Isla Isabella – BIRDS

Dear F&F;,

2008 April 28

Isla Isabella – The Birds

It was a 10 minute dinghy ride with “wet landing” and steep, soft sand. It
was a strain for Scott to pull up the heavy dinghy out of the water above
the tidal zone. The many fishermen were occupied with their work and did not
pay much attention to us. We asked if where we left the dinghy was ok, not
in their way, and received a quick “si”. There was a trail map board and
some information about the various nesting birds, all in Spanish. One
dilapidated cement building, many iguanas and hundreds of soaring frigate
birds. We fumbled along and by 9:30 am I was already hot, dusty & regretting
that we did not get a much earlier start on this tour. But, since I am not
likely to ever go ashore again at Isla Isabella, I suck it up & trudge on.

We first come to the frigate bird nesting area. We are used to seeing them
soaring high with a striking resemblance to Batman. Up close the adults look
a bit more like vultures, but with longer necks. The males have a red sack
at the throat that they can puff up when trying to lure a female. It seems
that the luring is over because there are pretty big fledglings sitting in
nests on branches of 10 foot high trees. Can’t tell you what type of tree,
other than at this time of year there are no leaves, just dry sticks. The
baby frigates look like a goofy cartoon version of a bald eagle. They seem
so big to still not be able to fly. The downy fluff on their heads is in
various stages of molt as they mature. The trail goes right through & under
the trees with the nests and none of the birds seem especially bothered by

Our chart indicated “stinky lagoon” and indeed we hike to a pea green
sulphur smelling pond; the remnant of the volcano that formed the island. No
birds seen right there, the water undrinkable due to its sulphur content. We
pass through a stand of banana trees which we were warned are home to the
brown recluse spider which can inflict a skin rotting bite. We steer clear.

After an hours walk to the far side of the island, we arrived at the shore
where our boat is anchored. Here we come upon the boobie birds. The
blue-footed boobies are easy to identify. We suspect the males are the
primary guards and distracters for the fledglings. And they do a valiant job
of it. Sometimes there was no easy route around a boobie that stood his
ground in the middle of the path. In the face of 6’4” tall Scott, these 1
foot short birds were extremely brave and vocal. We did our best to respect
their territory and give them space.

We also saw some boobies that have yellow feet. We meet 2 students from
Mexico’s National University, counting banding and taking other stats on
booby fledglings. The ones we describe as yellow-foot boobies have
distinctive darker head and white chest coloration that look somewhat like a
nun’s habit. They tell us there are azul (blue), rosa (red) and marron
(brown) footed boobies on this island. Lucia and Juan Carlos were friendly
and informative. See photograph of them holding a fledgling being banded.
They have been on this desolate island studying the birds for 4 months! Such
dedication. They confirm that there is no “loop” to the trail & we have to
retrace our steps to return to the dinghy. We are hot & dusty when we
finally make it back from our 3 hour hike. But we are happy that we took the
opportunity to see this unique place.

Having seen it, we must decide when to move on. We decide to move that
evening before sundown.

Reason A) Due to the many fish/lobster traps around the anchorage we want to
exit in daylight.

Reason B) There is usually less wind and swell at night (the prevailing
directions is opposite where we are trying to go, so it will be another
motor passage).

Reason C) We want to arrive at our destination of Mazatlan in daylight since
we have never been there and the harbor entrance looks a bit tricky per the
charts & cruising guides.

Reason D) It is easier to see boats at night than during the day (assuming
they display their navigation lights). Most boats making this passage would
be lit up. There is no reason for a small fishing panga to be out there.

Calculation: 93 mile trip, average speed 6.5 knots = 14 hour passage. So we
leave at 6:30 pm. Just after another sailboat dropped anchor beside us. They
teased, hoping they didn’t “chase us away from the anchorage”. We told them
of our plan to have an overnight passage to Mazatlan. They had just arrived
from Puerto Vallarta.

Passage Notes: It had been 2 ½ months since we’d done an all night trip. I
took the first watch. Scott rested, but didn’t sleep. Scott took the 10 pm –
2 am watch. I slept off & on. He had 1 power boat on a reciprocal course
within ¼ mile.

I took the 2:00 – 6:00 am watch. I had a large fishing boat overtake me on
port (left side) within 1/8th mile. The radar is worth its weight in gold
during these encounters. You can see the lights of the other boat so far
away & cannot accurately determine their distance. Having another vessel
come at you will keep you awake. The radar is very accurate for showing
their distance. I sighted the flashing white navigation light for Mazatlan
from 30 miles away. The stars were fabulous, but I was happy to have the ¼
moon keep me company too. It helps you see the horizon distinct from the

I also reward myself with treats to help me make it through the watch. After
the first hour: half a mango. After 2 hours a bowl of cereal with vanilla
yogurt. At the third hour I have full attention on this vessel overtaking
us. With a half hour to go, I brush my teeth, write my log entry and eagerly
await Scott getting up to take over at 6 am.

I tried to just stay awake until we entered the harbor but couldn’t keep
upright for that last 2 hrs, so flopped down after making breakfast. With
the sun in our face, the harbor entrance was not obvious until we were quite
close. We know better than to rely sole on our electronic charts because
they are up to 1 mile off. This is because modern GPS is so accurate and
most of the chart surveys were done long before the advent of GPS. Some of
the surveys are catching up, but too slowly as far as we’re concerned.
Indeed, once again the chart plotter, (like a fancy version of a cars
navigation system), showed our boat “going over land” as we entered the
marina. We tied up on the end of A dock as we were instructed by email when
we made our reservation. We ended up moving down a few slips so that our
power cord could reach a power outlet.

No manana time today: Within 3 hours we have:

A) Checked in with the harbor master

B) Turned in & received back clean; 1 load of laundry (our sheets &
towels were getting groady)

C) Turned the air conditioner on, closed all the hatches & had 2 guys
wash (all the bird droppings off) the boat & Oxyclean the teak.

We are still woozy from our “all nighter” but pleased to be here & think it
was a good decision

Tomorrow morning, Bob of Total Yachts will meet with Scott regarding our
transmission oil leak problem & potential solution. Thursday morning Norma
will come & help Cindy clean the interior.

Due to our state of fatigue, we may or may not venture off the boat today. In
Mexico, there is always manana……Bienvenidos Mazatlan!

Scott & Cindy