Isla Isabella

December 28, 2000. Isla Isabella, Mexico.
We are in the middle of some bad weather here. A Pineapple Express showed up a couple of days ago. It brought a lot of clouds but we figured it should blow away (this is Mexico right?). We watched the weather forecasts and north winds were called for. Since this thing came from the equator (as I have been told, I don’t really understand equatorial weather yet) we figured that the north wind will blow it right back home. The anchorage we are in, Isla Isabela – South Anchorage, is quite good for north winds but very bad for south winds. But we kept remembering the strong north winds predicted. Well it seems Pineapple expresses don’t like to be sent home. We started getting strong winds from the east and rain. Since this part of Mexico only gets about 5 inches of rain during the winter, and we already saw about 3 from this storm we figured it must be about spent. Our anchorage isn’t protected from the east but the mainland is about 20 miles to the east of us so the wind can’t get REALLY big waves going. We stayed up last night watching the wind direction (prepared to leave if it started coming from the south). And bounced on the waves coming in the anchorage. It was a really bad night. We left the radar on all night with an alarm set to tell us if we moved at all. Problem was all the waves caused a lot of false alarms. It still is quite bad this morning but we still expect this thing to blow itself out. In the north weather is a horizontal thing. Usually if someone to the west of you is getting rain you will get that rain soon. The north has high and low pressure systems. Down here weather is a vertical thing. Systems go up and down not side to side. The wind can blow in any direction it seems to want to. There is so much sun energy that the warming of air masses is the driver not the relative pressure. This all makes prediction very difficult.

Isla Isabela

December 26, 2000. Isla Isabela
I just made the most interesting dive. Yesterday we had a visit from a Mexican fisherman named Fernando. His English was only a bit better then our Spanish but over the period of several hours and the use of a Spanish-English dictionary and many cervezas (beers) we had quite a conversation. During the conversation he invited me on a SCUBA dive. Not really understanding his Spanish I didn’t really know what I was agreeing to but took him up on his offer. It turns out that Fernando is a member of the crew of a barge anchored off the North East side of this island. The crew of this barge supports two big moored net tanks. They have filled these tanks with yellow fin tuna and are feeding them to fatten them up for market. The tuna were just put in the tanks or pens 6 weeks ago and are about 70 or 80 lbs. If fed well (10% of their body weight a day) they will grow 25% each month. These fish can reach 500lbs. These are the first tuna fish farms in Mexico but this is already big business in Australia. I was told that the feeder fish are much cheaper here then in Australia ($us100/ton as apposed to $us900/ton) so I’m sure that the business will do fine here. Well I hopped into the panga and was on my way still not really knowing what the dive would entail. It turns out that it was a dive inside the tanks with the fish. The crew busied themselves repairing the netting and removing the sick and dead fish while I, for the most part, just swam around with the big fish. Swimming with schools of 80 lb. tuna is really something. Everywhere you looked, up down left or right, there were huge bright blue and yellow tuna. Where there weren’t tuna there were schools of smaller bonito and yellow tail (who swam through the net to share in the free food) and extremely colorful Dorados who got caught in the initial netting with the tuna and are growing very happily as well. I understand that these fish taste even better then the tuna but I haven’t caught one yet myself. Outside the net are great schools of trigger fish and surgeon fish. Not your home aquarium sized versions but fish about 18 inches long and 10 inches tall with formidable teeth. In Australia, I have been told, the tanks also attract a lot of sharks. I didn’t see any here during my dive but was happy that there was a strong net around me. With all the food fish available here I’m sure that there were sharks in the vicinity. We have seen hammerhead sharks caught in this area. The fish farm is operating under an experimental license. They only have two tanks a present but hope to get their fully operational license and install more tanks. I understand that fish farming is a real problem in some areas but from what I could see this operation looks fine. The area they are in has a good flow of current and is well open to the whole sea of cortez so waste products from the fish and waste feed have a place to disperse to. The only problem I have heard is that the tanks are new and do not show up on any of the charts that cruising sailboats use. They are as yet not well marked with lights. They do carry small lights and radar reflectors. But still present quite a surprise to boats passing that side to the island at night.

