Week 26 – Mexico – Isla Isabela and San Blas

My Mom, Ellen, is with us on board for a few weeks and has been taking over my blogging responsibilities. Here is her story:

In port and heading on our journey to Isla Isabela

The last day in port is a work day, after we finished watching Harry Potter!  Fill the water, fuel up, make sure everything is securely stowed. While Shelley did school with the kids, Steve and I swabbed down the boat. The birds had left unwelcome white deposits everywhere! When we were done and the kids finished school, we planned the rest of our day. We wanted some beach time (which we had), a shower  (thank goodness) and to fuel up before the fuel dock closed. We planned to leave at 5 pm. The trip was anticipated to take about 42 hours so we would arrive during the morning daylight hours to avoid any visible hazards. We were hoping for a northerly wind which would have pushed us in the right direction but there was little wind as we pulled out on time so we began by motoring.

As we watched San Jose del Cabo diminish, we saw the waves increase in size, rocking and rolling in a weird pattern as the waves from the Sea of Cortez met the Pacific Ocean swell. I felt completely safe but I did manage to bruise myself walking around the boat when an unexpected wave would hit. I found that bare feet was best and always holding onto a handle with one hand (mostly) worked. It didn’t stop me from falling into the lee cloth twice so Shelley and I have some repair work to do.

Hanging out with Spencer in the cockpit
Beautiful sunset looking west back towards Cabo San Lucas

At Sea towards Isla Isabela

We motor sailed through the night at an average of 6 ½ knots (just over 7mph) with Shelley and Steve doing 3 hour shifts. It was a rocky ride but calmed down just before dawn when we turned the motor off and experienced the wonderful stillness of sailing. It was glorious!

Paige had felt a little seasick so she slept on the starboard settee with the lee cloth done up and I slept (or tried to) in her bed in the v-berth. With the unmusical rock and roll, I woke up about thirty times, I swear. The kids slept through it all like the troopers they are. We awoke to water water everywhere and no land in sight. We were on course and on time and I had full confidence in the crew. Shelley, the kids and I had all taken seasick medicine and wore sea bands so I felt great – not even a twinge of nausea. A whole bunch of baby  squid had jumped on board during the night – too bad it wasn’t enough for a meal – calamari anyone?!

Meals at sea are a challenge. I was tasked with dinner which was spanakopita, mozzarella sticks and salad (more leftovers from La Jolla). I fell out of love with the oven and by the time everything was cooked, it was pitch dark. I vowed not to cook in the oven again and would go on cleanup duty instead. Shelley said it was a treat to have someone cook because they usually ate granola bars when they were travelling because she got nauseas when preparing meals down below.

That night it was much calmer so I slept on the starboard settee because the boat was on a port tack and was heeling to starboard (Steve’s words, not mine). A much better sleep was had that night.

Isla Isabela National Park, Nayarit

I was awakened by Steve yelling, “Ellen, if you want to see whales come up to the cockpit.” He and Paige were the only ones up and sure enough, we saw a pod of whales off the coast of Isla Isabela. There were several whales shooting up water, jumping and cavorting in the waves! What a welcome morning sight – our destination and whales – a double bonus. After 39 hours motoring and sailing, we had arrived!

The seas were like glass and the wind was soft. You could tell it would be a calm warm day. Shelley and Steve anchored expertly and it was time for the big breakfast – a tradition after a long passage. Steve cooked, we ate and I did the dishes while everyone jumped into the warm waters of South Bay! After dishes I could hardly get my suit on, I was so sweaty! I did manage to, however, but by the time I got in the water they were all coming out complaining of an itch (apparently due to baby jellyfish – the next day Shelley spotted the tiny blue jellies surrounding the boat). I didn’t care. I just wanted to cool off. Spencer came in again with me and we frolicked for a few minutes before we hosed ourselves off with fresh water and returned onboard.

Isla Isabela is a volcanic peak 281’ high and under a mile long. It is a wildlife preserve where scientists and students help park rangers study and protect 525 frigate and booby nests scattered all over the island. Jacques Cousteau was lured here 37 years ago to film the mating habits of the majestic frigate birds who had never been filmed before. He also filmed the blue-footed boobies (the kids loved that word!) and the more common and smaller brown boobies. We anchored in the South Bay facing inside walls of the volcano and a nearby fishing village.

