The La Paz Shuffle

There is a phenomenon boats experience when anchored in La Paz known as the La Paz waltz.  The combination of wind and current tends to make boats move around their anchor in some unique ways, not always quite as expected.  You can end up pointing the opposite way as the boat next to you, even though normally boats at anchor tend to line up with each other.  We experienced quite a bit of it on our first trip here last fall.  Maybe it is the reduction in strong  northerly winds in the spring, or our repeated  change of anchorage locations, but we seem to be doing a little less waltzing on this visit, more just shuffling around our anchor.  Which is also what we’ve been doing the La Paz area.  When we arrived from Mazatlan after fairly smooth sailing with an escort of 30 or so dolphins for 20 minutes, we found the spot we wanted to anchor at occupied by a large ketch that has the look of a boat that is going to sit in the same spot for a long time.  Various supplies, including a sheet of plywood covered the decks, and as we did a drive by an older guy poked is head out from under the tarp cover and did not return my wave.  We moved to another spot, where we were informed by another older guy on a another large ketch that doesn’t look like it is going to move anytime soon either that the port captain would probably tell us to move.  Being the weekend we decided to wait to move, and when Monday rolled around we didn’t quite get to it either.  By Wednesday I had run into a cruiser from we met in La Cruz who offered up his spot in the anchorage as he was going into a marina for a few days.  So we shuffled off to that spot which worked out well except for a lack of good wi-fi signals.  Ahh, the pursuit of the perfect anchorage.

Just a few of the 30 or so playing around our boat.

I’m not sure how an animal that can swim so fast enjoys riding the bow wake at 5 knots, but they do.

Another bow shot. Did I mention we get excited when we see dolphins?

And now, a few bird pictures I took back in Mazatlan and never got around to posting.

A brown boobie taking flight.

Another brown boobie shot. They didn’t get their fair share of pictures last time around so I”m making it up to them.

I know, I’m a geek but this makes me think of a Klingon Bird of Prey warship. Geek mode <off>

A bird diving for fish while another laments their missed chance. Do you ever wonder how the first bird decided to dive at the water at full speed?

After all that work to get into a good spot, we decided to get out of town for a few days.  Our friend Marek, who had sailed down from Anacortes at the same time we sailed down the coast, was also ready to head out of La Paz, so we buddy boated up to Ispiritu Santo, an island just north of town set aside as a national park.  We hung out for a few days and enjoyed the rugged beauty and relative isolation of the area.  There were a few boats in the anchorage the first night, and then the weekend hit and it jumped to 14 boats.  In a rather bizarre moment for us, there was a time when there were more power boats then sailboats in the anchorage.  That was a first for us.  Of course, two of the powerboats had to anchor directly upwind from us.  With the winds at night running in the mid 20 knot range with some gusts over 30 (according to another boat, I still need to install our wind speed instrument) and my experience with some power boaters skill at anchoring I was on the nervous side.  Of course, they dropped their hooks just as it was getting dark and the wind was picking up and I wasn’t eager to move at that point so I just kept an eye on them.  For some reason they both moved to the other side of the bay allowing me to relax a bit, although with that much wind you still don’t sleep all that soundly.  Our third night the wind died out and we had a flat, quiet night of deep sleep.

Typical scenery at Ispiritu Santo.

20 miles from the nearest dock – but ready when they get there!

During the day we dinghied ashore and wandered around, checking out the hundreds or even thousands of fiddler crabs on one of the beaches.  There were numerous cacti growing near the water, and volcanic rock as well as visible layers of soil and rock in the hills rising out of water.  While not the green forests we are used to from the pacific northwest wilderness, there was a beauty to this anchorage, with reddish rocks and aqua green waters contrasting to provide spectacular vistas.  We also took a dinghy trip with Marek through a narrow, shallow channel that separates two islands.  After we made it through the channel we motored down to several large sea caves.  We had perfect conditions for the trip as we were on the lee side of the island and there was no swell we easily drove the dinghy into the the caves.  What we didn’t have is a camera, so we’ll have to go back for some pictures.  We stopped and did some snorkeling in some of the clearest water we’ve been in so far, although it was not the warmest.  The biggest warning about the Sea of Cortez we heard from people was the temperature, and so far we’ve had chilly nights and chilly refreshing water temperatures.  I’ll get back to you in August…  I found a gap in the rocks that allowed us to swim from the the snorkeling area into a sea cave and took several trips back and forth in Jaques Costeau mode.

Just another scene in the Sea of Cortez.

You do need to watch where you are walking – this is not a plant I want to bump into.

Another reason to watch where you are walking. These were the slowest moving crabs I’ve ever encountered and it would be easy to step on them.

