Have you ever gone on a hike and hoped to catch a glimpse of some wildlife? Imagine going on a short hike and not going more than a few seconds without seeing wildlife so close you can touch it. Granted, said wildlife was birds and lizards, but it was still pretty amazing to always be seeing something, and most of the time you were mere feet from the animal you were looking at.
This marvelous nature hike occurred at Isla Isabela, which is about 20 miles offshore between San Blas and Mazatlan. It is a bit out of the way since we don’t usually venture so far offshore for coastal hops, but it receives great reviews from fellow cruisers and we wanted to see it for ourselves. We skipped this island as we were heading south in December because we were on a bit of a timeline -never a good thing for cruisers. We were also a bit hesitant to go before, because along with the rave reviews of Isla Isabela came some anchor warnings. It has a bit of a reputation for occasionally not letting your anchor back up off the bottom, and isn’t exactly a protected harbor at 20 miles off shore. But with a few months of cruising under our belts now, we are a lot more confident in our anchoring then we were back in December. So when we left Mantachan Bay we headed for Isla Isabela. Of course, as we closed in on the island, the wind was blowing directly at us so we cheated the last few miles with the engine. After setting anchor in the small bay on the south end of the island, we decided we weren’t happy with the swell and proximity of some large rocks. We moved to the second anchorage on the east side of the island where we found less swell, and the possibility of dragging anchor would move us to open ocean, not a rock shelf. I did some snorkeling in some of the clearest water we’ve seen while cruising, and found our anchor was not dug nicely into a sandy bottom like we were hoping. Rather, it was sitting on some rocks and hooked into a little fissure. To save you the suspense, it held just fine and retrieving it did not involve scuba diving or having to use the trip line we had rigged. It just pulled up as normal when we were ready to raise it.
Since I was already in the water and it was mid afternoon, I decided to check the bottom of the boat a bit more. The visibility was much better than our last stop, but I still didn’t see any real damage from our grounding. I did see plenty of bottom growth so I spent some time trying to clean it up a bit, as our boat speed is waaaay down. By the time I was finished and evening was rolling around a couple more boats showed up to anchor both in the bay, and out by the spire where we were anchored.
The next day we launched the dinghy for the first time in what I think was about a week and headed to shore. What you hear about all the birds on this island doesn’t really prepare you for just how many birds there really are. The area we started in was mostly frigate birds, as well as a rather surprising basketball court and a semi abandoned building. Later as we were leaving, we saw people hauling camping gear towards it but lacking language skills to ask, I’m going with my guess that they were researchers or students visiting the island.
After checking out the area around the dinghy landing, we set out for a trail that would take us to a long awaited boobie area. First we had to climb over a ridge and walk through some wooded areas where there were less birds, and the almost constant rustle of lizards scampering across the leaves on the ground. We hiked by a small lake, then again climbed over another a ridge before dropping back towards the shoreline. Suddenly, right in the middle of the path, was a blue footed boobie sitting on an egg. I really can’t say why, but I’ve had a fascination with boobies for awhile, especially blue footed ones. I’ve never seen one up close and personal before and suddenly we were surrounded by them. I even had one try and chase me at one point. We did our best to keep hiking without disturbing them, but we were surrounded by boobies. We made it out to the stretch of beach our boat was anchored just off of and walked along the water checking out the several species of boobies nesting there. Besides the blue footed boobies there were a few brown boobies, that looked so sleek they almost looked like a movie special effect. Jenn soon decided to quit pushing her luck with not having anything fall out of the sky and land on her so we headed back to the dinghy.
As we motored back a rather large sailboat that had anchored near us hailed us using their PA on the boat. We had chatted briefly with the some of the crew on the shore. Once they got our attention over our outboard noise with the PA they waved us over. We swung by to say hi, and tried to decline their invitation to come aboard as we had nothing to contribute. We were informed they had plenty and it wasn’t an issue so we tied up and climbed aboard. The boat was a beautiful 72′ Maple Leaf, complete with a full size stand up stainless steel fridge with ice dispenser, a washer and dryer. We enjoyed their buffet including some Costco salmon from Puerto Vallarta and some drinks. We commented we were starting to run a little low since we had been traveling at such a leisurely pace and suddenly a concerned crew member was pressing a bottle of tequila into Jenn’s hand as she didn’t want us to run out. I really have to appreciate how the cruising community takes care of its own! Several other crews from the boats anchored at the island were on board, and it wasn’t challenging to figure out we had stumbled across some fairly well off sailors, and yet the question we were asked most often was how we were off cruising out our age. While I would prefer to be a well off cruiser, it was a rewarding to have them admire what we were doing.
The next morning we waited for the wind to build, hauled anchor and set sail for a next stop, Mazatlan. Isla Isabela is certainly a stop worth veering a few miles offshore to see, and is small enough to see in a day. We didn’t see all of it so if we sail by again I will want to stop and explore a bit more. I’ve heard there is some good snorkeling around the rock spire were were anchored near and we didn’t check that out so I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of Isla Isabela.