September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

By Liz Tosoni

Isla Isabela, Mexico, 21 51.3 North, 105 54.0 W

Isolated, volcanic, 281’ high Isla Isabela is nicknamed the “Galapagos of Mexico” and no wonder. It is home and nesting grounds to blue footed boobies, magnificent frigate birds, brown boobies, red footed boobies, brown pelicans, white tailed tropic birds, Heerman’s gulls, sooty terns and brown noddies. Then there are the native reptiles like the green iguanas and the Mexican milk snake, not to mention the proliferation of underwater life.

We first ventured here in 1986 aboard Hoki Mai (ketch in the picture), then again in 1997 aboard Feel Free and here we are again in 2012. Looking through the Hoki Mai archival log book of 1986 I find this:
It wasn’t so much that we were trapped on Isla Isabela, but rather, we were captured by her charms and captivated by the antics of the thousands of booby birds that call her home. The island is only two square miles yet we stayed there for seven days and nights and were never at a loss for things to do.

I remember vividly heading south from Mazatlan on the dawn watch en route to Isabela in 1986, being engrossed by a fiery orange ball of sun rising in the east just as the luminous full moon was setting in the west. A little later, Tom yelled “Land ho” and we saw the faint outline of what appeared to be a huge sea turtle off the bow about 10 miles away.

Then it was me who screamed “We’ve caught a sailfish!” as Tom flew out of the companionway to haul it in. To our utter surprise though, it wasn’t a sailfish but a booby! The hook had embedded itself in the bird’s body under the wing. It was an hour’s operation on the foredeck to remove the hook, the bird continually fighting to defend itself. I dropped a hammock over its body and eyes to calm it down while Tom acted as surgeon.

Operation complete, the booby then chose to stay awhile to recuperate. She must have thought we weren’t so bad after all and a hitchhike home was most convenient. She flew off after an hour, but amazingly, returned to Hoki Mai shortly after we dropped the hook, doing her business on the foredeck. Was she thanking us for saving her and welcoming us to her home?

We didn’t learn our lesson about trailing a fish line near Isla Isabela though and when we were approaching in 1997, we hooked another one! Luckily, the hook wasn’t deep and the bird was off before we knew it. Yesterday, our approach was from the south and no, we did not trail a fish line close to the island.

The excitement this time, about 30 miles from Isabela, were long lines of fish floats, miles of them, difficult to see until you are almost on top of them, attached by tight, polypropylene lines, close to the surface. Fortunately it was daytime, we were under power and managed to spot them in time, but unfortunately, it meant altering course by miles in order to stay clear.

A hasty and dramatic course change caused the trailing fishing line to get caught in the prop which meant Tom had to go over the side to unravel the mess.

We were on the turtle highway again and saw hundreds of them, sleeping at the surface, or plodding along turtle fashion, on a reciprocal course to Feel Free’s, heading to their Mexican turtle convention.

Isla Isabela lies 18 miles off Mexico’s shoreline, 85 miles southeast of Mazatlan and 150 miles northwest of Puerto Vallarta, a convenient stopover between the two. It has National Park status and in 2003 was deemed a World Heritage site.

It has a crossword puzzle shape with detached rocky islets to the north and east.

Those to the east are called Las Monas (“mannequins” in Spanish), striking pinnacles, like giant sculptures providing protection from prevailing winds and a most unusual anchorage for Feel Free.

This unusual anchorage is also abounding in fish life, Tom’s idea of heaven- just drop over the side and scout around with spear in hand for lunch in the underwater supermarket. In the old days, I would swim alongside fisherman Tom as his private caddy, carrying a mesh goody bag so he could just pop the newly caught fish in the bag and then carry on for another.

Well, while in this very spot (with Feel Free in 1997), I got a surprise I’ll never forget, using this technique. Blithely swimming along with freshly caught fish in bag, I was stunned by a shark like attack to my leg. Screaming in pain through my snorkel and looking immediately to the attacked leg, I was shocked to see the mesh bag stuck to my thigh with the teeth of a trigger fish embedded firmly in my flesh! Immediately I began pulling the bag away from said thigh and within what seemed like agonizing minutes but was probably seconds, the fish disengaged its sharp, barb like teeth from my skin. On first observation, it was astonishing to see a white, circular incision as if by a surgeon, then blood, pouring out of it.

Needless to say, I no longer carry a goody bag alongside my fisherman. I still act as caddy, but instead of carrying a bag, I tow the dinghy- just tie the painter around my waist and stay a short distance from Tom so the fish don’t get spooked by the large shadow above. When a fish is speared, it is deposited into the dinghy, no muss, no fuss, very practical and convenient.

Going ashore on Isla Isabela is a fascinating jungle walk, stopping here to observe a praying mantis chewing on a leaf, and there to see a long highway of leaf cutter ants carrying bits of green leaf and other paraphernalia on their backs. It was rich with vegetation: banana trees, pineapples, papayas, sugar cane, coconuts, lime trees and more we didn’t recognize.

It is also frigate bird nesting territory and directly above our heads we were able to watch many courting pairs, the females gently caressing the males inflated, scarlet throat sacs. Ah, how romantic.

Dozens of tiny skinks scurried away from under our feet and the tail end of a red cat was seen scampering out of sight. We explored the many hiking trails, cliffs and beaches and came across marine iguanas hiding in the crevices of the rocky shores on the west side.

Many sections of the island are “wall to wall booby nests” as our friend Mary of Companion put it. You have to watch your step as the booby territories are covered with quacking parents, protectively tending their eggs and fluffy white chicks.

The immature ones are completely brown with yellow webbed feet, others look like little brown and white penguins with their ‘Sunday best’ suits and green shoes on. The bigger speckled ones with blue feet get skittish, squawking madly if you get too close. These two are doing the courtship dance. The males lift their blue feet one by one to impress a mate, and maybe, get lucky.

You might think that because Isabela is a nesting island and off the beaten path, life would be pretty easy for the boobies, but not so. Several times we observed one skillfully nose diving for its prey, sometimes from a considerable height, only to be attacked and harassed by a frigate bird until the prey was disgorged. The frigate would then grab the prey in mid air or retrieve it from the surface of the water or beach, leaving the poor booby ‘empty handed’. They also have to be ever vigilant of the gulls who love to steal their eggs whenever they get a chance.

Boobies do seem a little nervous by nature, maybe even shy. You might consider them comical with their beady eyes and long beaks and the funny way they raise their webbed feet in courtship. But certainly they are undeserving of their name which in Spanish is “bobo” meaning foolish or stupid. A foolish bird wouldn’t have been able to recognize Hoki Mai out of the six boats at anchor, after flying about for a few hours.

In Canada and the northern seas, these same birds are called gannets and somehow that seems so much more dignified a name for these fine feathered friends.

Going back to the Hoki Mai archives of 1986 I find another excerpt:

We left Isla Isabela for San Blas at dawn, the pink glow of the early morning outlining its unusual shape, seven days after our arrival. The spell had to be broken, for Tom and I have many more miles to cover in our own southerly migration. We will not forget this singular Mexican island and as we continue on our ocean track, we will be ever watchful for other such “booby traps”.

Well, we have indeed covered many more ocean miles since those words were written, and did find many more ‘booby traps’ during our world cruise. We never forgot this unique little island, and we had to return.