Isla Isabela National Park, Nayarit MX
We were looking at sixteen hours of travel. Keeping in mind what our friend Ivan had said, we would be “walking a leisurely pace” down the coast….. It made sense to leave Mazatlan in the afternoon and to arrive to Isla (Isla Maria Isabela- full name) Isabela around morning in order to anchor in daylight. Too many accidents have occurred when sailors try to anchor in new locations, in the dark. The darkness can be very deceiving and there are a noted navigational hazards such as rocks just under the waterline. These can be challenging to see in daylight, let alone at night. Captain John did the 1900-0000 watch and I relieved him for the 0000-0400. We had discussed doing longer shifts before, however, we just can’t seem to get complete it. His watch included sailing most of the way and around 2300 giving in to the engine as there was following seas and less than 5nm of wind that couldn’t make up its mind what direction to come from. I took over with the engine running at 5.5kn that would make our arrival around 0640. I remember going to sleep at 0400 as he was awake and could no longer sleep, then being awakened at 0600 to “I have some whales out here frolicking, do you want to meet them?” Sunrise in the Sea of Cortez. I could barely see the spouts and the tiny pectoral fins that merrily slapped about. “There must be four or five of them”. We hoped they were coming our way but as we sadly realized they weren’t, he noted there were a few way behind where we had just come from. Ugh. On to the island.
We could see the two large rock fortresses known as Los Monas. The upcoming sun gave them a slight orange color. We saw a sailboat anchored behind one and decided that it was too open to the swells and we would look at the other cove or the South Cove near the fishing camp. As we rounded it, there was another sailboat anchored there. There were also some swells that crashed violently into the rocky outcroppings that line the cove. Tucking in as far as we dared, with depths ranging from 10-18 feet, the clear water gave visibility to the large and irregular size rocks below us. Some of the guidebooks have referred to this area as fouled meaning many left anchors and chains remain and new anchors should be wary. Large rocks that can lodge anchors sometimes fail to release them. Trip lines and floats marking the actual anchor site are recommended. This is an excellent reason to not anchor here at night. We are approximately 40 miles northeast of San Blas, our next stop. However right now, today, we focus on the island I have been longing to come too, especially since I missed some of the travel from La Paz to Loreto.
We met Christian and Lindsey, he is from Bellingham and she from Montana but guides in Alaska, on an Erickson 35. Very nice couple, came over to say hello shortly after we anchored. There really is only room for two boats to snuggle and sit nicely in this water. We will be neighbors for the day and night. Christian has been here several times before. One of the last researchers here that he knew, was studying the Boobies (Bobos) and mating habits. Apparently the more yellow green feet are a fashion and those females are getting all the attention. He told us where the trail was. Captain John suggested going now before he chose to nap and there would lose a few hours. The dingy came down and off we went.
Boobies! I have seen other cruisers photos of these unique shoed fowl and wanted my own.
We landed at the fishing camp, without mishap, having to row in the last several yards due to shallow rocks. The beach is small gravel that while annoying in the Keen sandals, isn’t the flour like sand that finds its way into everything, even that that it does not touch. We anchored the dingy and pulled out the cameras. Obviously, we didn’t prepare as we should. With the lens cover off and my first attempt, there wasn’t the anticipated shutter release. The battery was dead. (insert 5 curse words here) As John always pokes at me that I always have my “phone” with me, I did and it would be my only photos of this island. I am again, thankful that he switched out our phones so that I would have more room for video and photos. Up the path we went.
Jacque Cousteau was lured here several decades ago where he filmed footage of the bird life, relatively free of natural predators due to its isolation. This volcanic island is known as the “Galapagos of Mexico”. The island is known for its Frigate rookeries and occasional research station set up in a vacant cement building. The building they use is vacant now but occasionally houses researchers, students from the Guadalajara University, and regular students. Resident iguanas of every size imaginable litter the pathway and are found prolifically scattered on the floors, walls and every conceivable warm spot. Including the trees. My eyeglasses are for distance and my eyes were struggling adjusting to the constantly changing bright sun to shade. Numerous times I went to place my foot down only to have the ground rustle and a well camouflaged iguana dart away. I am not afraid of lizards and thankful they aren’t snakes, but it can be a bit disconcerting that I might step on a tail. Of course, not all iguanas are on the ground…….
The mighty Frigate bird. Also known as the man-o-war bird. Constantly in flight and never diving into water, their incredible wing span of 7.5ft or more while reported as weighing in around 3 pounds, they are one of the most efficient fishers of the sea. In one of the largest Frigate colonies, they rest in the low-lying tree tops and even on lower driftwoods with their wings outstretched drying themselves. Their nests overhead show white fuzzy heads sticking out as their eggs have hatched into the babies now watching us. Both the male and female Frigate stay near the nest and both take over feeding duties. In fact, they can remain with the young for up to two years teaching them. The male Frigate has a gular pouch (neck sack) that is bright and beautiful red. He inflates it and then beats it with his beak in order to attract a female, a female that is only fertile every other year. The sounds vary from the higher more shrill calls to the mating male whose tenor sounds more like a rapid drum beat as he uses his gular sack. While several hundreds of males, females and babies sit and look out from nests, even more can be seen in the skies. Not only do they fish but they will opportunistically feed off of the unguarded booby nests that sit higher in the trail.
