Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Bells of San Blas


Next leg of our journey was a motor ride from Isla Isabel to San Blas. San Blas was founded around 1530, and in the 1700’s was one of the busiest ports on the west coast, especially as a center of Spain’s trade through the Philippines. It is also the port from which Father Junipero Serra left in 1768 to sail north to San Diego from where he began his work establishing the famed California missions. 

Now its a medium sized, fishing and tourism city. We showed up near the outside channel marker and called the Capitania de Puerto on the VHF to get permission to enter the port. After a brief conversation in Spanish we were completely baffled as to whether he said he was working now, meaning we’d need to wait for the OK, or whether he said no, or what? Not wanting to piss off the jefe, we decided to call the marina on the radio and see if they had a slip for us. They did and offered to send out a pilot boat to lead us in over the sand bars and up the river mouth to the marina. The port entrance is notorious for it’s shallow shifting bars. The slip was US$20 a night and the pilot was free – it didn’t take us long to accept.

SanBlasIMG_6358 The panga Jimena guiding us in. There wasn’t much swell going in, so crossing the bar was easy. It was mid-tide and the shallowest depths we saw on the bar were 10ft and in the channel 8.5 ft. The panga had us way over to the starboard hand side most of the way.

Like most Mexican towns, the ‘downtown’ section is based around the plaza that makes up a city block, with the old church on one side.  Locals walk around it every evening.

SanBlasIMG_6368Here’s a major crack  in the church bell. These must have showed up after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his last poem in 1880’s The Bells of San Blas.



The bar name translates to ‘Old Man’s Bar’, we think the depiction is perfect. (Derrek, check out the small sign in the upper left over the door.)

SanBlasIMG_6451 Murals as social commentary are big in Mexico. This one depicts the issue of Maternal and Infant Mortality, on the school building next to the medical center.

The highlight of San Blas was the panga jungle tour. We headed out with David and Jan on Cuervo at 7am to be the first boat out. The early boats get the best bird viewing. The mangroves support something like 300 different bird species. I’m sure we saw at least 20 different kinds. Oscar, our panga driver, could spot and identify them in the densest brush.

SanBlasIMG_6384 A couple of green iguanas trying not to fall out of the tree.


Fishing hawk




Many many species of herons- we think this is may be a tiger heron



Bromeliads in bloom


A night hawk blending into the tree.




More herons!





Jan and David, from s/v Cuervo, with our guide Oscar driving.


We came around the first big turn in the river and there was a small, free-range, crocodile sunning himself.


The mangroves- magote in Spanish


Here’s a big croc sizing us up, just before I jumped in to wrestle him- like the good old Florida days! (Unfortunately Chris was too surprised to get a shot of that…)

San Blas is a great first stop on our way down the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico.

Paul & Chris

Monday, December 27, 2010

Isla Isabela – Mexican Island of Free Love


Isla Isabela is an amazing place. It is overrun with nesting Frigates and Boobies. Not to mention the Iguanas. The frigates are graceful, high flying fishermen who nest in the bushes of the island. The males blow up their red neck tissue to show off to the females. Their fishing technique seems to be a combination of actively going after surface fish when they have to, but more often harassing a Boobie till it drops the fish it caught.  

The boobies are hapless, awkward stepping birds. Their name in Spanish is Bobo – simpleton. They come in blue and yellow footed varieties (and a rare red-footed, which we didn’t see). One parent is always on the nest. The males whistle at you when you walk too close, and the females yell at you with goose-like honking. There is a never ending set of mating and bonding rituals going on between these birds. The males start up a Boobie dance where they high step their feet and get the female into a good rhythm. If that doesn’t work, the males bring over nesting material and offer it up as a token of admiration.

We took about 7 million photos of boobies and frigates. I’ll try and cut them down to a few thou here.

islaIsabelaPC250300  Anchoring in Isabela is interesting. The bottom is basically all rock and boulder. You lay out the anchor and chain, but it doesn’t really dig in at all. The chain grinds along the bottom, making loud, eerie sounds in the boat. The photo above shows our anchor laying on its side after our first anchoring attempt. We jumped in for a snorkel and realized that we were way too close to some underwater rock outcroppings off the SE point. They jump up to 3 or 4 feet underwater.  The second anchoring job was in deeper water, 40 feet or so. Still all rock bottom. Every time a small swell made it around the point the chain grinding noise filled the boat. I wouldn’t want to be in this anchorage in a real blow, but the island is really worth the anchoring risk.

islaIsabelaIMG_6107 Sunrise approach to Isabela after a two day crossing from La Paz.

islaIsabelaIMG_6111 Anchorage approach


Jeorgia anchored in the back ground.


Looking across island near sunset.


We arrived on Christmas Day, so we stopped by the little Boobie chapel built on the point. It was all cleaned up and had the candles lit by the transient island fishermen. There was no sign that Santa or his helpers had stopped the evening before.


Dancing Blue-footed Boobie doing the high step


And she joins in with the dance.


Baby yellow-footed Boobie with parent keeping a close watch just behind.

 islaIsabelaIMG_6287 Mama protecting, as best as a Boobie can, her little one.


Paul protecting his boobies while whale-watching from 280 feet above sea level atop the island. We saw humpback whales all around the island!

islaIsabelaIMG_6310 Posing.

islaIsabelaIMG_6135 A couple of male frigates advertising for a mate and putting the other males on notice.


Mr. and Mrs. frigate.


More frigate team work.

islaIsabelaIMG_6343Check the newly hatched frigate chick sticking his white head and beak out from under mama (or papa?). The birds let you get astonishingly close to the nests, but we stayed just out of the reach of those beaks!


