Friday, February 5, 2010

Crossing the Sea to Isla Isabela

My friend Jamie Orr reminds me that this is a sailing trip and maybe I should write a bit about sailing now and again, so here is my annual sailing oriented blog.

Rani enjoying vino while anchored off La Paz.

But first a few last pictures from La Paz – a kayaking trip we made to the Mogote (mo-goat-ay), a peninsula that lies off La Paz, with our friends Marv and Ardy off Odyssey.

Ardy and Marv in the mangroves.

We paddled through a mangrove swamp and saw plenty of wildlife including yellow and black crowned night herons and snowy egrets.

Yellow crowned night heron.

Night heron flying.

Egret strutting its stuff.
The wreck on the beach was that of a trimaran, needing more than a lick of paint to put her back in sailing trim.

Wrecked trimaran.

Dolphins swim by anchored boats off La Paz. The Mogote is behind.

Oh – and a couple more pics of a later trip we did to swim with some whale sharks. In one picture you can see the shark – about 24 feet long (much bigger than the aluminum boat we were in!). The next shot shows Rani swimming to catch up with the shark.

Whale shark

Rani swimming after the shark.

The whale sharks were swimming gently along the Mogote about 500-1000 feet offshore, feeding on plankton. This was an impromptu expedition, again with Marv and Ardy, and none of us had our bathing suits or snorkels. At first no one was keen to jump in and swim with the sharks, but once Rani led the way, we all stripped off to our undies and took turns swimming alongside a shark. One of our more modest friends even jumped in with her skirt on! It was amazing to be so close to such a huge beast, in its own element. Later, a nearby tour boat lent us a pair of goggles and we were able to see the school of yellow fish swimming right in front of the shark and some huge encrustations on the shark's body.

OK – back to sailing...

We left La Paz and spent a couple of days in the islands just to the north before making the crossing to Isla Isabela. The picture below shows Odyssey and Ladybug anchored in the shallow bay of San Gabriel on Espiritu Santo island a couple of days before we left.

Odyssey and Ladybug off Espiritu Santo

We departed Espiritu Santo island early in the morning following a rough and windy night anchored under the sheltering cliffs of Galleta cove. I don't like to run our engine as I would much rather sail, so as soon as we broke the anchor out and secured it to the bow roller, I hoisted the main and instructed Rani to run off across the bay on a close reach. The jib is on a roller furler and is usually easy to unfurl, but today I was distracted with 'instructing' Rani on where to point the boat and managed to roll the sail up instead of unfurling it, resulting in a snarl. We cleared things up after much flapping and criss crossing of the bay under the watchful eye of several sailboats and shaped our course for the San Lorenzo channel that separates La Paz bay from the Sea of Cortez.

As we ran south down to the channel, we could see a pair of humpbacks breaching to port off San Gabriel bay. The wind was from the west and a little behind the beam and I set our wind vane up to do the steering. Rani is the navigator, so she worked out a course that kept us clear of the shoals and rocks that guard both sides of the San Lorenzo channel. Rounding the tip of Espiritu Santo, we swung Ladybug onto an easterly course and jibed the main over to the opposite side from the jib, securing it with a line to prevent it from accidentally swinging back. We ran through the channel with sails on opposite sides, 'wing and wing'. At the entrance to the channel, the wind picked up, as it often does near points of land and we made good time for a half hour pushed along by a 10 knot breeze. We could see two other sail boats in the channel, both under motor, despite a decent breeze. It has always struck me as odd that someone would buy a sailboat and then use it as a motor boat most of the time. This is true of many 'sailors' in the Victoria area but seems to be true everywhere we have traveled.

One of the motoring sailboats hailed us to say hello on the VHF. 'Fire Water' was an Atkins ketch out for a trip to Los Muertos. She was fishing and had up a jib to steady her. We exchanged compliments about the other's boat and sailed past her and into the Cerralvo channel. This channel is usually an area of high winds and we were not disappointed when the wind piped up and swung into the north west behind us. We used our aluminum reaching pole to hold out the jib and put a reef in the main to keep things under control as the wind rose beyond 13 knots (as read on our little hand held anemometer). A small pod of white bellied dolphins shot by between us and Cerralvo Island to port. The wind vane was doing the steering and we had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery – extensive white sand beaches to starboard and the inhospitable craggy shoreline of Cerralvo island on the other side.

