Monday, February 4, 2013

Mexico’s Galapagos Island

The anchorage at La Cruz

While we kept busy with boat projects in La Cruz, we were also closely monitoring the weather and running scenarios for the trip north. The forecast showed strong northerlies for the next 4 - 5 days. On the morning cruiser’s net, the word from the “weather guy” was don’t head north yet. 

The skies were overcast, the mountains around the bay shrouded in mist, and the air felt ominously chilly. All winter the winds are predominantly from the northwest, so we knew we would most likely be beating for the 350 or so miles to La Paz – but we didn’t want to add unusually high wind speed to the uncomfortable wind direction.

When it was finally predicted to let up, we took off. The forecast looked decent for the next 3-4 days and that’s what we needed. A 10-hour day of motoring, with a little sail up at times to assist, had us retracing our track from December to Matanchen Bay for a restful night in this huge calm anchorage.

Working our way around the tuna boats, we took off in the morning.
And caught our own couple of Skip Jack Tunas.

which are always fun to clean and fillet underway!

Sushi for lunch -- muy elegante!

This day’s passage had us pointing out whales to each other until we lost count of the number. Sometimes we’d see two or three far off and watch them breech and slap their tall dorsals. Others would silently appear 100 feet off the bow, creating a slick on the surface of the water or appearing to be a huge black rock slowly rising. We’d slow the engine to a crawl and marvel as they moved off underwater again, sometimes waving with a giant tail fin. These are humpbacks who like to do the water smacking and grey whales, often mothers with calves in tow, nursing and teaching them to swim in the warm waters.

The next day was a 42 nautical miles (9 hour) motor heading windward to anchor off the highly acclaimed bird sanctuary called Isla Isabella.  Jacques Cousteau spent time here and National Geographic has filmed here. Currently it is a research site for biologists from universities in Mexico City and Guadalajara to study the life cycle and behavior of the various bird species nesting here – predominately magnificent frigates and blue-footed boobies.

Isla Isabella looks suspiciously like a tropical iceberg.
While the stop is popular among cruisers and is the only anchorage on the crossing between the Mexican Pacific Coast and the Baja Peninsula, it also carries a warning about difficulties in anchoring. The rocks around the island provide poor holding and lots to foul on. The books recommend a trip line to help pull your anchor should it get wrapped around rocks. The stories of anchors needing to be cut and left behind are disconcerting, but off you go.
Approaching Isla Isbella

We opted to anchor off the east side of the island, behind the protection of the amazing Las Monas (the mannequins), two dramatic rocks that reminded someone of a couple of women’s dress forms (?) We did put a trip line on our anchor – not necessary but a good exercise in using our lead-line, float and orchestrating the techniques.

Rugged rock formations

and a bird paradise

Sunset colors at anchor

Up in the morning to explore by kayak
We oogled and photographed from the boat, while simultaneously discovering a small but persistent leak from the raw water cooling pump in the engine compartment -- deep breath. We had a new spare in the bilge and by 10 the next morning it was in place and we were back with an engine. It’s always a little hairy to disable your engine at anchor, but having held solidly all night we got the plumbing job done without much sense of risk.

the hardware store

the culprit

the workshop

... all back together

Then it was time to walk the island. We went ashore in kayaks and chatted with the grad students at their camp. The English speaking student said she was a behavioral biologist, finishing up a 4-year study to find out “why” the female boobies mate with multiple males – go figure. The student’s provisions were brought in by the Mexican navy and then delivered to shore by panga. 
Laundry day for the college students
Walking the trails on the island
many of the birds were banded... what a racket
There was a fishing camp on the south side, a trail that led into the low trees at the island’s interior, and a saline lake filling the crater in the island’s center. We walked the trail, with birds underfoot, and nests at eye-level, immersed in the sounds of their squeaks and squawks, jibber and jabber. The boobies are truly comical with their funny knee less walk and their heated conversations. They nest on the ground and there were females sitting on their eggs both on the rocks and under the trees.

See the eggs under her -- not much time spent in nest building...
The frigates, which we learned are “klepto-parasites” getting 60% of their food by stealing from others and 40% from decaying prey, build relatively small nests given their 6-foot wingspan. We saw females preening fluffy white chicks and males puffing up their bright red neck pouch to look fierce in protecting the nest as we walked by. We were so glad we got to see Isla Isabella and took a ton of photos. Here are a few:

Back on the boat in early afternoon, we motored from Isla Isabella, with a short delay to pull in and release a large toro. The fishing is said to be excellent off the island so we had to put in our line, hoping for a dorado or wahoo to compliment the tuna in the freezer. We got a hit almost right away, but knew it was a toro by the way it dove straight to the bottom.

Ugly... and bad tasting!

Lanham got an upper body workout, taking about 20 minutes to bring it in. We were happy to let him go. This was the fish that took a hacksaw to cut through and tasted like liver. No more fishing this day – time to make tracks to the northwest.

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