Adventure Adrift and Isla Isabel or How I Met a Washingtonian, an Australian, and a bunch of Boobies

This is an unfinished blog post I wrote in 2018 after my amazing adventure, but only just got around to publishing now at the beginning of 2023……So its five years late…

I arrived at the Aeropuerto de Puerto Vallarta on Saturday January 27, 2018. I was excited about arriving in a new country, but VERY nervous about finding my way to another town and finding the marina knowing very little Spanish. I got several hundred pesos out of the ATM (which only dispensed $100 peso notes) and found the bridge across the road, waited about 15 minutes, and then jumped on the Punta Mita bus to La Cruz. I said to the bus driver, “La Paz?”

He gave me a blank, almost startled stare and I searched my brain for the right word. “La Cruz?”

Aaah. “Veintiuno.”

I threw a cien peso note at him, got another bemused and startled look, and went to sit down. Once I got settled, I went through plastic bag full of money that the woman on the plane had forced on me, pulled out two ten peso coins and a one peso coin. I made my way back up to the driver and said, “Veintiuno?”

He again looked startled, and nodded. I handed him the pesos, and he handed me back the note, looking relieved. I was worried about missing my stop, but the tracker on my phone worked really well, so I could tell which town I was going through. Additionally, in Bucerías some other Americanos got on, and I heard one say loudly, “La Cruz!”, so I decided to get off when they did. I managed to find my way to the La Cruz marina and texted Hillary.

Maybe I should back up a little.

Bob and I have been watching several YouTube sailing channels for the past few years, one of which is Adventure Adrift – a couple who sailed south from Portland in 2016. In about mid-January they posted a video asking for a volunteer to help them crew for about two weeks on trip from the Puerto Vallarta area across the up the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula to Bahía Magdalena with a side trip to Isla Isabel.

Isla Isabel is a small volcanic island about 15 miles off the coast of mainland México. It was made a Parque National de México in 1980 and is known as México’s Galapagos because it is a breeding and nesting area for thousands of sea birds including blue-footed boobies, brown boobies, red-footed boobies, and magnificent frigate birds, as well as being home to several species of iguanas, lizards, and snakes.

Bahía Magdalena, among other things, is a winter calving and breeding area for grey whales.

We watched the video and I said that it would be an awesome trip. Bob looked at me and said, “You should send them an email!”

I said, “No. I’m not doing something like this without you.”

“But you would learn so much! And you could see if you think Scat could make that trip!”

We argued for a bit, and the idea of blue-footed boobies and grey whales won out, so I sent an email to Hillary and Ty. I waited several days and got an email from them asking if I would be available for a Skype call. It was a bit surreal actually talking to them! The next day I got a very nice email saying they had chosen someone else for this trip.

My reaction was major relief. I’m a fairly extreme introvert (I know a lot of people would disagree), and the thought of going alone to another country and living for two weeks with two strangers was actually very very stressful for me.

The next Wednesday, I was driving up to Truckee for a meeting, and I got an email from Hillary – the person they had selected had backed out. They knew it was short notice, but they were planning on leaving on Sunday and would I be able to catch a flight to Puerto Vallarta on Saturday. I pulled the car over at the Donner Pass rest area and called Bob. I said, “Let me check the flight prices, but I think I have to do this.” He agreed. I sent an email back to Hillary at lunch saying I would buy tickets that evening. I would be flying in to Puerto Vallarta, and out of Loreto – having to take a bus from Puerto Vallarta to La Cruz, where Varuna was anchored, and two from Puerto San Carlos in Magdalena Bay to get to Loreto on the Baja peninsula to leave.

After a somewhat blurry couple of days, I found myself on a plane to México. I was seated next to an elderly couple who happened to belong to the Puerto Vallarta Yacht Club. They each ordered two drinks at the beginning of the flight, and were pretty much three sheets to the wind by the time we were landing, having had three each total. They were extremely nice and when they found out I was taking a bus from the airport, they insisted on giving me all the Mexican change they had. They also kept trying to get me to change my plans and stay in Puerto Vallarta so they could show me around. I politely declined and stuck with my original plan, which was how I ended up on the Punta Mita bus with a plastic bag full of change.

