Isla Isabel is for the Birds

We were able to successfully sail the entire 93 NM crossing from Mazatlan to Isla Isabel.  However, it was a rolly overnight passage, which made for a not happy and sleep-deprived first mate.  By the time we finally got sight of the small island around 3am (thanks to the super large, bright, full moon), I would have given anything to speed up the sunlight so we could anchor safely.  We actually only got up to the anchorage about an hour before sun up and I was able to lag a bit offshore before finally getting Dave up at 6am so we could shift the sails around and head straight towards the island.  By 7am, the sun was providing plenty of light and we checked out both south and eastern anchorages before settling on the eastern one and dropping the hook.  By 7:30am, I was tucked into the aft cabin and sound asleep.

We awoke about 2pm and Dave radioed with friends on s/v Deep Playa who had been in the eastern anchorage when we arrived but were now gone.  They had pulled anchor shortly after we arrived and headed towards their next stop, but they gave us some tips on the anchorage and how to get ashore and recommended that we switch to the southern anchorage if there was still room there (it’s quite small).  We pulled our anchor, which was a bit difficult because of the rocky bottom, but luckily we’d put a trip line on the other end of the anchor so Dave could pull and finagle the anchor out of any rocky crevices. 

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View of the rocky southern anchorage at Isla Isabel.

We circled around the southern anchorage for almost two hours trying to find a spot that was both a safe distance from the three boats that were already in there and within the “safe” anchoring spots marked in our guidebook.  Isla Isabel is a tricky spot, with many reefs, extended rocky points and one large pinnacle rock that you don’t want to accidentally wrap your anchor chain around.  I was still exhausted from our crossing and it was a chilly afternoon and all I wanted to do was curl back up into the warmth of my bed, so we headed BACK to the eastern side of the island and re-anchored in the same area we’d been in before.  The other boats around us must have enjoyed watching us circle for two hours only to come right back to the spot we’d been in before.

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Isleo Mona Menor that we anchored in front of in the eastern anchorage of Isla Isabel

Anyway, so after a good, solid day of rest, we headed ashore the next afternoon in the dinghy.  Isla Isabel is a National Park and is quite interesting in that it’s a volcanic island and a sanctuary to many different seabirds.  The isolated island provides the birds with protection from natural predators and so the birds are completely comfortable with humans walking right next to them and admiring their habitat.  You have never in your life seen so many birds soaring overhead at all hours of the day and night.  It is a quite a sight to be anchored here with birds overhead, fish jumping all about the boat and whales breeching less than a football field’s length away from the anchorage. 

Our mission that first day was to see the infamous Blue-Footed Booby birds.  We arrived on shore near the island’s active fish camp and a couple of local women that are a part of the research facility on the island met us on the beach and asked us to sign their guest book.  We met Christian from s/v Altair on the beach and the three of us decided to head up the path towards the lighthouse (Cerro del Faro) to see the booby nests.  Christian said he’d been to the island before, so it was nice to have someone that knew where to go and had some background information about the birds.

All along the lower part of the path are frigate birds. Large, black birds, some with vibrant, red necks that they puff out.  Like the guidebooks promised, these birds did not seem to mind us at all walking right amid their nests.  Sometimes they’d fly away as we came close, but most of the time they’d stay right on the branches extending into the pathway, almost as entertained by watching us as we were by watching them.  A couple of times though, as a frigate would go to take off, you’d have to duck so you wouldn’t get hit by their massive wingspan.

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The higher up we got on the ridge the more booby birds we could see.  There are the blue-footed boobies, but there are also green-footed boobies, red-footed boobies and yellow-footed boobies.  Apparently, their foot color depends on their diet and the more saturated the color, the more appealing they are to a potential mate.  We were also told that mating happens only between two boobies of the same foot color. So you won’t see blue-footeds and green footeds mating with each other.  

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Green-footed booby with her eggs (L) and Steph getting close to some blue-footed boobies.

What’s really interesting about these birds, is that when they mate, the males do a little dance. They lift up one foot, and then the other showing off their color.  The female goes for the guy booby with the best colored feet.

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A blue-footed booby doing his best dance.

Besides the crazy bird population on this island, Isla Isabel also has a leftover crater from when it was an active volcano and some pretty spectacular cliffside views of the ocean and each of the rocky beaches surrounding the island.

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Views from the lighthouse on Isla Isabel.  The top photo is looking east over the island; you can see the research building in the bottom right and the colorful fish camp shacks along the beach.  The bottom photo is the northern side of the island with some booby birds handing out in the foreground.

Our second day ashore we went hiking with s/v Navigo as well as Russ and Barry from s/v August Moon to find the crater and explore some of the other areas of the island.  The crater is now filled with water, so it just looks like a normal lake and the other hiking trails sort of wander into nothing, so eventually we headed up the same lighthouse trail we’d been on the day before so Navigo and August Moon could also check it out. 

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View of Lago Crater that’s now filled with water (L), and a “dead end” on part of the blue trail (R). At least the short trail gave us a good view.