Fiddler crab close up.

At some point in every photographers life, you have to try the B&W artistic shot.

The colored artistic shot of the same plant.

One more… the way the cactus dried out into a hollowed wood with patterned holes really was quite fascinating!

A bird that isn’t a boobie.

I thought this was a dead tree from a distance, but it is still hanging in there pushing out the green leaves.

Once you start going Black & White…

Interesting to see a park sign, right next to a fishing camp.

Not a bad spot to live and work. Assuming you don’t need internet, electricity and an Oxxo on the corner.

I guess I better get in one of these pictures.

I think this is a cactus in the process of flowering. But that is kind of an assumption on my part.

I’m not sure the sun hat is helping out.


While we were anchoring the dinghy a man from the powerboat anchored a couple hundred feet out from the sea cave swung by on a paddleboard to inquire about where we were anchored and the conditions there.  His boat was not in a spot our guide book listed as an anchorage – he was essentially just out in the open a few hundred feet from the side of the island, while we were tucked into a bay that our guide book showed charted depths for, with high cliffs providing some protection from wind and waves as long as there weren’t coming directly from the West.  I gave him information about our anchorage and asked how deep his spot was.  He said he anchored in about 110′ feet, but he probably drug anchoring during the windy night because it was now 130′ deep.  I asked him what kind of sea bed conditions he was in, but he didn’t know.  For those of you in the know, you can now understand my nervous moments having two similarly sized powerboats anchored upwind from me the previous night.  He said he was going to move over to our anchorage, but somewhat thankfully we didn’t see him show up before we left the next morning.

After a few days of what we felt was a little mini vacation, we decided to run back to La Paz.  As always, there are some projects to work on including a leaky water pump in the engine I would like to resolve while we are near a large city with good marine services.  Of course the morning we left there were dolphins in the bay and even a whale that we did not get a get enough look at to identify.  We idled around in the dinghy watching the dolphins but even at dinghy level they just don’t seem to want to come over for a petting session, much to Jenn’s disappointment.  Finally we said a goodbye to Marek who is heading north to explore a bit, while we pointed south back to La Paz.   Of course the there wasn’t any wind, but we did get yet more dolphins to entertain us before we finally got enough wind to sail for a bit.  I had sailed all the way out of the La Paz channel on the way north and tried to sail back in but had to use the engine for a little assist – best not to push it around channel markers the outline a course around a sand bar.

Marek from Spica – hopefully we’ll catch up again up north.

Dolphin in the anchorage with us.

And yet more dolphins on the way back to La Paz.

We should be in project mode, but we have a chance to go get some pool time at the nicest resort in town with the very friendly crew of Double Diamond before they return home to Washington for the summer.  Sometimes, you just have to know when to go hang out at the pool.


Boobies Are Awesome

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.

Just an idea how thick the birds are on land and in the sky.

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.

A young frigate bird (I think).

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.

An adult frigate bird (pretty positive).

One of the more randomly placed basketball courts in the world.

An elder imparting some wisdom to the young.

Not sure what the wing spreading behavior is all about, but my completely uneducated guess is for cooling off.

Bed head bird.

Isla Isabela isn’t hasn’t completely gone to the birds.

Grumpy old man lizard.

Lazy birds don’t even fly up to a tree branch to roost!

Hanging out in nest all day must be exhausting.

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.

Jenn models our new boat hats in front of the small lake.

A nesting boobie.

I think this is the Boobie mating dance. I didn’t stay to find out.

Not much of a trail, but at least there weren’t any birds nest in the path here.

Close up of Boobie.

Jenn misunderstood when I said I was taking Boobie pictures.

They really do have blue feet, honestly one of the darnedest things I’ve ever seen.

Slow lizard, easy to photograph.

Baby bird sitting on a rock.

This is the trail we were hiking on, we had to be careful where we stepped.

Angry Boobie. I wasn’t careful enough where I stepped.

Dreaming of omelets.

A break from the birds.

Say what?

Sleekest bird ever.

I just one to pick on up and hug it and squeeze it.

I should give the gulls a turn.

One more gull, it kept buzzing me and I kept taking pictures. I don’t think that was what this gull had in mind.

Jenn dodging the nests on the path.

Amazingly, I took a picture with no wildlife in it.

These little guys were tough to photograph. They didn’t really like to pose.

Flying Boobie! Testing the action mode on my camera.

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.

A nice boat to be invited aboard, but now I’m having a hard time convincing Jenn we can’t have a stand up fridge with ice dispenser.

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.

Small fishing village at the dinghy landing site.

Yeah, I’m a photo geek sometimes.