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Isla Isabella

December 25, 2000. Isla Isabella, Mexico.
We just had our Christmas dinner. Birgitta went all out in the preparations. She served goat cheese and pear as an appetizer. The main course was duck with a honey caramel and orange glaze, broccoli and sherried barley rice with almonds. Desert was fresh baked apple pie. It was served with a bottle of one of my favorite wines, a sharaz from Australia. We ate extremely well this Christmas on Temptress and I must compliment the chef with her doing all this on an almost deserted island in the middle of the sea of Cortez. (No running to the shops for a missing ingredient here). She had to bring the tart apples all the way from San Diego as the apples available so far in Mexico have been limited to sweeter types. Clark

Food management on a cruising boat is quite interesting. I am learning how to provision, how much of each vegetable and fruit to buy and which ones do last well without refrigeration (as I do not have enough room in the fridge for everything). I am experimenting with recipes well suited to warmer temperatures and local ingredients. Recently, I made a cold avocado soup when too many avocados became soft at the same time. Then I had 5 bananas turning brown so we had them in a fruit salad and banana bread. A banana smoothie is next. I am studying recipes involving papayas, avocados, chilies, oranges and coconuts. It is a very pleasant hobby which I can share too. Birgitta.

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Isla Isabella

December 24, 2000. Isla Isabella, Mexico.
Going ashore on Isla Isabella is like entering a giant aviary. Every little tree is loaded with nesting or resting frigate birds and every protected slope is home to nesting boobies. You can come within 2 feet (0.6 m) of them and take close pictures. The boobies seemed almost to want their picture taken. They were curious, stretching their neck toward you with their funny hooded face and sharp eyes intently looking at you. Their babies are just as unafraid. They are fuzzy white balls, often appearing bigger then the parent because of the fluffed down.

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We saw brown boobies and blue footed boobies. The later look like they are wearing bright fins and they seem happy to display their fashionable webbed feet.

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The first day we hiked up to the lighthouse after getting directions from the Danish biologist studying the mating habits of the frigate birds. We were stopping every few feet, overwhelmed with the number of birds and how close they let us come. The frigate birds are very large black birds, acrobatic fliers with diminutive legs. They can not easily take off if they land on ground, and so they inhabits the short trees covering the island valley. The males have a red pouch under the beak that they can inflate as a balloon to show off. We saw both male and females on the nest and watching over fluffy babies.

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The nest are made of twigs and grass placed at the fork of a branch. Since the frigate bird can not land easily, getting the twigs is a bit of a challenge and any frigate bird with a nice twig in its beak is chased without mercy by others hoping to steal the piece. The biologist warned us not to walk outside the trails in areas where the birds are less used to man. If we frightened a nesting frigate bird, it would leave the nest and the nest would immediately be destroyed by other frigate birds stealing the building materials! They apparently like to steal and harass. They will pursue other birds, boobies in particular, until the boobie throw up the fish it was storing in his stomach to feed its young. The frigate bird is a superb flier and catches the fish as it falls through air.

The island is also home to tropicbirds, heerman gulls, pelicans and iguanas. The tropicbirds is a pretty white bird with a long single feather tail. We did not see them nest on the island.

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The next day we hiked the entire length of the island, walking through several banana groves, grassy areas and rocky hills. It is nice to have a digital camera which can store over 300 pictures because each nest, each baby, each proud frigate bird, each curious booby seemed more cute or interesting than the previous one. We got lucky visiting this island in December because I would not have guessed that it was breeding season.

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The waters around the island and in the anchorage are also full of life with colorful tropical fishes of every size and shape. Temptress has acquired its own fleet of surgeon fishes who devour with obvious pleasure our table scraps. Raw meat such as fat trimmed off poultry is a particular treat. Surgeon fish are blue-green with yellow pectoral fins and a striped blue and yellow dorsal fin.

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Isla Isabella is our first tropical stop in Mexico. Although Cabo San Lucas is officially in the tropics, its heat was very dry and the lack of water made it more desert-like. The temperature here at Isla Isabella is about the same (85F/30C) during the day but the humidity is higher so that it feels warmer, and so I finally sleep without a blanket!

