[040330, 2319 UTC, Isla Isabela, Mexico; 21 50.9'N/105 52.7' W]

Dear Friends;

Just a quick update on our progress.  Our trip south towards Barra de Navidad from the Puerto Vallarta area was aborted at Ipala, a small cove about 50 miles south of PV.  After a lovely but short stay there we were driven out and north by unusually strong SW winds that made the anchorage unpleasant at best and potentially hazardous at worst.  Shelter further south was 50 miles upwind that day, so we left Ipala, ran a bit offshore, turned north and had a wonderful sail back to La Cruz.  A few days later we left again, this time continuing north to Isla Isabela, a tiny, isolated bird sanctuary from where this update is being sent.

To back up a bitů

We left La Cruz de Huanacaxtle on April 18 and rounded Cabo Corrientes ("cape of currents") under atypical, benign conditions (read, millpond).  With no wind to sail, we motored to Ipala, a lovely little bay ringed by rock cliffs that's perhaps only one quarter mile square.  The bottom of Bahia Ipala is sand but there are large patches of exposed rock dotting the bottom of the bay, there is also a rock hazard at 2 feet in the northeast quadrant and a wreck on the beach, making anchoring a little tricky.  On the NW corner of the bay, there's a tiny, but neat town of mostly fishermen (yep, all men in Mexico) with no fewer than three palapa restaurants that all overlook the beautiful bay and its pristine and wave-pounded beach.  Landing ashore is a bit of a trick because the protected corner near the village is filled with panga moorings and rocks.  We stayed four days in Ipala, made a few new cruising friends and met a gracious and talented palapa owner named Adriana.  We also met two nino "pirates" who "plundered" Carina while we were at anchor.

The buccaneers visited the afternoon of our second day, arriving on a lanchita (small boat) composed of a 2' x 4' styrofoam form that probably had originally been a shipping container for a large instrument or appliance.  Enrico, in the stern, propelled their vessel with teal-colored flippers while Albert was the "bow man".  Enrico bailed the lanchita with rapid flicks of his wrist as he kicked his feet.  Coming along side they asked if they could take our trash in return for gifts or pesos.  We struck a deal of two matchbox cars (these were popular) and a few packs of hard candy.  These two enterprising pirates then proceeded to "plunder" the other sailboats at anchor in Ipala, carrying away more trash and booty.

Another afternoon we relaxed at Adriana's palapa overlooking the bay and the bobbing boats while learning to play "Mexican train" (dominoes as it turns out) and sampling local seafood.  Adriana prepared appetizers of tostadas and fresh salsa and a chopped, steamed local snail served with plenty of tiny, juicy Mexican limes.  For dinner, we sampled Pescado Sarandeado, prepared with a whole local fish (eyes included) that was cleaned and then grilled with an achiote pepper sauce on a wood fire.  We were later given the recipe and will post it to our website once we reach port.

The morning we left Ipala, we had been busy with projects and just beginning to consider when we might leave, when we both began to notice a rapid escalation in wind speed.  Waves entering the bay were getting steeper and starting to break.  Just then our anchor drag alarm went off and we decided it was time to get the heck out of there, fast.  Twenty minutes later we were clear of the cliffs and ready to put up our sails for the sleigh ride back to La Cruz.  This time we were flying under sail at over 7 knots as we rounded Cabo Corrientes.  We arrived at La Cruz just after dark, 8:30 pm, and gingerly worked our way into the anchorage where many boats were anchored without displayed lights.

Banderas Bay (where La Cruz is) was abuzz with the departures of the "puddle jumper" set and the annual Banderas Bay regatta.  Puddle jumpers are those who jump off from the west coast to cross the big Pacific puddle and who tend to congregate in PV to help each other to prepare.  One of the first puddle jumpers to leave unfortunately lost their rudder and then their engine a few hundred miles out to sea, creating a bit of drama that everyone followed carefully (the boat was towed to safety by the Mexican Navy).

We left La Cruz on Saturday March 27 just after breakfast, planning to arrive at Isla Isabela Sunday at daybreak.  Winds had been light, so we did not expect to sail.  About 5 miles out, Philip hooked a HUGE cevalle jack.  This type of fish is described as a tenacious fighter and it took Philip an hour and a half to bring in as Leslie sailed the boat slowly around and around the man vs. fish battle.  Unfortunately, these fish are not good eating once they get to be the size of this monster so we sent him back to snag another lure, another day.  The night was calm and the seas low, so we settled into what we expected to be an uneventful passage.  Our expectations were shaken a bit when, on Philip's 10 pm - 1 am watch, a radar target suddenly appeared three quarters of a mile from Carina.  He tracked the vessel until it was one quarter of a mile away and had to take evasive action twice.  During this time the vessel showed no lighting.  At last, it showed a blinking light for about a minute, then totally disappeared from the radar screen!  Our only conclusion is that it must have been a submarine.  This event set the tone for the rest of the night, making the water and sky seem more dark and inky and three dimensional than ever.  For sure, neither of us was at risk of falling asleep on watch that night.

Isla Isabela turned out to be everything we expected and more.  The island is the top of an ancient volcano and is roughly 1 square mile.  Off the east side are two sea stacks called Islotes Las Monas (the mannequins) that are 150 feet tall and are surrounded by brilliant coral reefs, alive with tropical fish.  South of these rocks, the bottom is sandy and fairly shallow; here is where we are anchored.  In the morning when the winds are calm, the aquamarine blue water is so clear you can see over 20 feet to the bottom and every fish and ray that swims by.  We've spent some time already in the water (Philip spotted a three foot wide Spotted Eagle ray!), but plan a snorkeling excursion around Las Monas tomorrow. 

Today we rowed to shore to hike and look for blue-footed boobies.  Our dinghy only skimmed a few shallow coral-covered rocks on our way to a reasonably dry surf landing.  Finding boobies wasn't the issue (their powder blue feet are pretty distinctive) it was finding a place to walk where there wasn't a booby, a booby fledgling or a nervous booby parent!  The first time Philip started up the trail, he got chased off by one of the nervous booby parents.  Just ashore (amongst the marked and numbered booby nests) there's a rough camp of researchers from the University of Guadalajara who were observing, measuring and weighing boobies.  We did spot a pair of brown boobies who look like a brown bird version of the phantom of the opera with their dramatic and comic plumage (and just in case you wondered, brown boobies have yellow feet, not blue).

Isabela is also a frigate bird sanctuary, and there are thousands (really, tens of thousands) of Magnificent Frigates circling and nesting.  The trees on the island are less than 10 feet tall (most about 8 feet), so as you walk up the trail, you get very close to the perches and nests of these enormous birds (wingspan 7-8 feet).  At one turn in the trail we passed close by a congregation of perched frigates including a male displaying his puffed red throat pouch.  Wow.

The plan as of this moment is to leave Thursday at first light and make another overnight passage to Mazatlan, where we'll clean off the accumulated salt and crud, re-provision and begin monitoring weather for a favorable forecast before crossing the Sea of Cortez to La Paz and beyond.

Su amigos de la velero "Carina",

Leslie, Philip & el gato tonto, Jake