By tea time the wind was down and we shook out the reef and poled the job out on the opposite side from the main. Towards night fall we reached Los Meurtos, passing well off the sandy point that marks the northern approach to this bay. To let our friends know where we were, we checked in to the Southbound net on our single side band radio, giving our location and the weather (helpful to other cruisers in the area). Later we talked to Odyssey and Blue Moon using the same frequency on the radio. Blue Moon was near our destination at Isla Isabela and Odyssey was about 60 miles away (having left Los Muertos that morning). A near full moon rose in front of us and around us we could hear the splashes made by manta rays jumping from the water.

We kept four hour watches that night and near dawn I spotted the lights of a sail boat approaching from our rear. The trimaran, Sunday, with Gill and Lexie on board hailed us on our VHF radio and we had a good chat, with Gill passing on some suggestions about anchoring at Isla Isabela and visiting San Blas. The wind continued to be light to moderate from the north and we kept up the main and full jib with the vane doing all the steering. We removed the lock on the stove allowing it to swing in its gimbals for the wind on our aft port quarter and a moderate swell cause Ladybug to roll as she ran down to the south east. Cooking wold otherwise have been a messy affair.

While cleaning the decks with a bucket of sea water, I noticed that there were several tiny jelly-like organisms in the bucket. We dipped the bucket into the sea several times, each time coming up with different type of jellies. All were transparent and tube like with an opening at each end. They each had at least one small black spot (maybe a light sensor?) and what looked like a rudimentary digestive canal. Some were simply tubes about 2-3 centimeters long and others were made up of one or more rounded segments, each with its own dot and inner workings. They propelled themselves around the bucket, clearly taking in water at one end and expelling it at the other - very cool.

The north winds and swells continued that day and the next. We were now out of sight of land and saw little wildlife, except for a bird or two. On the third day out it was clear that we would reach Isla Isabela around midnight if we did not slow her down. We had made better time than I had expected with 100 and 120 mile runs on the first two days. We handed the main and continued to run under a slightly furled poled out jib. Still, we averaged 5 knots and the wind vane had a much easier time of it due to the reduced weather helm. This would bring us to the island early in the morning and we agreed that we would attempt a night entry only if conditions looked favourable and would heave too and wait for dawn otherwise. Rani entered way points on our GPS that would take us around the north tip of the island and allow us to look at the first possible anchorage off the rock pinnacles known as the Monas. If this east anchorage looked suitable we would stay there , otherwise pressing on to the southern anchorage off a fishing village.

The moon rose full that night and we began to see shrimpers working the rich fishing grounds off Isla Isabela. We steered around these boats and began our approach to Isabela, which appeared as a dark outline in the south east with a flashing light at its southern tip. Rounding the off-lying rock at the northern tip, we approached the Monas, but found that there was too much swell to anchor here. We could see the lights on the masts of several sailboats in the southern anchorage. We rounded the south point, being careful to avoid the thundering surf and foaming shoals visible under the bright moon.

We were surprised by the number of boats crowded into this achorage that one guide book says can comfortably hold only a couple of boats. A large motor cruiser was anchored just outside the bay and even though it was 1 am, there was a party in full swing on the after deck. We dropped the hook under motor in 36 feet between the motor yacht and the outermost sail boat. The bottom here is rocky and we dragged backwards for 50 feet before the anchor hooked round a large rock. We had buoyed the anchor with a trip line and orange float because this bay has a reputation as an 'anchor eater'. Leaving the GPS turned on with the anchor drag alarm set we turned in for the night. I remained on the settee bunk ready to act if the anchor should drag. Stay tuned for more on Isabela including some good footage of whales and some great booby (bird!) shots.

Sunrise - first day at Isabela


Your sisters Baljit & Baldish xx said...

Beautiful picture

Joel Peters said...

Got any good closeup photos of the Ladybug? Was it a sloop or a ketch? Trimaran? Know its history?