Now THIS is what cruising is supposed to be like!! If the Sea of Cortez comes close to the attractions of our current spot, IT will have all been worth it. As if we've been suffering these past months! Well, mainland Mexico has been fun, but...the hordes of cruisers and the glitzy tourism was really not what we came seeking.
What we came seeking is a place like Isla Isabela. Twenty-five miles from the mainland, 80 miles south of Mazatlan, and 270 miles(approx) SE of La Paz, Isla Isabela is a lump of rock that gazillions of birds call home. But for a warden, several transient fisherman, and occasionally some researchers from Guadalajara University, it is uninhabited. It is too far from any town for there to be any day excursion business, so the only "tourists" likely to come by are cruisers. However, almost every mention of Isabela we have heard over the cruisers' radio nets bewails some problem that has forced them to abort their stop there. Either the winds were from a bad direction, people's anchors were getting fouled in rock, hostile fishermen chased them out, or there was a ban on anchoring. It may simply be that the anchorages look cramped for much more than one or two boats. The scuttlebutt was so persuasive, that our longtime traveling companions Mac and Sam sailed right on past to Mazatlan leaving us on our own to take a closer look.
Approaching from the southeast, the southern anchorage, officially the better one, was hard to pick out at first. In the "cruising season" winds and swell are mostly from the north. What we saw in May was huge rollers from the south breaking quite dramatically on jagged volcanic cliffs. Standing well off, we persevered on a little farther around until the cove finally opened up to reveal space for a boat on the right and on the left the fishermen's playa with beached pangas and nets spread to dry.. Since the southerly swell was making it look anything but tranquil, we bore back off and went up the island's east side to check out the secondary anchorage, a more likely candidate in the current conditions of south swell and west winds.
We found heaven. We inched our way into a cove guarded on the north by two towering guano-covered pinnacles at the NE corner of the island, and set our hook in sand in about 20-30' of water. The water was flat calm and so crystal clear we could see the fish on the bottom. The shore was a mix of sand and rock ledges, and gentle waves made satisfactory surf sound as they broke over them, Boobies, pelicans, frigate birds soared overhead, and the many more ashore in the trees put up a steady undercurrent of bird chatter.
The snorkeling was great. Finally, clear warm water (84*), and no jelly fish. We went twice, right after arrival from the back of the boat and, the next day, from the dinghy so we could circum-swim both pinnacles. There we found piles of boulders in water barely 10-15' deep between the pinnacles and a sheer drop to maybe forty feet on their outside. In each little corner, there were very different populations So many fish! Dozens of huge, flowing schools, lots of variety of species, including the ever exotic Moorish Idols, and even some big standouts like yellowfin tuna, spade fish, green morays, sting rays, guitar fish, and an eagle ray!
Venturing ashore, we found the island itself very dry and not especially pretty. The trees have not leafed out yet, still waiting for rainy season. Although rainy season has officially started, we have seen barely more than a sprinkle so far. Leafless or not, the 15'-tall forest is home to thousands of nestling and fledgling blue-footed boobies, brown boobies and frigate birds. Both on the beach and on the path through the forest (ascending to a green crater lake), we found ourselves allowed to approach to within 2-3' of all these! What characters they are, especially the blue footed boobies! Some quack while others whistle. We are not clear on the distinction. We didn't recognize any "dancing" (the characteristic courtship ritual), but with bright blue feet every step and slide is eye catching! The really cute ball-of-fluff stage appeared to be past by a month or so, although there were alot of ladies sitting on nests...the boobies on the ground and the frigates in the trees! The teenager boobies bounce along the ground trying to learn to fly, while the adolescent frigates in their molting phase are still anchored in their nests and seem oversize. Frigates are silent, but they are the masters of flight. We didn't see any frigates who looked anything but expert in the air. We witnessed numerous instances of gang warfare between the species as the frigates harassed boobies over the water, forcing them down. Since the frigates can't get wet, the surface is a safe place for the boobies, but every time the booby being picked on tries to take off, one to five frigates heckle him back down! We figure these are young boobies trying to learn to fish, and as the frigates are thieves, we guess they are just getting necessary lessons in life. There are also brown pelicans, Hernmann's gulls, and white terns, but these don't seem to be nesting. Mostly they hang out on the pinnacles along with the adult boobies in segregated condo communities.
We may have been all alone at anchor, but we were not the only humans around. There are the fishermen who motor out at dusk from the south anchorage to set their nets and then motor back at dawn to haul them. Two pangas came by to trade fish and lobster. They wanted cigarettes, which we don't carry, but happily made do with Cokes, candy and cookies! (Their request.) Mostly they wanted to chat a bit. Since we had heard tales of yachts being forced out by fishermen here, we were happy for the friendly reception. Also, camping at the end of our beach was young couple (well a guy and a gal) from Guadalajara University who were tagging, weighing birds and counting eggs. Interesting to watch. Their campsite was pretty rustic: one tarp over their supplies and another staked out on the ground! Good for star watching!
We could have
stayed indefinitely, but now our appetite is even more whet for
the glories of Baja and the Se of Cortez! On the morning of May
16, we set out on a glassy sea on a course of 296* for a two-day,
272nm diagonal crossing of the Sea of Cortez to La Paz. There's
not a breath of wind, the engine is purring (thank God for that
Mystery Oil), and our fishing lines are out! See you there!