Apparently the bird researchers who stay on this island are hard at seeing and use an oversized labeling system – either that or this gal has a weird birth mark.

islaIsabelaPC260325We got in some really nice dives on the island. If it wasn’t for all the local fish, this island could never support the volume of bird life it does. The pool temperature was 72*F.


Spotted Pufferfish


Big rays hiding in the sand, at least a half dozen together. (The white spot is a small shrimp or bubble near the camera.)

islaIsabelaPC260310 Yellow-tail Surgeonfish


Some kind of Anglefish(?)


A curious Triggerfish

islaIsabelaIMG_6350 An Alfred Hitchcock frigate moment at sunset


We celebrated a wonderful Christmas on Isla Isabela. Hope yours was happy, too.

Paul and Chris

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Isala Isabela

We anchored on the south side of Isla Isabela at about 8am this morning after a good two day sail. Most of the sail was with NW winds 15 to 20kts with a reefed main only or sometimes with some jib out. We made an over 160 mile run on the first day under sail. Last night after midnight the wind died and we had to motor in till this morning. The island is a World Heritage site due to the extensive amount of bird life. Approaching the islands all you can see is thousands of birds flying at about zero to 40 feet -- an air traffic control nightmare. After we clean up and see how well our anchor holds over this all rock bottom, we'll hike in shore and look for boobies, then its in the pool for a dive.

Merry XMAS

Chris and Paul

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

La Paz

To err is human

To arr is pirate

La Paz is an interesting city to walk and drive around. It has about 200,000 inhabitants in the greater La Paz area and is the capital of Baja California Sur (south) – BCS. The place has the feel of a middle class working town.  The biggest employer is the government, as there isn’t any serious industry around. Because of nearby Isla Espiritu Santo and it’s abundant wildlife, there’s tourism, but not anything to the scale of Cabo. The city is home to a lot of ex-pats and ex-cruisers, they make up a small percentage of the population.

Apparently hitting a pedestrian with a car is a bad thing here.  You end up in jail – guilty till proven innocent. This means that you can haplessly wander into streets and have pretty good odds that someone driving will stop to avoid hitting you. You won’t endear yourself to the driver, but you’ll save on medical bills. The driving rules are a little strange. The 8-sided red stop sign like signs with ALTO printed on them mean slow down a little. A red left turn arrow on a traffic light means left turn on red after most of the cars have cleared the other side of the road. A no left turn sign means there’s a reasonable chance that the street you are turning on is a one-way street, the wrong way, but go ahead and give it a try if you want. The town is laid out with a lot of one-way streets. It seems to be based on the apriori-knowledge system, as the one-ways signs seem to be at the starts of the streets near the water and on major intersections. Leaving the intermediate streets as locals only knowledge.

We finally ran into Steve and Lulu on Siempra Sabado. Siempre Sabado blog I’ve been e-mailing with Steve for a year and a half now, as we both were trying to get out of the PNW. Good folks to share a cerveza and tacos with.

LaPazIMG_6089 Steve ands Lulu coming out to recover the sewing machine and Deadwood DVDs they loaned Chris

 LaPazIMG_6030 Here’s our friends from Edmonds Owen and Carrie’s new ride, a Tayana 37, that they purchased in La Paz. Currently named Que Tal soon to be Madrona. We spent a bunch of time helping Owen out when we got back into town. He had a lot of systems to check out on the boat and a few to get working before bringing the family down next month for the great adventure – life on a 37 foot boat with two small kids.

After helping Owen out on his boat a bit we decided to do a little maintenance work on Jeorgia. The engine is a 2003 (model, not year) Volvo-Penta, the green machine. The injectors have not been out on it since I’ve owned the boat, so it was time to get them serviced.  Not something that had to be done now, but why not. Diesel work is pretty reasonably priced in La Paz.

LaPazIMG_6066The green machine sans injectors and value cover

 LaPazIMG_6067The shiny injectors after service, just waiting to jump back into the engine and purr on for a few more years

Unfortunately this model of Volvo does not use copper washers under the injectors to make them seal like most engines. The injectors sit in an injector sleeve and mate every so carefully at the base of it. If these are corroded at all then you have to pull the head to replace them. After a lot of trial and error, we were able to reface the sleeves enough to get a good seal.

LaPazIMG_6086Here’s Chris bringing the mechanic, Colin and his trusty dog Blanqita back to shore. Colin is one tenacious dude and won’t accept a small, micro leak as good enough. Plus he comes with a life time of stories to tell while working on the boat – and even an opinion or two. He can’t complain about the weather, so he complains endlessly about the traffic. (We’d definitely recommend him: Colin Agar - Colfa Marine Tech. Services, cell0446121576884)   

If we can get parts together, we will probably come back over and do a head job on the engine.

Now for some random La Paz photos


Pelicans scrafing down on the morning entrails dumped by the panga driver into the anchorage – think of it as recycling.


Vote for Ricardo! Lots of campaign noise whenever you stroll around La Paz right now 


Holiday decorations in the entrance to the boat yard that Que Tal is in. Enough said.


Anyone need a Christmas piƱata?

LaPazIMG_6062Chris getting a vaccination from Dr. Tuschman, a surgeon, before her next trip to Africa. The total cost was less than the co-pay in the USA.


Dinner at our favorite cheap taco stop, Ranch Viejo.


Sunrise view of La Paz from the anchorage


The other sunrise view from the anchorage


With a little bit of luck we will be off tomorrow to start the crossing to the Mexican mainland.