Our cruise through Mexico was a magnificent discovery of sight, sound, and senses. We expected to see a few whales basking in the sun and to have dolphins once again play in our bow waves. What we had not anticipated was that wonderful feeling when you are so overwhelmed by the intensity of nature that your skin becomes gooseflesh and cold shivers run down your spine, despite the 80 degree temperatures.
We sailed out under the Golden Gate Bridge and headed south after a three-year break from cruising. During those three years we had sold our beloved 34-foot fiberglass sloop, Vemvaan, and built a 47-foot Ted Brewer–designed aluminum cutter, which we named Precious Mettle. Our daughters, Susan (13) and Mary (11), each now had their own separate cabins, and we had lots of room on board for entertaining friends, so were keen to get going and enjoy the boat that Robin and I had spent many long hours building.
We had sailed over 90,000 miles, through many oceans, and yet somehow had never visited Mexico. It's exciting to “break new ground”. In the few short months we spent in Mexico we explored many aspects of the county. We loved their attitude toward our use of Spanish—a lovely romantic language, which flowed off their tongues like music. They were overjoyed when we practiced our halting Spanish with them, and we carried our little phrase book with us. Because everyone was so helpful, we were soon able to have short conversations with the locals in the markets and on the beaches.
Having read about the frigate birds that nest on Isla Isabella, we were keen to pay it a visit. Arriving at dawn on any island is a wonderful experience, but our arrival at Isabella was magical. As we came close the grey cloud hovering above the island transformed into thousands of major frigate birds. The anchorage was small and compact, with room for no more than a couple of boats to swing around. Ashore was a seasonal fish camp, at which some shark fishermen were ensconced. We were also very lucky to meet an interesting man who was employed by the University of Mexico to study the habits of the frigates. He told us that the adults fed the baby birds for a total of 14 months, the first 5 months of which they stayed in the nests.
There being no specific breeding period we saw the whole spectrum all at the one time—birds mating, sitting on eggs, babies confined to their nests, and those just learning to fly. When the male birds are mating, they puff their red chests out to amazing proportions. I was surprised that it didn’t affect their balance! The trees were filled to capacity with these red-breasted birds, nests holding fluffy babies, and always hundreds hovering around circling above. This filled us with awe at the magnitude of nature.
Wanting to give something back to the island, we climbed up to the lighthouse, where we cleaned off some guano, hoping to make the light a bit more visible than the feeble three miles we had been afforded on arrival. The area around the lighthouse was most definitely booby territory, the frigate birds staying further down, and we saw both the yellow and blue footed varieties, but only one fluffy baby. They seemed quite content to sit and watch us with their beady eyes, as we wandered around.
Back at the beach we discovered some excellent snorkeling spots and spent most afternoons enjoying magnificent sunsets interspersed with spouts from playful whales. It was during one of these peaceful moments when we heard something splash into the water beside us. “That looks like a masthead light fitting …” Robin commented as he stepped into the dinghy to retrieve it. “Our masthead light fitting!” he concluded as he stepped back onboard. Frigates are heavy birds and as one had settled on top of the mast, the fitting had collapsed. We got it repaired and were reluctantly ready to depart from this island haven.