Hillary and Ty met me at the panga dock and we motored in their dinghy, Arjuna, back to their boat, S/V (Sailing Vessel) Varuna. It was really surreal actually meeting them in person, after watching their videos for so long. We dumped off my backpack, talked for a while, and they gave me a tour of Varuna, which would be my home for the next couple of weeks. More about Varuna later. We motored Arjuna back into the Marina to the dinghy dock and met up with another sailing couple – Cliff and Giselle on S/V Sedna. Giselle has recently started a really interesting podcast called Why We Spin Yarns. Check it out! We ate delicious flan out of the back of a van and walked up into town to eat delicious street tacos at a little taqueria called Tacos on the Street. We came back and went to sleep in a slightly rolling anchorage. I slept really well. I had to get up (as usual) in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and couldn’t find the light switch. Luckily Varuna has the exact same toilet as Scat, so I knew how to work it in the dark. When I started pumping it out, it glowed brightly – the bioluminescence in the toilet lit up the room! It was oddly magical. If I had found the light, I would never have seen it.

The next day (Jan 28) we hauled anchor, went into the marina and fueled up,

and then went across the marina to pick up some water. The potable water comes in big 5 gallon jugs, so Ty and Hillary decanted about 13 bottles and filled up. They have recently installed a water maker on board, but filling up when you can is never a bad idea. Ty took Varuna back out and anchored while Hillary went into town to find a cabbage (apparently cabbages keep way better than other vegetables), and I wandered around the marina to the Sunday market going on along the other side of the marina. It was kind of similar to most farmer’s markets in the States, actually, with more skulls and reptiles.

It was similar to farmer’s markets in the USA. With more skulls.

There was even a sushi stand.

I met up with Hillary and Ty, we had lunch at the market (I had lamb empanadas), we got in Arjuna and Ty rowed us back to Varuna. They hoisted anchor, raised the sails, and we were away on our adventure!

Sedna was accompanying us to Isla Isabel. Sedna is a beautiful 1985 Hans Christian 38T,

and as Ty noted, especially from a distance, she looks like a pirate ship with her tanbark sails.

The first night we did 2 hour watches, and I set my alarm incorrectly, so Ty had to wake me up when it was time for my first watch. I felt like a flake :-/ I was a bit nervous that they were entrusting their boat (and their lives) to me. The winds were 15 to 18 knots and gusting over 20, and we were flying along. As soon as Ty went below to sleep, a white light showed up on our port bow. I got really nervous and almost went and woke Ty up. Then I remembered Hillary mentioning that the pangas don’t seem to have regular boat lights, just big white ones high up in the air. This light didn’t seem to be moving, so I just kept an eye on it as we sailed past. I saw quite a few pangas throughout the night – at one point we sailed past four. I was really relieved when Hillary came and took over. I slept for four hours and the I was up for my next shift.

2022 Update: Below are just notes I made but never fleshed out

Bob had used his trip as an excuse to buy a Garmin InReach, which would would track my journey and could also be used to send texts. It turned out to be a lifeline for both me and Bob.

Long lines – caught one with the fishing lure so Hillary did a quick heave-to while we unhooked it.

Varuna is a good, solid 1982 cutter-rigged Pearson 367, which is only 10 feet longer than Scat, but that 10 feet makes a huge difference size-wise. She is cutter rigged, which means she has two headsails and a main sail. She also has a really pretty asymmetrical spinnaker, which didn’t get used on this voyage. During overnight sailing Ty and Hillary rigged lee cloths, so we didn’t fall out of bed. We shared accommodations – during night watches, two people slept in the bunks, while one was on watch.

2022 update: Below are photos and videos from Isla Isabel