sailing homepage : trip reports : 3: cabo to pv : isla isabela

Dec 7-8: Passage from Mazatlan to Isla Isabela, easy overnight sail to Isabela - a bird estuary island in the Pacific, lots of boobies and frigate birds

[ written by Sara ]

We left Mazatlan in the late afternoon during low tide. The challenge was that there was a sand bar near the entrance of the marina, and at low tide, water barely covers it. We were fortunate in that we had 4 feet of playing room! After gunning it through the sand bar, we turned the boat to head South and sailed around the picturesque city of Mazatlan and its surrounding islands.

Leaving Mazatlan


Cruise ship turning towards us

Just as we thought we were out of the woods, a cruise ship decided that we looked like fresh meat, and played chicken with Wanderlust. Remember Princess Bride? Never cross two Canadians and an American girl when pride is on the line. We won.

Looks like an intercept course



We were so close we could make out silouhettes and individual flashes from digital cameras. We weren't sure if this was for insurance purposes, or if we looked pretty to all the cruise-ship people.

That was a close call


Did you guys see that?!

We sailed through the night, headed SSE and made it to Isla Isabella the next morning. Each of us took a four hour shift. I pulled the lucky straw and got the 3-7AM shift, and witnessed a gorgeous sunrise. Magical. Will joined me at the bow to take it all in. The rest of the morning was pretty chill, mostly spent napping in my case, and we arrived at Isla Isabella in the early afternoon.

Religious postcard sunrise


Happy couple on the bow

The island is a lovely little rock outcropping about 40 miles offshore and 90 miles north of the Bay of Banderas. It is a national preserve and has been featured by National Geographic. It is a must-stop for nature lovers, including Jacques Cousteau.

Isla Isabella is a national preserve for Boobies. Theyíre birds. We all love boobies. You canít get to the island except by boat, and there is very little room within the anchorage. At most three boats can be at Isla Isabella at a time. There is a small fishing community located on the beach. Other than that, an occasional graduate student does research on the bird population.

Rocks near Isabela


Birds flocking over the island

The island is considered an anchor eater, and when we came into the cove, we realized why: there were huge boulders covering the sand. We set the Bruce and dove on it to make sure the chain wouldn't become wrapped around anything too difficult to retrieve.

The water has the clarity of a diamond. We decided to go snorkeling, and were surprised by a stinging sensation. Microscopic jellyfish seem to flourish here. Still, it was a gorgeous snorkeling find, with schools and schools of king angel fish, blowfish, and enormous parrotfish.

Once we returned from snorkeling, a local fisherman gave us a warning about a nightly wind shift, so Will and Sean took the CQR out on Purpeat and set it to minimize our swinging and to hold us off the nasty lee shore of rocks pounded by surf. As they made sure we were safe and secure, I started cooking a good meal. They got back just in time for dinner, and we all watched the sun set in its fiery glory.

Capturing the sunset


Cute photo assistant

Gorgeous reds and oranges


Fantastic blues and purples

After the sunset, we watched a movie, and all headed off for bed. Will and I went up to our V-berth, and let Sean wind down in the main cabin. We were all proud of the job the anchors were doing, but Will and I were unpleasantly surprised with a loud grinding sound that prevented sleep. The chain was raking across the rocks below us, and the berth was acting as its amplifier. We didnít sleep very well, but were happy to note that we were solidly attached to ground.

The next morning, we brought our tender into shore and went for a morning hike. It was amazing. The birds were totally wild, and hadnít seen many humans. We could go right up to them, so close we were able to distinguish different colors of their feet and beaks.

Wanderlust, our home


Sean preparing his camera

We took lots of video and pictures. Our hike began at the base of the island and moved toward a rocky peak. Along the way, we saw lots of lizards as well as the birds. They were huge!

Isla Isabela sign


Lizards and Iguanas and Geckos, oh my!

It seemed the entire island was filled only with frigates and boobies and lizards. Cool place.

Nesting frigate birds


Red-breasted frigates

We hiked to the peak of a rock formation, and were rewarded with an incredible view of unbroken ocean and thousands of birds circling and fishing, along with our home.

Our anchorage south of the island


North side of the island

On the way back from the peak, we saw even more boobies!

Mother guarding a baby boobie


Cute little things, eh?

They were playful, and a little territorial. There were a few nests that were being closely guarded by mamas protecting their eggs. Their male counterparts would puff up and walk around the nest to warn us that we were trespassing.

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Boobies make this amazing quacking or barking noise. It sounds like the aliens from Mars Attacks!

These guys were pecking at each other a moment prior


Nesting mother squawking at us

At the same time, there were some that were calm and curious of us.

Totally unafraid of humans


Exploring the mountaintop

I loved being that close to these animals--it was wild! We were all immitating Jane Goodall.

Sara's boobies


Cool blue feet

We finally decided it was time to head back to the boat...

Swooping past us


Heading back to Wanderlust

Once we returned to Wanderlust, we dove on the anchor again, and found that the chain had wound itself around and under a boulder. Will and Sean took turns trying to lift the boulder under 15 feet of water. After almost drowning themselves, the boys realized that the boat was a better leverage and were able to free the anchor.

Meanwhile, I decided to go snorkeling, and witnessed all the parrotfish and damselfish on their coral grazing routes. There were thousands of fish! After exhausting myself looking at the beautiful scenery, I came back to Wanderlust. We ate a fantastic steak dinner, pulled up the anchors, and set sail just before the sun set.

We now had only ten days before the wedding. It was time to get to Puerto Vallarta!