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We wish you all a Merry Christmas or Hanukkah and a Happy New Year! We hope you are well and enjoying the celebrations of the end of the year, and that you will find peace and happiness in the new millennium. We are thinking of you, friends and family, far away geographically but close to our hearts. We will have our warmest Christmas ever, here on an island which is a bird paradise. We will share the island with mexican researchers studying the mating habits of frigate birds and the distribution of hammerhead sharks, mexican fishermen, a cruising french couple from Tahiti, and thousands of birds.

Isla Isabela

December 22, 2000. Isla Isabela 2:30pm Air 83F Water 80F N 21 50′ 33.6″ W105 52′ 55.0″
Arrived in Isla Isabela this morning at about 8:30am. Sailed slow all night to arrive after sunrise. For any of you plotting our positions on high resolution maps, we are indeed in the South anchorage of the island. All the charts of this island seem to have it off by about 1.5 miles. There is a rock under 5 feet of water in the middle of this anchorage. Our guide book says you can see it by looking at the surface of the water during a swell. The up welling of water causes an oily look to the surface. Well right now there is no real swell (we don’t mind) so we can’t really find the rock. We have anchored well out in a conservative place.
After setting the hook we both went to bed till noon. Then I took a short swim and we had showers. Enough excitement for today. Tomorrow we will assemble the dingy and check out this island. There are about a billion boobies and frigate birds flying around it. We understand that you can walk right up to their nests as they have no real fear of man. There is also a freshwater pool (inside of a volcanic crater) inside the island.
We are now on the mainland side of the sea of cortez. What a difference. In baja there was only shades of brown. Nothing green. Here there are trees, red rocks, grey rocks, black rocks and white guano covered rocks. (I did mention it was a bird reserve didn’t I).
We sailed here from Cabo San Lucas over the last 2 nights. What a nice sail. We had the best conditions possible. We saw between 10 and 15 knots just behind the beam for almost the whole trip. The waves seldom got over 2 feet. We made really good time and if the trip were longer we could have benefited by it more as we weren’t going fast enough to get in before sunset we had to slow down to get in after sunrise. At least we only used the engine about 5 hours total (mostly getting out of Cabo).
In the early morning hours (still dark) the wind died down and Birgitta started the engine and engaged the transmission. The boat didn’t move. She put it in neutral. And engaged it again (more power this time). She only got .5 knots out of it, while that power setting should have had us going 5+ knots. Hearing all this engine work I got up and she gave me a report. In my sleepy mode I jumped down under the floors and verified that the transmission was working. So I assumed that the problem was with the propeller. In my sleep deprived state I thought it may have come loose (lost it’s nut and key) so I got my spares and tools together as well as digging out my dive gear (no small effort) to be able to dive on it when the sun came up. When I got everything together Birgitta pointed out that there was a Panga (small Mexican fishing boat) just off our bow. They were there just patiently waiting. Well I finally got into the cockpit and realized that the sails were full. There wasn’t much wind but the boat should have been moving with any wind in the sails. I then realized we had other problems. A quick look back verified that our towed generator was caught in a fishing net. We quickly dropped sails and raised our centerboard. This was apparently what the Mexicans were waiting for, or maybe that is when they realized we had a problem. They ran back with their panga and freed our towed generator. Apparently Temptress sailed right over the unmarked net in the night (yea for full keels). But our towed generator caught their gear. We asked them in Birgitta’s best Spanish if there were any damage. They said no problem and seemed in quite good spirits. We said we were sorry, thanked them for clearing our gear and passed then some cervezas (beer). Apparently the net was quite strong as the only damage the incident caused was a very bent towed generator bracket. (I can bend it back and have a spare as well). I was really glad the Mexicans were there. I could have freed the net myself of course though with much more difficulty. But I would have felt guilty disturbing their net. I wouldn’t have known how far we moved it and would have been concerned that they wouldn’t have caught anything as I couldn’t have reset it correctly. With them there is was apparent that both parties felt no harm was done. The Mexican fishermen must have been waiting for us working their other nets (or the other end of this one) for a while thinking “when will these gringos realise that they are not going to go anywhere with a big net behind them. Here we were with full sails up just sitting in the middle of the sea of cortez. When we finally brought them in and released the pressure they were able to release us. I was supprised that they didn’t yell out to us before. I was also supprised that they didn’t have any lights in their boat or nets but that is how it is done down here. They got a couple of beers and a story to tell about the one that got away while drinking them. Have a nice day!