Moment is anchored on the far right in South Bay

Spencer and I did school together while Shelley worked with Paige. He is really good at sounding out words while reading and his spelling is excellent (well, after all, I was the junior high school spelling champion so the apple doesn’t…. you know the rest)

After lunch, Shelley and Steve were thrilled to be able to take a dinghy ride ALONE! – something they rarely, if ever, do! Yes, Grandma was in charge again but they left me with a two way radio and their call sign of Kingy (rhymes with dinghy – I think the kids must have named it). They explored the east side of the island where they found a kid boat! An 8 year old boy with a Nintendo Switch and lots of games, oh, and parents too.  Aksel was his name and his parents were April and Jason from the sailboat sv Westy. An exploration of the island hike was set up for the next day and happy hour rolled around again!

Beautiful pinnacle rocks on the East side of Isla Isabella
The fishermen are greeted by the local frigate birds when they return to shore

Exploring Isla Isabela

There’s no washing machine on the boat (what?) so we wash clothes the old fashioned way; one bucket of soapy water with a plunger (no, not a bathroom one, although I did ask that question) and one bucket of rinse water. Once washed and rinsed, clothes are hung around the boat to dry in the breeze. Who knew it would make me sweat buckets, but it did!

Once our chores were done, we dinghied 3 or 4 minutes to the sandy shore where the fishing settlement was. There are 12 huts made of corrugated metal, mostly green with some red pieces. The ‘pangas’ (fishing boats) came and went all day. They were about 16 feet long with 140 hp outboard motors and were open to the weather. The women and children stayed on shore. The guide book says 50 people live there but I would guess no more than 25 at the time we were there.

We met up with Aksel and his parents and immediately met several iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks. They were as still as death but every once in a while an eye would open. There were geckos darting around the beach but the iguanas ruled. Paige and Spencer were a little nervous so I told the nearest one that I wouldn’t scare him if he didn’t scare me. It worked and the kids were able to walk past them. The longest one was probably three feet long. We started up the hill to where the observatory was but it ended up being an empty concrete shell, full of iguanas sunning themselves. This island is considered the Galapagos of Mexico. As we moved on, we looked up into the trees just above us and they were covered in nests with mostly frigates sitting on eggs. They were everywhere! I guess that’s why this is a research preserve.

We climbed a (very) steep hill for an amazing view of the island, surrounding ocean, a crater lake and a glimpse of the two rock pinnacles on the west side of the island. At the top of the hill we carefully walked around dozens of nesting boobies, both the blue footed and brown boobies. The brown ones have pale lime green feet and the others have feet as blue as the sky. Paige was a little intimidated by the noises they were making – I would guess they were telling us to buzz off! We were very careful not to disturb them. It’s their home and we were privileged to be able to greet them so closely. I have never seen anything like it. No wonder Jacques Cousteau filmed them!

It was amazing to see these Blue Footed Boobies


Frigates hanging out in the trees near the shoreline
Brown booby (Note the light green feet)
Iguanas greeted us as we stepped onto the shore
Exploring the ruins
Exploring the tide pools with Aksel

Behind the fishing huts were stone steps leading to the crater lake. I was gung ho to go until I got to the top of the steps, slipped and skinned my knee. In a flash, Shelley was cleaning my wound and suggesting I rest (no argument there). I rested and then made my way back down to the beach where I could put my hot feet into the cool water. I greeted a fisherman who was folding his nets and watched mesmerized as he expertly reeled these huge long nets into a tidy bundle for his next trip out.

Throwing rocks with Aksel at the crater lake

The group rejoined me soon after and we headed back to the boat for lunch. We were hot, sweaty and hungry! After Shelley whipped up another delicious meal we were sitting in the cockpit when we saw another pod of whales slapping their tails on the water, and slapping and slapping. They weren’t really close but their tails were clearly visible as they raised them high in the sky.

Aksel called on the radio and invited us to their boat for a swim and a visit. I bowed out because I couldn’t stand my hair anymore and needed to wash it plus I wanted some quiet time to get caught up on my journal and reading. There is NOTHING more relaxing than sitting on a gently rolling boat with a cup of coffee, listening to the surf crash on the rocks and the birds calling to each other. This is heaven!

New Year’s Eve

Our last night at Isla Isabela was a potluck New Year’s party on Moment with two other kid boats, sv Westy (April, Jason and Aksel (age 8)) and sv Lea Scotia (Michelle, Bucky, Charlie (age 3) and Jack (age 8 months)). We had a fun time learning about each other’s adventures and talking boat talk! Michelle had brought a bottle of champagne and we toasted the New Year that was happening somewhere in the world! The kids all had a great time and we all expressed fond farewells. Westy was heading to La Cruz and Lea Scotia was going directly to Nuevo Vallarta. We may just see them there?!

