Monday, April 11, 2011

Mazatlan to Banderas Bay (2011)

Our first stop after leaving Mazatlan was Isla Isabela.  We sailed through the night from Mazatlan to time our arrival at Isabela at first light.  As we approached the island, you could see thousands of birds flying around the island, and several grey whales escorted us on our way.  
Isla Isabela is often described as the Galapagos of Mexico, and we wanted to see what the buzz was about.  The volcanic island is located about 20 miles off the mainland.  It is relatively free of natural predators and home for many blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and iguanas.  There is also a large and active fish camp on the south side of the island.    
Isla Isabela
After we arrived, we headed to the south side of the island where the primary anchorage is located.  Unfortunately, the swell was coming out of the south, and six to eight foot breaking waves were entering the small anchorage.  We ruled that anchorage out quickly and headed back to the east side of the island where the anchorage was more protected.  Although the anchorage has a rocky bottom, the water was crystal clear and we were easily able to locate patches of good holding sand at the bottom in 20 ft of water. 
Anxious to explore, we hoisted the dinghy off Saviah, and headed for shore.  We walked along the beach, which was lined with blue-footed boobie nests and made our way to the hiking trails that wind around and across the island.  The first part of the trail was a crowded nesting area for the boobies.  Some of the nests were actually right in the middle of the trail.   The baby boobies were fuzzy all over, and you could see that their wings were still developing.  The mothers were very protective and would hiss at us when we got too close.  We ended up having to scramble around quite a bit to avoid the aggressive mothers and make our way inland.  Escaping unscathed, we hiked along, watching the frigates overhead.  The frigates made their nests in the trees, so they were not as concerned with us passing by their nests.   Many of the frigates were mating, and the colors of the birds were amazing.
wildlife on Isabela
After our hike, we headed back to Saviah.  The wind and swell had picked up a bit since that morning, so launching the dinghy into the surf was a little difficult.  We had an exciting dinghy ride back, taking one wave over the bow of the dinghy.  It was actually quite refreshing on a hot day.  In fact, it inspired us to go for a swim that afternoon.  The water temp was 82 degrees, which is the warmest we’ve seen so far!
After two nights at Isla Isabela, we set our course for San Blas.  We saw at least ten longlines along the way, which are lines with hundreds of large, baited hooks that can stretch for miles.  These lines have periodic floats tied to them, which can be anything from a floating pole with a flag made out of a garbage bag, to an empty water bottle.  They are often difficult to spot until you are very close and even after you see the floats, it still isn’t clear which direction the lines are going until you are right on top of them.  It is not uncommon for sailboats to get their props tangled in these lines.  Once you get tangled, you have no choice but to put on your mask and go swimming, trying to either untangle or cut the lines from the boat.  We were fortunate enough to go over quite a few of them without getting tangled, but we did have to cut off two of our fishing lines as the lures we were dragging hooked a longline.
As we approached the San Blas estuary, we timed our entrance for high water and slack tide, as it involves crossing a sand bar.   Once we navigated the entrance without issue, we made our way to the anchorage and found only four other boats.  The flat waters of the estuary were a nice change from the rolly anchorage at Isla Isabela, and we enjoyed a stunning sunset as we got settled.  Bug nets over our hatches were the first order of business, since San Blas is known for jejenes, tiny no-see-um bugs that bite during the evening hours.
The next day we set out to explore the city of San Blas, which has so far managed to avoid the commercial and tourist development, and feels like an authentic Mexican town.  The central plaza was a bustling area, with lots of taco stands and other vendors, including fishermen selling their daily catch.
San Blas
After we walked through town, we made our way up to Cerro de San Basilio.  There is a lot of history in San Blas as it was officially founded in 1768 as the Pacific naval port for New Spain.  Much of this history can be seen atop Cerro de San Basilio where the old Templo de la Virgen del Rosario church is located, which was built in 1769.  Near the church, there are sweeping views of the city and the Pacific Ocean, visible from the old fort, named La Contaduria, which was built in 1770.  We enjoyed a couple hours walking around the remains of the two structures.
La Contaduria and Templo de la Virgen del Rosario
The next day was spent doing a jungle tour with our new friends Chris and Shawn of Tao, who we met a couple weeks earlier in Mazatlan.  The four of us boarded a panga boat, and the tour guide set off down the river.  The river quickly narrows, and winds through mangrove-lined channels.  It was a beautiful ride, and we saw many different birds, as well as crocodiles and turtles sunning themselves.  
jungle tour wildlife
Our tour continued to the cocodrilario (crocodile refuge), where we saw crocodiles of all sizes.  There was previously a 100-year-old crocodile there, but apparently it had recently escaped…  we weren’t sure what to think of that.  Then, we headed back up the river to La Tovara Spring, where there is a swimming hole and restaurant.  We enjoyed a swim and took turns jumping from the rope swing.   It may seem like a bad idea to have a swimming hole at the end of the river with crocodiles, but we were told it was perfectly safe.  Apparently the “incidents” that happened previously were remedied by putting a chain link fence across the water to keep the crocodiles out. 
jungle tour and swimming hole
We spent an hour swimming before heading back.  Although the trip up the river was slow with lots of stops to see the wildlife, the ride back was all business.  We flew through the turns and around the blind corners, occasionally having to duck the mangrove roots overhead.  Fortunately our guide was familiar with every bend and fork, but it made for an exciting ride. 
our tour guide
At this point, we were really enjoying San Blas.  We decided that the nice, flat waters in the estuary made for an ideal place to knock out some of the projects we need to finish before our crossing to the Marquesas.  So we spent a few days catching up on boat maintenance and other preparations for the crossing.
After a week in San Blas, we reluctantly said good-bye and set sail for Chacala, 25 miles south of San Blas.  The winds were light and variable at SW 5-10 knots, and we sailed along at 2-3 knots.   We saw several humpback whales, and we were enjoying a near perfect day until we were two miles outside Chacala.  We were sailing along slowly when suddenly there were hundreds of bees around the boat.   Andrew was up on the bow taking pictures of the whales, and Di was steering, having a near panic attack as the bees swarmed around her and inside the boat cabin.  We started the engine and headed into the wind as fast as we could go, which helped some.  The bees apparently liked our flag pole that is mounted on the stern, and they completely covered the top of it.  They didn’t like going into the wind, and they slowly departed.  Finally we sprayed some bug spray into the wind, which carried it back to the bees, and most of the stragglers finally left.  By this time, we had already past Chacala and didn’t really want to stop anywhere close to where we encountered the bees.  So, we just kept going another 8 miles to Jaltemba.
bees - YIKES
We made it to Jaltemba just as the last of the twilight was fading, and dropped the anchor in the lee of the island located just north of the bay.  It was a rolly anchorage, and we were getting anxious to reach Banderas Bay to continue preparations for the puddle jump.  So, we left at first light the next day.
Winds were light, so we sailed and motor-sailed off and on throughout the morning.  Around noon the NW wind filled in around 12 knots, and we were able to sail the rest of the way to Punta de Mita, which is on the north side of Banderas Bay.  As we rounded Punta de Mita, we saw two more humpback whales.  They were very playful, breaching over and over again.
The next morning we travelled the short hop from Punta de Mita to La Cruz, and pulled into the marina to get started on projects requiring power and water.  Now that we are in Banderas Bay, all focus has shifted to preparation for the crossing to French Polynesia.  Our tentative departure date is set for April 14th, but weather will determine when we actually leave.