Wednesday, December 30, 2009

San Blas

Isla Isabela is a hard act to follow, but we are already enjoying our next destination: San Blas, Nayarit. We left Isabela in the late afternoon, hoping to avoid motoring in the heat of the day and to pick up some evening land breezes. We also had a waxing moon to light our way. Instead of crossing the treacherous San Blas bar, we anchored for the night in nearby Matanchen Bay.

The next morning, we motored toward the bar, keeping a close eye on the depthfinder. As it went under 10 feet, we got a little bit nervous, and as we saw a set of steep swells form up behind us, I gulped! But we made it through OK, and were soon in the estuary - the first river since leaving Portland back in July.

There are several other cruisers here, and a local sportfishing guide named Norm Goldie with information and advice for new arrivals. There's also a new marina, but we now prefer to anchor out whenever possible to maximize the breeze. The money we save on moorage means more dining out! And the estuary is a colorful location, with a view of the local shrimp fleet, and plenty of birdlife.

But its hot here, probably the hottest place we've been so far.

Ashore, we found San Blas to be a delightfully laid back little town, although popular with gringos and Mexican tourists. We ambled our way from bakery to fish market to produce stalls, stopping for a licuado at the mercado.

San Blas is a historic town, and was once the center of Spanish colonial activities on this section of the coast. The older roads are hand-laid stone.

We hiked up to the ruined fortress for a view of the town, the estuary, and the sea.

Behind the fort is a ruined church.

This church is said to have inspired Longfellow's poem, the Bells of San Blas:

What say the Bells of San Blas
To the ships that southward pass
From the harbor of Mazatlan?
To them it is nothing more
Than the sound of surf on the shore,--
Nothing more to master or man.

But to me, a dreamer of dreams,
To whom what is and what seems
Are often one and the same,--
The Bells of San Blas to me
Have a strange, wild melody,
And are something more than a name.

The bells are gone now. We'll be here for a few more days while a norther blows hard offshore.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Isla Isabela

We enjoyed a very nice Christmas celebration aboard Chrokeva (thank you so much to Mark, Jackie, and Amanda). Other guests were Dave and Jean from Exit Strategy and Ken and Laurie from Trim.
On Boxing Day, we decided we needed to start moving south again. With a nice following breeze, we set out in the afternoon for Isabela Island, 85 miles from Mazatlan. Less than an hour out, we had spotted a half-dozen humpback whales. We arrived at Isabela right after daybreak, and we had the anchorage to ourselves.

Ashore on this National Park, there are no permanent human residents. There is a seasonal fish camp, and a marine biology and ecology lab from one of the Mexican universities.

Other than that, the island is completely dedicated to the needs of frigatebirds, boobies, tropicbirds, pelicans, gulls, and other seabirds. While we have not visited the Galapagos, this is how we imagine it to be. The birds are quite unafraid of humans, as long as you don't act aggressively or talk too loudly. We were able to watch mating rituals, and approach nests with eggs and chicks. In fact, it was hard to avoid a close approach. The birds literally nest on nearly every available tree, shrub, patch of grass, and rock outcrop.

This is the largest West Coast rookery for the frigatebirds. One interesting thing about these birds: although they spend most of their time near the water, they can't land on it! But they are very good at stealing fish from other birds!

There are two species of boobies here: brown and blue-footed. Guess which are which!

Talk about having your kids underfoot!

Here's a short video that gives some idea of why their name is so fitting!

Any spaces left by the birds are taken by iguanas!

Over the course of our two-day visit, we made several walking tours to different parts of this rugged volcanic island.

In the warmer afternoons, we donned snorkeling gear to check out the underwater realm. While the visibility was not spectacular, there was a good variety of colorful fish, such as Moorish Idols and Bumphead Parrotfish.

Finally, we had frequent sightings of humpback whales, breaching, spouting, and slapping their huge pectoral fins on the surface.

What a place! We plan to return in February.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More Mazatlan

After 3 weeks of being more or less on the go, we are really enjoying a few days of R&R in one place, with a good free anchorage to boot! (We do pay $3/day to land the dinghy at a secure place, Club Nautico, with showers and bathroom facilities included)
Mazatlan is a very popular gringo hangout, and its easy to see why. Miles of nice beaches, lots of wildlife, and a scenic city with some old historic districts reminiscent of New Orleans.

Grilled fish, chile rellenos stuffed with shrimp, and many other tasty seafood treats are available for less than $4/entree. The mercado is teeming with fresh fruits, veggies, meat and fish. Its easy to find ice cream, cappucino, and just about any other treat you may be craving.

Air temperature has been moderate, seldom getting above 80, and the ocean is about 78, just right for swimming. We had our first Mexican rain last night, a few short squalls that gave a nice rinse to our salty boat.
Yesterday our friends Bruce and Sharon picked us up and took us to see their lovely condo in "Nuevo Mazatlan" a few miles to the north. We enjoyed a walk on their beach and just relaxed.

This morning we hiked up to the lighthouse near our anchorage for great city views,

then took the boat around the corner to "Isla Piedra" for another long beach walk. Even the goats expected tips at this tourist hangout!

Monday, December 21, 2009


After our nice snorkel at Chileno Reef, we pressed on in flat seas towards the next anchorage on the Baja coast, Los Frailes. But as we rounded Punta Gorda, we ran into very steep seas. With green water coming over the bow, the prop cavitating, speed down to under 3 kts, and 15 miles to go, we decided flexibility was the order of the day and changed course for Mazatlan, 160 miles away. We'll be back to Baja next spring.

The first part of the crossing was fast, with 15-20kt winds out of the north and a beam reach. Midway across the Sea of Cortez, the wind started dying down and veering to the NE, and we had to alter course accordingly. For a few hours, winds were actually on the nose, and we just kind of wallowed around in very confused seas, tacking slowly and not making much progress. We were entertained by brown boobies trying to land on the boat. One stayed on the bow for a couple of hours.

Finally the wind died entirely, the seas flattened, and we fired up the diesel and continued on. Unfortunately we were now going to arrive in darkness, so we had to decide whether to heave to or push on. After consulting our charts and guidebooks, we decided to head into the old port, with its simple and well-lit harbor entrance.
One of the world's tallest lighthouses guided us in from 30 miles out. We contacted a cruise ship on VHF after determining that it was headed directly for us, on its way to Cabo. With AIS, it was no problem hailing them by name, and getting an immediate response. With a slight change in course, we were safely out of their way.

The harbor entrance was very straightforward, and our position was accurate on both the C-map and Navionics charts (we have 2 separate navigation systems, one of them running on a Mac laptop). With plenty of room in the anchorage, we were soon asleep in the calmest conditions we have encountered since leaving Ensenada nearly 3 weeks ago.

We have friends here, and will probably stay here through Christmas.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bye-bye Cabo

Three days in Cabo was more than enough! The scenery is superb, and it is no wonder its such a popular resort. But the sheer volume of boat and particularly jetski traffic made it a less than relaxing anchorage. But a useful and necessary stop, and we met a few fellow cruisers there. An amazing coincidence: the guy on the boat anchored next to us was in my high school graduating class. We didn't recognize each other, or even have any friends in common, as it was a very large high school.
This morning we got to the gas dock, took on fuel and water, and were outta there by sunrise.

Our first stop was only a few miles away, at a popular dive spot called Chileno Reef. We could clearly see the bottom in 50 feet. Lots of colorful fish on the reef, but no pics - after dunking our last "underwater" camera, we are gun-shy about using the new one.

Now we are motoring along the developed coastline past San Jose del Cabo, on our way to Los Frailes.