Getting pretty for the party!
Kids playing on tablets while the parents have a visit
Bucky, Jason, Charlie (holding Woody) and Ellen
Shelley, April and Michelle
Ellen, Steve and Shelley

Travel Day to San Blas

We left our anchorage about 7:30 am under very calm conditions. The wind picked up a bit and we were able to sail (as Steve made repairs to the engine). It was a glorious day, relaxed, warm and breezy – just what I pictured it would be like. Shelley said it was probably their best day for sailing on the trip and how did I manage to swing that?? I will not divulge my secrets!

We approached San Blas at very low tide. Steve stood on the bow and suggested we turn around as the approach to the harbour looked too shallow for our deep keel. So – no problem, Plan B was to go another 3.5 nm further to Ensenada de Matanchen which was a wide shallow bay with a long sandy beach. Our reason for going to San Blas was to go on the La Tovara jungle tour. We dinghied to shore where we thought there was a resort. There were hundreds of people in the water and banana boats towing their passengers gleefully around the bay. The closer we got, the quicker we realized that this was a true Mexican beach. There were a dozen palapa restaurants with thatched roofs that ran the length of the beach, vendors selling drinks, floaties, hats, kayak rides. The restaurants didn’t appear to have proper kitchens or running water. We opted not to eat there! We also stood out like sore thumbs, being the only gringos on shore! We were hoping to find a way to book our tour but it appeared not.

La Tovara Jungle Cruise

I woke up early and watched the sun rise over the coastal mountains (hills) to our west. The land here is lush and green and teeming with the dreaded jejene (which sounds like: hey-hey-nay) biting insect – much like a noseeum. Shelley is very sensitive to bug bites so up went the bug screen and we managed to hold them off for the night.

We were on the beach by 8am and found that La Tovara was only a five minute walk from the beach (5 minutes without kids, Steve says!). It was a colorful walk with shops setting up for the day selling banana bread, sweet empanadas, fish, raw oysters and a myriad of (Mexican) tourist goods. We were on the jungle cruise at 8:20 as we had read that the birds and crocodiles were more active in the morning. The cost was reasonable ($10 each) and Spencer was free. No senior’s discount I asked as they looked at me like a loco turista! Apparently “seniore” means something else in Spanish!


If you ever picture a tour of the Amazon jungle, this was it – shaded mangrove trees growing out of the water teeming with birds, turtles and crocodiles. I guess ‘teeming’ isn’t the right word but there was enough going on that our ‘panga’ guide stopped several times for a closer viewing. We were dropped off at the crocodile ‘sanctuary’ for an additional 20 pesos ($1) and were told we had 20 minutes. Shelley took tons of pics of the lazy crocs with a few other animals thrown in (jaguars, lynx, deer, monkeys and boars. It did not appear to be a sanctuary as much as a little zoo for the tourists.

Spencer is keeping his eyes peeled for wildlife!
Beautiful white egret
Baby crocodile sunning itself
Some wooden huts placed in La Tovara for a film set

Our next stop was a fresh spring water swimming hole complete with rope swing, climbing ladder and a cute restaurant along the water. We were given 30 minutes but told our driver we wanted to stay longer so he told us we could take a different boat back later. We wanted a cold drink and some lunch so while the kids continued to swim, we drank beer and margaritas and perused the menu. It was quite the idyllic spot and not surprising that I tripped getting back into the panga – oops – those morning margaritas!

Refreshing dip in the fresh water swimming hole
Having refreshing drinks (and yummy food) for lunch!

It was a wonderful, informative and interesting cruise and we would all highly recommend it. While returning to the dinghy, we purchased some sweet empanadas which Shelley accurately described as Mexican Pop Tarts but the kids thought they were cool.

Back at the beach we all jumped into the shallow water to cool off. You pretty well have to sit down to get all wet because the whole bay is very shallow. The kids had a blast, especially when they all went for a Banana Boat ride and got dumped at the finish! All good things must come to an end and schoolwork still needed to be done, so back to the boat we went, not before we dropped the kids into the water and allowed them to swim the rest of the way back. They loved it!

After school was finished we were ready for a dip to cool off again. Steve and Shelley took the kids for a tow on the boogie board behind the dingy. The kids had huge grins on their faces, despite the dinghy’s 3.5 hp engine topping out at around 3 knots. Paige even managed to get up on her knees! Afterwards we all hopped in the water and cooled off, then rinsed in fresh water, hoping the jejenes would stay way, but we weren’t so lucky. Shelley made fish tacos for dinner with the sierra Steve caught the day before, then we relaxed in the evening playing games and listening to podcasts.

Knee boarding behind the dinghy at Ensenada de Matanchen

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