We had just made it to the tip of Espiritu Santos Island, and were anchored in between Isla Espiritu Santos to the South and Isla Partida, her little sister, to the North. Still relying on a couple of days old forecast (no internet around here), we were anchored in the most protected spot for stronger Westerlies night winds that were predicted for tonight. The sun was already casting a shadow behind the West cliff of Isla Partida so we dove in, hoping to snorkel in the rocks or in the turquoise shallows. Sadly, despite the inviting tortugas that kept popping their head out to look at us (the sight of one made me jump promptly to swim with her, but not promptly enough), snorkeling (or at least was we’d seen of it) wasn’t the highlight of this place. The bottom was either sand with little fish or a floor of dead coral or sponges (we didn’t really know) that cast an haunted, creepy feeling on these bottoms already in the shade. Another attempt the next day wouldn’t be much more successful.
That wasn’t a big deal, this place had much more to offer! The orange hills that surrounded us contrasted beautifully with the color of the water, vultures, frigates and pelicans high circling in the sky were sometimes diving for seafood, schools of flying (or jumping?) fish would sometimes make a little wave and we were looking forward to check the junction between the two islands and hopefully cross to the other side, but that would be for the next day.
During our little swimming/snorkeling session, an impressive number of boats had arrived to take shelter in the cove and in the channel. We were glad we had moved to the Western cliff to be upwind of them when the Coromuel kicks in and above all, we had the feeling to be in the right place at the right time. Among the new comers, Wiley and David, her skipper, that we had met in Balandra a couple of weeks ago. He had also left La Paz and was sailing with a crew of 3 this time. We greeted him from the water and he dinghied by to say hello and invite us aboard. Worried about space, we declined later over the radio but were hoping to meet again on our way up Isla Partida.
This anchorage was again different from what we’d experienced in the park so far, Tire-Bouchon was in between a catamaran with a family from Canada that blew a shell incredibly loud before their diner (it resonated in the entire anchorage) and a charter catamaran with a group of younger Mexicans ready to party. When we had entered the channel between the two islands, another boat had come at the same time, but surprisingly, they didn’t go to the same cove as us and had anchored deep in the channel by the beach that closes it on the Eastern side. Partida Cove where we anchored on the North side had only 3 boats anchored when we arrived. Half of the cove was shallow turquoise waters, appealing but unanchorable. We picked an anchorable spot but decided to move closer to the Western cliff when one of the three boats departed. It would offer a better protection for the forecasted winds and we wouldn’t be the downwind boat in case anyone slipped, which meant we would sleep better. That turned out to be a good call because by the time we had swam around, the anchorage was full of boats. Accounting on the both sides, we could a large dozen at sunset! Each boat was a little world in itself with a different long-term, short-term or charter travelling story. A motor boat that was with us in a previous cove, another catamaran… their anchor lights mixing up with the stars once the sun went down. Some pangas sailed by, apparently fishing which was a surprise in the park, and we even saw the park rangers for the first time, but no one asked for our passes. At 22:00-23:00, the wind started blowing and the entire anchorage realigned. We were satisfied with our upwind position and David had given us tips for exploring more of this place the next day.
In the morning, half the boats had disappeared and most of the other kept leaving as the day progressed. We weren’t in a rush and enjoyed a nice Turkish breakfast later in the morning. Aside a little snorkeling and relaxing, most of the action took place quite late. We emerged from Tirb around 5PM to do what we had come for: take the dinghy through the passage between the islands! That was already cool in itself but David had told us there were caves to be seen if we kept going South along the cliffs of Espiritu Santos for a couple of miles. Pumped up, we put the dinghy in the water with Freddy, the engine, a rare thing for us at anchor where we generally prefer paddling around on the kayak. But this time, distances were too large, we even made sure to refill the engine tank before heading out.
We took advantage of this effortless means of transportation to make a detour by the shadows where we saw fish and sting rays through the water, which was a proper transparent turquoise! We also stop by the beach made by the sand bar that almost links the two islands together. We walked across through sand, bushes and pebbles to see what was expecting us on the other side, before taking Bouchon there. It’s always good to know if it’s windy, wavy or if it looks like there may be current to be better prepared, it was our first long dinghy expedition of this type after all!
Since everything looked okay and we had timed the tide, we went back to the dinghy and went for it. In the passage, the water was crystal clear and we could the rocks and a large quantity of corals at the bottom. A small bay was opening up for us, with Isla Espiritu Santos cliffs to our right that indeed looked like they may welcome some caves as David had described. But the sun was already quite low, we were hesitating for going on this adventure, would we have enough time to come back before dark?
That’s why we were trying to make up our minds that it happened, and very likely because it was close to sunset… We saw one fin and a second in the water. Immediately, we thought about sharks! Aren’t they the ones which swim with their fins out? Usually a single fin though. Could there be two of them side by side? Or, who knows, it could be a particular species swimming with both their fin and the top of their tail out, we were no shark expert. No need to tell you we had stopped wondering about pursuing our trip any further. We were fascinated! Both a little scared and amazed, we wanted to attempt to take a closer look (but not too close!) at these sea creatures to confirm. Half-jokingly wondering if a bite would be enough to deflate Bouchon (two actually since there are two separate air chambers), we patiently tried to spot them, interpolate their trajectory and place Bouchon on their path. One of the many attempt allowed us to make out two large gray shapes, that could add up. We kept looking and looking. There were so many of them between us and the horizon. we could see the Sun’s reflection on the many fins when far and sometimes hear sounds on the water when they were closer, as if they were hunting near the water surface. Reassuring!
And then, Yalçın got the epiphany! These fins, always in pair, if looked out in the proper orientation, were the tip of the wings of large rays! The frequency of their apparition had given him a clue: you could almost see them flap their gracious wings in the water. When we stopped by the fisherman camp on the beach (officially to see if they’d have fish to sell to us, but which turned into a quick but friendly chat), they confirmed our guess: “mantas”!! Wow, the queens of the ocean! We were so lucky! A bad orientation, if we were seeing the ray from the side for instance, had misleaded us! In such case, the two “fins” looked so closed to one another that we had thought of large fish, like sharks, swimming together instead! We tried to position ourselves in a good spot and turned off the engine not to scare them. We observed the ballet of the manta wings, their tip gliding at the surface like so many little silvery sails… But that was not it!
Manta rays sometimes jump out of the water, likely to catch a pray or maybe, to escape predators? We indeed had heard water sounds. That had been our grand finale! A water sound attracted our attention only a couple of meters away from the dinghy, and then we saw it jump! It was so close! It did a fast 360 in the air before disappearing in the water. We could see the shape perfectly (I was hoping it might be enough to identify the particular species, but I’m not that experienced yet), the grey back and the white belly! We couldn’t believe what we’d seen!
We lingered around some more, even more amazed, before returning to Tirb with a quick detour by the fisherman camp as a man waved at us from afar. The sun was setting, we had used all our daylight time. Some more boats had arrived for the night but not quite as many as the previous night. We were ready to move on tomorrow, with the satisfying feeling we had found some of the hidden gems of this place! We might come back for the caves later, but that’s a story for another time!
Friday night to Sunday, April 16th to 18th, Days 3 to 5 on Isla Espiritu Santos/Isla Partida