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February 25, 2009

Jacaranda Passage Note #31: Part 2: Marine Wilderness: Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico

Isla Soccorro

With the time allowance on our permit running out, we decided we needed to explore our other destination, Isla Socorro, so we sadly said goodbye to our mantas at Isla Benedicto and sailed 27 miles south in company with BEACH HOUSE. This larger volcanic island was much older and covered with low green vegetation, capped by a large hill, Volcano Cerro Evermann, which we could see was still steaming with active fumaroles. Our first stop was on the southern end of the island in Bahia Vargas Lozano, also known as Navy Cove, to check in with the Mexican Navy. We anchored and waited for them to come aboard and check our paperwork and permit. They arrived in full uniform with battle gear (flak jackets and machine guns) but were very cordial and friendly. 100 men are stationed on the island for 3 months at a time. What they all do there is a mystery to us but the small base with the whitewashed houses built into the side of the hill for hurricane protection looked neat and very tidy.

The Navy allowed us to anchor in this sheltered cove overnight and the following day we motored along the west side of the island, exploring and trying to identify the landscape and coast from our 1874 chart and the descriptions in our 1971 Cruising Guide. This proved to be a bit of a challenge since the hand drawn maps were so outdated and a bit distorted in scale and placement. After gunkholing around shoals, lava fingers, and submerged rocks, we finally found the anchorage we were looking for  Caleta Grayson. This was a beautiful little cove with bushy vegetation and palm trees growing behind the pebble and rock beach. To the south was a rocky ridge imaginatively named The Old Man in the Sea and on the north was Sundial Rock and dramatic Pinnacle Point, harboring a few tunnels and caves big enough to explore by dinghy. We carefully anchored in a small sand patch in 40 feet of water at the forefront of a bottom of white rocks and small coral heads towards the inner end of the cove. Grayson Cove became our base of operation. Unlike Isla Benedicto, the most active dive site was not right in our anchorage but a 30 minute dinghy ride north of us at Punta Tosca. There we saw an incredible richness and variety of reef life and swam with two mantas. Linda was circled at arms length by a 6 foot wahoo which was just curious. Cindy and Scott dove off the point and saw several other mantas and some hammerhead sharks. We heard there was a friendly pod of dolphins that came in early in the morning but we never did get there at the right time. Although the commercial dive boats anchor there, it was too deep and rocky for us.

We were delighted to see that the humpback whales had begun to arrive. We snorkeled the edges of Grayson Cove, listening to humpback whale songs from the distant deep. Almost every day a mother humpback and her newborn (we could see the creases in its dorsal fin from being in the womb) relaxed on the surface about 300 yards from our boat. The mom would just lie motionless, conserving energy while the active calf nudged her, jumped all around her, spyhopped and breached. We went out in the dinghy a few times and rowed to within 20 yards and stopped to watch. Once Cindy slipped into the water and saw them underwater for about 15 seconds before the baby breached out of the water and they moved away for more privacy.

We had another wonderful close whale encounter the day before we left.

It was late morning when we were out on deck and noticed two young adult humpbacks playing together - breaching over and over - jumping almost totally out of the water and landing with a loud WHOMP! and giant splash. Wed seen this behavior often before  from a distance. But this time they were very close by  less than 100 yards from the boat! All of a sudden it became apparent that one of them had spotted JACARANDA during his breach and decided to swim over to investigate. We watched as a huge black underwater shape started heading directly towards us. As the whale approached, he lifted his head way out of the water as far back as his eyes so he could get a good look at us.and as he did this his head created a bow wave (similar to a bow wave from a moving ship). And on either side of the whales head - we were astonished to see - was a dolphin surfing his head wave!! (If only Scott had been there to get it on video!) On the whale came, a direct T Bone situation, closer and closer until he was less than 20 feet away. Linda and I were both standing on the bow and I yelled to Linda she might want to hang on since I knew he would have trouble squeezing under us. At the last moment he veered parallel to the boat, perhaps realizing our keel was not a play companion after all.

Now, maybe less than 10 feet away, the whale stretched longer than the boat. At our bow he raised his head for a good eyeball to eyeball look at us and then turned away to swim out into deeper water toward his buddy..meanwhile the dolphins kept surfing right alongside. What a great show and a great ending to our Revillagigedos experience. The permit time clock had run out, Scott and Cindy had already left several days earlier, we were just about out of food essentials, we had not stepped foot on land for 5 ½ weeks, and a prearranged rendezvous with friends Dan and Beryl awaited for Feb. 6 on the mainland in Barra de Navidad, 380 miles to the east. We delayed our departure from Isla Socorro three times trying to obtain the best weather window for the passage. As luck would have it, we had wind right out of the box and had two wonderful days of close hauled sailing in breezes under 15kts. Having to power the last 80 of 370 miles was not a perfect ending to the short passage but all in all we had a terrific trip. We were glad to see the old girl could still lift her skirts and rumble right along. (Linda wants me to be clear Im talking about JACARANDA here).

6 weeks of quiet, remote living without a store and no shoreside leave and then suddenly we find ourselves in the lagoon at Barra de Navidad with 40 other boats, the Zee French Baker and almond croissants each morning, constant chatter on the VHF radio, and numerous friends coming by to welcome us. Back to civilization!! But we recovered nicely from the shock of reentry in time for our friends Dan and Beryl to arrive from San Francisco via Puerto Vallarta a few days later.

One more note.about notes, in a bottle, that is. Once, when Linda was growing up at the New Jersey seashore, her younger brother Steven wrote a note with his name and mailing address, sealed it in a bottle, and sent it adrift by throwing it off a jetty near their home. About half a year later, he received a surprise letter from someone who found the bottle, read the note, and responded from the Azore Islands!! It had crossed the Atlantic with the currents. Before we left Socorro, Linda sealed two bottles with notes containing her name and email address (after all, times have changed) and set them adrift  one from the east side and one from the west side of the island. She hopes Stevens experience is duplicated and some one will respond from some distant place, the bottles making an oceanic journey via some traceable Pacific current.

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