In all we stayed anchored at Isabella for five days.  We probably could have fit all the hiking, exploring, fishing, etc into a couple of days, but it was nice to be leisurely and enjoy the surroundings for awhile.  It’s actually a little hard to explain how much we are in awe of this place.  It’s kind of an amazing spot and we know that not very many people have the opportunity to get all the way out here and really experience all that the island has to show.



Captain’s Adventures in Isla Isabel

Steph is continually pestering me to write up a post from my perspective.  But she just doesn’t understand the hectic life and just what it means to be El Jefe on Camanoe.  The amount of work to keep Camanoe going rarely leaves me with enough time and energy to post a blog.  But, alas, I’ve had a fun couple of days and I thought it would be worthy of sharing.

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Working hard atop Camanoe.

Isla Isabel is consider the Galapagos of Pacific Mexico.  Along with a large variety of bird species, there’s an abundance of sea life.  Having paid a large sum of money for our Mexican fishing licenses, I felt it was time to stock up the freezer. 

I decided to go spear fishing in the morning because we had heard that there were Amarillo Pargo (Snapper) in the reefs.  I set out with my spear gun to tackle the reef and its immensity of sea life.  I anchored the dinghy in 20 feet of water and right before I dove in I realized that I’d lost the strap to one of my flippers.  But, a bowline and two half hitches with a small piece of line I had in the dinghy, worked just fine in a pinch.

Around the reef I found several large parrotfish (at the time I didn’t know what the hell they were; we thought it was a grouper till we pulled out our fish book and Bob from s/v Navigo figured out that it was a Parrotfish).  The largest one I saw was about 15 pounds and I was able to get a direct shot through it’s head.  After that, the water got really murky and I couldn’t see anything so I headed back to the boat. 

As I came back to the dinghy, I saw Bob from Navigo in his dinghy with a fishing pole out and it looked like it may break from the strain of him pulling in a large fish.  Apparently there was a school of yellowfin tuna boiling around the anchorage.  So I raised the dinghy anchor and rowed over towards the school.  I got right in the middle and jumped in with my spear gun.  I confused them so much when I jumped in that they actually swam straight for me.  Once they realized what I was, they quickly turned in the opposite direction and I was only able to take a pot shot with the spear gun.  No luck. Then they were gone.

Quickly went back to the dinghy, took my parrotfish catch back to Camanoe and grabbed my fishing pole and quickly got the motor onto the dinghy and headed back out towards where the school was before.  Who cares if I was in a blue lycra spandex suit. 

Unfortunately, my fishing pole only had 20lb test on it, so I figured I’d have to tire out any fish I caught before being able to get them reeled in.  After a combination of trolling and casting the line for about 20 minutes, I had a large hit.  I was using my favorite diamond jig lure.  After about 20 minutes of fighting him I finally got him up to the surface.  I was afraid of the hook falling out, so I immediately reached in and grabbed his tail and threw it into the bow of the dinghy.  He was about 30lbs and three feet long and had a shocking, golden tail.  I figured I would head back to Camanoe and fillet him before I tried to catch any other fish. 

On the way back I ran into a whale with her calf.  Not sure what kind they were but they were pretty large.  Because I’m a genius, I wanted to see how close I could get to them in the dinghy.  I got within five to 10 feet of the mother and calf while they were on the surface.  They didn’t seem to pay any attention to me.  Then I circled around them until I was directly in front of them.  At that point, the mother stuck her head up out of the water, blew out of her blowhole and dived straight under the dinghy.  Once I saw the tail go under, I realized that she could possibly surface right under me and pick me and the dinghy up.  I gunned the engine and just barely avoided getting knocked over.  Good times!

Bob joined us back on Camanoe when I got back with the yellowfin and he showed me how to properly gut a fish.  In the past, we had only filleted caught fish, but we always feared accidentally slicing into the innards/liver and contaminating the meat.  Gutting the fish was actually pretty simple.  We sliced down the belly from the gills back to the anal fin.  Then I reached in and pulled out all of the innards, including the stomach.  And this was the coolest part!  I squeezed the stomach and three, small, undigested herring fish slid out.  Next time I’ll have to use them for bait!

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Dave with his catch (top) and Bob from s/v Navigo giving a tutorial on how to properly gut our catch (bottom).

I was going to go out and try to catch more yellowfin, but the Admiral vetoed that in favor of heading over to Navigo for happy hour with the rest of the Isla Isabel fleet.

I tried to go out again this morning, but it appears as though the fish have all relocated.  I was able to catch a slightly smaller yellowfin tuna – but just barely!  I tired him out for a good 15 minutes and just as I got him up to the side of the boat, he spit the hook out and tried to make his escape.  I said, HECK NO, and reached in and was able to grab his tail as he began swimming downward.  If I had squeezed any harder I bet his tail would have sheared off.

Now we have a freezer stocked with yummy tuna steaks.  Now, if only we could catch some more snapper…we like the ceviche.