forth in the strong headwinds. The next morning the winds died, and they couldn’t reach the anchorage, so we headed out to tow them in the last mile to Puerto Ballandra.


Puerto Ballandra was the perfect place to begin our weeks of traveling to desert islands and sheltered mainland coves; white coral sand beaches and clear turquoise/jade green water for snorkeling, mangrove estuary for paddling and birdwatching, rocky cliffs for hiking and scrambling, and all overarched by the blue sky, hot sun and high clouds during the day, and myriads of stars at night. Nikk helped Ian fix his engine, we enjoyed four nights at Puerto Ballandra, and then continued on our way, with no internet, no phone, and only the iPad to remind me that we had not traveled back in time at least twenty years.




Now it’s May 2, and we are spending three days in Puerto Escondido, an anchorage with a poor excuse for a marina (no tienda, no restaurant, no friendly guards, no marina lounge). We are half a mile away at the Hotel Tripui, in the middle of the desert, we walked here today to get internet where we didn’t need to sit on metal steps while checking email. I know, I know, I’m sounding like a spoiled whiny #@*ch, Marina RIviera Nayarit spoiled me. I’ll try to be more grateful that we have a secure anchorage in the protected bay, and that it was easy to rent a car yesterday to go get provisions in Loreto, about 15 miles away. Tomorrow we are going to hike up Steinbeck’s Canyon a ways, if you read The Log From the Sea of Cortez, you can read about his camping trip with Mexicans and mules up this very canyon to see petroglyphs in 1940. The giant cardon cacti are starting to bloom, just like the Saguaro, which look similar, do in Tucson in late April/early May. I hope some will be blooming up in the canyon, drawing birds and lizards.

Island Mystique

There’s a ship
And it sails a sea of light
On it’s way (with) me tonight
From a distant shore
Taking me home once more
And the waves
And the whistling of the wind
Make me come alive again
My destiny’s at my door
…….Ooo la la la la
On an island I will dwell
Starlit nights in Paradise
On the Isle of (Isabel)
Crosby,Stills,Nash&Young Isle of Sanibel

The mystique of islands, terra firma but surrounded by water. Often isolated, and a perfect scenario for breeding birds. Isla Isabel, located about 36 miles from San Blas, eluded us on our last trip north in January due to headwinds and huge chop. Cruisers and blogs extolled the wonders of the bird life on Isla Isabel, and at last on March 23 we sailed over from Matanchen Bay near San Blas to reach an anchorage in sand and rock offshore on the east side of the island near the rock pinnacles called the Monas. For only the second time on this voyage we pumped up the dinghy, put it in the water, and lowered the outboard onto the stern. The waves were crashing onto the nearby beach so kayaks didn’t seem like a good option. A short dinghy ride later we passed the south anchorage, and then were inside the bay and landing at a fishing camp.


Hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds circled overhead and nested in the trees all over the small island, only about a kilometer in length and about 800 meters wide. Following the map painted onto the kiosk at the end of the fishing camp beach we headed off through the trees, across a crumbling basketball court, surrounded by nesting frigatebirds. Frigatebirds resemble something out of Jurassic Park, the females have white throats, the courting males display huge red balloons at their throats, and the chicks resemble large fluffy cotton balls with the head of a bird.



The frigatebirds spend hours in the air, they can’t take off from water, so have to snatch food from the surface of the ocean or steal it from other birds. We saw them grab boobies (BIRDS) by the wing and shake them to try to make them drop their food. From dawn to dusk, and sometimes even after dark, the frigatebirds circle and wheel over the island, or fly in from somewhere to the east.

The trail took us by a partly-completed huge concrete pavilion constructed about 30 years ago and left incomplete when government funding went elsewhere, and then about 200 feet up a hill past nesting Blue-Footed and Brown Boobies; the nests were so close to the trail that the boobies were honking and whistling at us constantly. We learned that females honk and males whistle.

