Wednesday, March 29, 2017

La Cruz to Mazatlan: Getting Cooler, Blobs, Islands, Coral Tragedy, Burnt Sardines

We arrived in Mazatlan early this morning and will rest for a couple of days here at Marina El Cid.

We left La Cruz on schedule at 9 pm on Monday night after a fine dinner at the marina. When we were at the fuel dock topping off our tanks, we found out the marina offered a free slip if you ate dinner at one of the two restaurants there. That worked out great as it eliminated the need for us to re-anchor outside the harbor and eat leftovers while bobbing around waiting for our departure time. Instead we took hot showers, enjoyed a relaxed meal and then just untied our docklines when it was time to go.

It’s a lot cooler in these waters than it was down south. Monday night it was cold enough that we had to put on long pants and light fleece jackets. I guess it makes sense; we’re 800 nautical miles further north from where we started.

I have been enjoying observing numerous luminescent “blobs” in the water during our night passages. I believe they are a type of jellyfish, as I sometimes see luminescent strings streaming out from the main blob body, just like tentacles. The blobs are about six to eight inches in diameter and create a bright florescent green globe of light at or just below the water surface that blinks on for several seconds and then goes dark for about the same period. We pass through these blobs all around the boat, visible from a distance of 300 feet or more. When we run over a blob with the motor running, it seems to get quite excited and glows even more brightly and for longer, as it twists and turns in the propeller’s wake. Sometimes the propeller catches the blob and chops it into smaller blobs. I like to believe that the blobs are like earthworms or starfish and that when we unintentionally chop one up, the pieces all grow into new big blobs to decorate the ocean. If that’s not the case, I feel bad but there is no way to avoid these creatures at night, they are everywhere.

Monday night was moonless and pitch black dark except for millions of brilliant stars in the sky. When I looked for the horizon between sky and sea, I couldn’t distinguish it, the black sky merging into the black sea without boundary. With my attention focused on this dark void, it seemed like Intermezzo was flying through space rather than merely sailing through the water. 

Early Tuesday morning we passed by the three “Maria” islands which lie about 55 miles offshore, putting them about 30 miles off to our port as we sailed between them and the coast. Isla Maria Madre is a prison colony and there is an ominous note on the chart which reads, “CAUTION: ISLAS MARIAS SERVE AS A PRISON COLONY. SHIPS SHOULD KEEP WELL CLEAR OF THIS GROUP TO AVOID INTERCEPTION AND DETENTION BY THE MEXICAN AUTHORITIES”. I wonder for how long you are detained if you don’t keep “well clear”? It’s a prison and so it would seem easy to detain someone for a long time.  And exactly how far away is  well clear? Apparently 30 miles was clear enough that morning for us.

Around noon yesterday we arrived at Isla Isabel, an isolated volcanic island lying about 18 miles off the coast, known as the “Galapagos of Mexico” for its huge population of nesting birds and its iguanas. A perfect rest stop, except that its two anchorages have rocky bottoms and, according to our cruising guide, have swallowed more anchors than any other anchorage in Pacific Mexico. I did not want to lose our beloved (and expensive) Rocna anchor there.

The island is about a mile long by a quarter mile wide and rises steeply to about 250 feet above the sea. It is lightly vegetated with short woody shrubs. There are tens of thousands of birds, many peppering the sky in flight above the island, many fishing in the surrounding sea, many on land, nesting, resting or sunning themselves on a bush or rock with their wings outstretched. The water surrounding the island is very clear, ranging in color from deep to turquoise blue.  The sea was fairly calm during our visit, but still the swells would dash violently against rocks or rush onto the rock reefs in tubular surf breaks. It is small but quite a spectacular island and feels very isolated and far away.

There are two anchorages off the island. The first is located a the south end  in a small cove with a beach, a small fishing camp and a research station. We entered this anchorage but the swell was bending into the cove and I didn’t like the idea of anchoring in a rocky bottom with the boat bouncing around. So we proceeded to the second anchorage, located just around the corner on the west side of the island next to two large rock pinnacles. This anchorage was much calmer and we found a nice sandy patch to grab the Rocna and hold us firmly in place.

We had read and heard that the snorkeling was good here, so I put on my gear and jumped in to take a look.  The water was very clear and there were some colorful fish at the base of the rock pinnacle but nothing special. I swam towards the beach with the idea of stepping on land and looking at the blue-footed boobies on shore.  As I got closer to shore, I encountered a coral reef in increasingly cloudier water. It always saddens me to come across  a large expanse of dead coral, which happens far more frequently than finding live coral. If the coral I was swimming in was alive, it would have been spectacular, with bright colors and teaming with life. Instead, it was just a corpse-like grey, draped with ugly, mournful algae. If coral is like a canary in a coal mine environmentally, we are in trouble. I  read about the dying of coral reefs all the time and my own personal experience sadly corraborates with what I read. Even if coral reefs are “expendable” with respect to man’s survival on the planet, their dying out is like losing the most beuatuful gardens on earth, as if every orchid, rose, tulip, every colorful flower along with every beautiful butterfly, bee, ladybug and hummingbird vanished from the land.  Very sad.

After completing my water reconnaissance, I hauled myself back onto the boat and we spent a couple of restful hours at anchor, enjoyed a light lunch and then departed from Isla Isabel to resume our journey to Mazatlan.

The wind blew a solid 15 knots yesterday afternoon, far enough off our port bow to let us sail until early evening. A bumpy, determined beat upwind, but I enjoyed every minute.

Yesterday evening, Renee burned a sardine pasta dish on the stove while I was asleep; I woke up thinking a rubber hose on one of the engines was on fire. Pew.

We motorsailed under another moonless starry sky last night. No luminescent blobs to be seen; I wonder if the water is getting too cold for them? The air continues to get cooler at night; I had to put a jacket on over my fleece.

The next leg of our journey will take us into the Sea of Cortez…at last!

Sunrise off the Mexican coast somewhere north of San Blas 
Isla Isabela, our rest stop halfway between La Cruz and Mazatlan

Rock pinnacle at Isla Isabela anchorage

Isla Isabela western anchorage