August 27, 1997-Mysterious Midriff Islands, Sea of Cortez
We sailed here from the mainland side of The Sea of Cortez. All day we followed a compass course and ran across a glassy sea with our spinnaker, lost in a thick haze which surrounded us and hid the rest of the world from view. In the afternoon a tall island slowly materialized ahead of us and just before dark we rounded a high sand spit and anchored at Isla San Esteban. We thought we had been transported to another world.
What a change! Instead of the hot, thunderstorm plagued, Sonoran Desert shoreline on the mainland side, where days are still and the blistering hot sun heats the air and spawns violent afternoon thunderstorms crackling with lightning and where gusty winds swirl around anchorages and the sea water is almost too hot for swimming, we had arrived in a place of cool misty islands and steady sea breezes.
We anchored behind the rocky, mile long, sand spit which protected us from the southerly winds and we looked up at high rock cliffs with their tops lined by trees disappearing into the low clouds. There was surf on the beach and surge at the base of the cliffs and huge boulders had fallen into the sea forming caves big enough to take a small boat. In the water around the boulders at the base of these cliffs we could hear the barking and splashing of hundreds of Sea lions, and Sea Gulls, Pelican and Great Blue Herons flew overhead.
The temperature was much cooler here, the sea water was cold. As darkness fell low clouds swept in over the island and its peaks were lost in them. At night there was a steady 20kt wind. This didn't seem like Mexico; how can an island from the Aleutians exist here?
Our Mexico cruising guide told the story. Apparently upwelling from the nearby 4000 foot depths of The Sea of Cortez brought cold rich sea water to the surface. The cool water changed the climate of Isla San Esteban and the surrounding islands, and brought abundant sea life which, in turn brought the Sea Lions. There is no local population here, but a few cruisers know of it, and it offers a cool stopover for sweltering sailors.
During the night the swell began to come around the point and a tidal current turned us sideways to the waves. Rolling made the anchorage uncomfortable. Sea Lions were around us breathing and splashing, and ashore their mates barked and yelped. The surf was getting louder as the waves built and the anchor chain rumbled on the rocky bottom. We slept nervously.
In the morning, at first light, we hauled up the anchor and sailed away from Isla San Esteban.
As we sailed into the haze and we looked behind us, we saw only a glimpse of a cloud covered mountain quickly disappearing from view to tell us that this magical place was real and not just a dream.
Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Sea of Cortez