Brown Booby with green feet (some are yellow)

Blue-footed Boobies panting due to the heat

The view across the island from the lighthouse. The fishing camp is right below the crater lagoon, with the Monas in the background

Getting down from the lighthouse on the slippery trail and broiling in the heat almost ended our explorations for the day, but luckily we decided to hike off in back of the fish camp and over through the trees to the east side for a view of our boat in the water. On the way we met five young researchers coming from their camp who invited us to partake of their chairs sitting under a tarp, which we did, and then when we saw them again on the way back, got invited to dinner that night. Thus began a wonderful association, which lasted our whole eight days on the island.
The researchers are all from the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. Oscar is working on his doctorate studying evolutionary biology using Blue-Footed Boobies, and is the director of the research. Each breeding pair has their nest marked with a stake, and every day and often
at night the researchers go out to measure, weigh, record, and even take blood samples. We learned that research on BFB’s has been taking place for 32 years on Isla Isabela, and both Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic have done programs on the island. Islands like Isla Isabela are perfect for breeding birds unless prey species are introduced, which is what happened at Isla Isabela. First Norway rats got onto the island, and preyed on the eggs. In the Midway Island in the Pacific in the 30’s rats wiped out Brown Boobies completely, so in order to prevent that disaster cats were introduced to rid the island of rats. You can imagine the havoc caused to the birds by the cats. Two years ago the rats were poisoned by pellets dropped onto the island, and the cats trapped and removed. However five cats refused to be captured, and New Zealand hunters were called in to get the last cats. Now the island seems to be cat and rat free, and the birds and lizards less likely to be harmed. We shared several dinners with the researchers, and I baked them brownies and cookie bars, since they were there for months, with a weekly food drop mostly lacking in treats. They also came out to the boat to visit at noon one day, four swam, and one rode with Nikk in the dinghy. One picture of the researchers at camp is at the end of the blog, I found out I can’t add pictures in the middle of a blog, ni modo.

Christina (Veterinary Medicine), Fernanda (Biology/birds), Jose (Biology/reptiles)

Oscar and Santiago (Veterinary Medicine)

Eventually their parents and friends will be able to see these pictures when the researcher’s time on the island without internet or phone is over. We enjoyed out times with them on magical Isla Isabela.

Eight days were filled with alternating activity and relaxing on the boat. We hiked on a little-used trail across the island to rock pools at low tide, viewing a Brown Booby nesting colony and tiny electric blue fish in tide pools. Some frigatebirds were drying their wings in the grass and gave us a startling view of how wide their wingspan is, a wingspan that is the largest for any bird of similar weight.


Several days we snorkeled above the shallow reefs of green coral that are recovering after a hurricane hit the island, oohing and pointing at the profusions of angel fish, turquoise parrot fish, silvery needle fish, canary yellow box fish, and many more. Another day we took the dinghy all the way around the island, and yet another day we hiked with cruising neighbors from “Identity Crisis”, their recently purchased boat that has yet to be renamed.


After the first day the waves calmed down and we were able to take the kayaks to shore for easier exploring and investigating. One afternoon I was entertained by a Blue-footed Booby doing the courtship dance.


Another afternoon we were sitting on the boat when two adult whales and a calf spent about a half hour rolling and spanking the water with their flippers, breeching, and even spanking with their tail flukes. They were too far away for pictures but easily seen with binoculars.

When we arrived there was so much fishing activity, due to many Mexicans coming to towns like Mazatlan and San Blas for Semana Santa, the two weeks leading up to Easter when they eat fish instead of meat, and many go on vacation. This time of year the fishermen were out in full force, sleeping on their boats and netting as many fish as they could. Then by Good Friday almost all of the fishermen were gone from the island.

Our fisherman neighbors in the anchorage by the Monas

I’ll finish with a shot of Balance and the full moon, and then one of the Monas at sunset. Now we’re in Mazatlan for about four days, leaving on April 5 to sail across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz.
If I can get WordPress to cooperate again I’ll post some pictures tomorrow of the rather sensuous sculpture along the malecon in Mazatlan, and other scenes.




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