Up, up, up we went. I am not sure if I should be happy that we did not climb the steps to El Cero (lighthouse) in Mazatlan. We would either have super sore legs or our legs could be stronger. This path seemingly went straight up. We did make it to the top, and following what the map below had stated, the trail was often littered with a sitting and occasionally nesting Boobie. We did not want to disrupt them, leaving their eggs vulnerable to the Frigate birds. These delightful birds with their beautiful colored webbed feet and speckled attire of feathers also have a sound that made us giggle. They sound like a whistle that is broken in such a way that a faint high pitch can barely be heard through the breathy-ness. We stayed to the path but that didn’t stop one blue-footed Boobie from taking issue with the captain. Scolding him in the way only a Boobie can do, and followed up for several feet chatting at him. Now we are noticing the coloration of the Boobies. Their feathers indicate differences as well as their colored feet. As we peer at the feet of each that we pass, we have only noted a cornflower blue and lime green that sometimes looks more chartreuse. Obviously, the Blue-footed Boobie speaks for itself. However the yellow-green foot is actually a Brown Boobie. Not wanting to intrude more than we have, and keeping an eye out for a reported red footed Boobie, we made our way back down. This was not any easier than going up as the grasses slid under the weight on our feet. Back at the beginning, we moved through the fishing camp to see the crater to this once volcano and either to the isthmus or to Las Monas.
Welcome to Jurassic Park. The thick canopy around ten to fifteen feet is thick with limbs and leaves, and the breeze that occasionally flows comfortable, almost, almost has a humid feel to it. I can imagine in the rainy months that it is like a thick jungle. The paths seem to be fairly well marked. Either by cairns or by signage, we are able to go to the isthmus, the crater, or Las Monas. We arrived first at the crater or what might have once been the center to this volcanic island. The crater water does not appear to be fresh, it doesn’t appear to have much wildlife surrounding or in it. Perhaps leftover from previous storm season, we decided to take the path around it to Las Monas. Under a ten foot canopy, it is a caucaphony of sounds, mostly the Frigates. We did see a red footed bird however it was not a Booby. There are some loons that also reside here as well. Up and over, around and under we went. Little lizards making a getaway sounding like tiny leaves rustling and often difficult to see. I hear Captain John up ahead exclaim something and saw an iguana with a six foot length come out of no where, jump the path, hit the leaves, jump the tree and continued running. It sounded similar to human feet and grunting. I think I would have passed out had it ran in front of me. As we continued toward the coastline, the trees thinned and more boobies began appearing in nests along the pathway. They did not seem to be bothered enough to move, even those nesting right on the pathway, but they all certainly had something to chatter about. Again, their delightful but funny broken whistle sound. As we came around to Los Monas, two young Mexican women wearing vests and carrying clipboards stuck a large stick under a Booby. Indignant, it voiced its complaint but did not leave its nest. They counted off the eggs, marked it down and went on. Many nests had a stick with a number nearby. We met Mabel and spoke briefly, she doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is barely passable. However, we learned she is a Biology student and they are here for months studying these birds. They have a tent camp set up with solar. We sat for a few minutes before continuing our trek back. My feet will be sore but it was well worth it. We met another group of people from the now two sailboats anchored near Los Monas. SV Cinderella is from Seattle on a 37ft Erickson that is all solar powered to be on sustainable energy. (We did not ask how they did from Seattle through San Francisco!) It is interesting how many people we have met from the Washington area where we were. All getting away from the rain, no doubt. The path is well marked, and although the island is less than a mile, we did walk almost five miles with traversing and returning.
Back at the dingy we toured the southern most end of the island, the sea caves and then back around to Los Monas. We looked upon SV Liohana with flopper stopper envy as their boat sat motionless in the swells. I mentioned it a couple times to the Captain while we were in Washington. It didn’t seem like a necessity then…….
Christian and Lindsey (SV Molokai?) came by and asked if we could use some fish. They were planning on spear fishing and wanted to share as they would have too much for just them. Happily, we would take any fresh fish they offered. He returned without a snapper but did manage a nice Trigger fish which he took back to his boat and cleaned and filetted for us! He also shared that they swam with about 3-4 large Manta Ray! Close enough to touch but the visibility wasn’t great.
The swells are coming in again. That flopper stopper is sounding like a great idea.
Tomorrow is San Blas!