Island vacation

Category: Ships Log

Time period: Sunday 02/23/14 – Wednesday 02/26/14

After almost three months of being in La Paz, we finally made it to the islands just north of here for a 3-day mini-vacation.  

There are three islands just 20 miles north of La Paz: Espiritu Santo, Isla Partida, and Isla Islotes.  This group of islands is a national park and the stomping grounds for many marine species. Two of the islands, Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida, are only separated by a narrow channel of water at high tide and house numerous coves with white sand beaches and crystal clear water.  The third island, Isla Islotes, is actually a hunk of rock next to Isla Partida and a breeding ground for California sea lions. The island is well known for curious sea lion pups that like to play with snorkelers.


Our first day out, we motorsailed the 20 miles to one of the northernmost coves on Isla Partida, called Ensenada Grande.  When we arrived the water was a gorgeous, glassy turquoise with the reddish-orange rocks providing a lovely contrast in the late afternoon sun.  As soon as we dropped anchor, both Chris and I jumped in the water (a slightly chilly 69°F, 20.5°C) and enjoyed a refreshing swim after a hot day of motoring.  We then enjoyed a nice dinner and turned in early.


Topping up our diesel at the fuel dock before leaving.


Motorsailing along Espiritu Santo.


Pelicans flying by.


Lowering the swimladder at Ensenada Grande our first day.


Enjoying a late afternoon swim/snorkel in the glassy tourquoise waters.

A couple hours later however, we were woken up by a weather phenomenon the area is well known for, the dreaded Corumel. The Corumel is a strong southwest wind that frequently crops up in the night when the north wind stops blowing.  It is created from the cool air over the Pacific being drawn over the Baja desert to the relatively warmer Sea of Cortez.  This only occurs in the La Paz area because it’s the only place on the Baja peninsula where there are not continuous mountains blocking the air flow. Anyway, our anchorage did not protect us adequately from the west, and we were soon pitching back and forth on about 3 ft. choppy waves coming into the cove.  After a night of barely any sleep and feeling slightly queasy, we hoisted anchor at 7am and sailed around to the eastern side of the island, where the seas were calm.  We re-anchored at the southeastern tip of Isla Partida, and dropped sea kayaks into the water (before we left the marina, one of our awesome dock neighbors lent us his kayaks for the trip) to explore the narrow channel separating the islands. It was a fun paddle gliding on the aquamarine water while tall red cliffs towered above us.

View from the west side of the narrow channel separating Isla Partida and Espiritu Santo.


Chris kayaking.

After kayaking, we decided to motor back to the western end of the island and join David and Michelle on their boat Pelagia for dinner (the wind had died down and Pelagia said the sea stayed flat in their anchorage at night). On our way, we stopped at Isla Islotes for a quick swim and snorkel. This late in the day the sea lion pups were asleep, but we did see lots of fish. More than we have seen anywhere else (no wonder the sea lions like it here)! As I was snorkeling back to the boat, a large school of mobula rays from the manta family swam about 15 feet below me in formation like a group of fighter jets. It was completely surreal. I tried getting some video with my camera, but the visibility wasn’t great so the shapes are very faint. Back on the boat as we motored the rest of the way to the anchorage, the rays were jumping out of the water all around us. It was crazy! I will write a more detailed blog about the rays in a couple days.


Snorkeling at Isla Islotes - small corals are growing on the rocks.


A yellow-tailed surgeonfish.


Leaping mobula rays surrounded our boat as we motored back to the west end of Isla Partida.


Look at that jump! Our friends on Pelagia were scoring the jumps for the mobula Olympics.


The next morning, we decided to return to Isla Islotes so we could swim with the sea lion pups. Apparently they are most active in the morning. We snagged a mooring by the rock island and jumped in. After just a few minutes of snorkeling, two pups approached and hung out with us. They twisted and dove and swam circles around us. I tried to twist and turn with them, but it is hard to keep up with a sea lion pup! One little guy would approach so close to almost touch me with his nose before turning around and swimming another circle around me. It was so much fun interacting with them; I never thought anything like this was possible outside of trained aquarium animals. As a fisheries biologist, I am usually annoyed with charismatic megafauna and how much attention they get, but today I was guilty of favoring them over the fish. It was an amazing experience. BTW, the adults would occasionally jump in the water as well, but they just ignored us and went on their way.


Moored at Isla Islotes in the morning.


Here come the charismatic megafauna! Hardened non-mammalian biologists stand no chance.


A pup doing backflips for Christian's GoPro (and my camera as well!).


Playing with a pup.


Okay, just one more cute sea lion pic. This guy was trying to get a nose nuzzle in. 


After our swim with the sea lions, we spent the afternoon kayaking in the anchorage at El Cardonal and hiking on the island. This is the most exercise we have gotten in a long time! By evening we were exhausted, and collapsed into bed. The next morning we hoisted anchor just before sunrise, so we could return to La Paz by noon for a dental appointment for Chris (stay tuned for an upcoming blog by Chris about the experience).  We wish we could have stayed longer because we barely grazed the surface of all there is to see at the islands, but it was a lovely vacation and reminded us why we are doing all this boat work!


Kayaking to the beach at El Cardonal for a hike.


Hiking to the eastern side of Isla Partida.



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