Boobies to Baja
Boobies have taken a special place in our hearts because they took a special seat on our boat. Our stop just off the mainland was a second visit to Isla Isabela (that wee "Galapagos of Mexico") and we were just as enthralled. Indulging in a hike to parts of the island we had not yet seen, we stretched our legs and lungs to get up close and personal again with the island natives. We also enjoyed anchorage cozied up below the craggy rock sheer called Isleo Mona Menor. What an education you get when you stay in one place for a bit and just observe.
We saw the frigatebirds in action stealing food from the expert fishers. Terns, tropicbirds and boobies are excellent marksmen dipping and diving for fish. The problem lies in whether they can keep their catch! Majestic frigatebirds have adapted with their high flying, hooked beak and small feet to steal fish from others. They do this, as we witnessed, by dive bombing the bird-with-fish then staying on that bird in aerial dog-fight mode until the targeted bird loses the fish to a successful grab, drops the fish from the air or manages to out-maneuver the frigatebird in abrupt altitude changes, turns or speed bursts. Because out-maneuvering was the strength of the smaller terns and tropic birds, the boobies were the real targets of these avian bullies. I witnessed (on two separate occasions) a frigatebird air-diving down behind the fish-holding booby, grab the booby's tail feathers and, with a quick tug up, tip the booby head-down toward the water. On another few occasions, I saw harassed boobies simply dive sharply down and drop their butts in the water so the frigatebird was forced to sail overhead at speed. If the booby attempted to take flight again any time soon, the frigatebird was nearby threatening retaliation from above or behind. Kinda Crazy!
Fun facts about boobies:
they partner for life and co-parent
their wingspan is about five feet and they weigh what amounts to about half a brick
having spotted a fish, they can dive from 80 feet in the air potentially reaching underwater depth of 30 feet (we witnessed them just cut through the crest of waves too)
the Spanish initially called them bobos: they seemed 'foolish' because the birds would land on the ships and present an easy food-catch for the sailors
There are more curiosities and intriguing booby factoids for sure but these kind of set you up to better appreciate the wonder of our overnight sailing passage with them on board.
I came to consciousness with the braying sound of arguing birds. In the v-berth, where we take our sleep when we are off watch, I popped my head up through the forward hatch to see three boobies riding the rail of the bow sprit. It was fast but not smooth sailing, so they were gripping and bobbing to stay on the rail. The funny part, was the number of others who were doing fly-bys to assess landing options... the number of boobies on our boat was steadily increasing. We were mesmerized by their behaviors all around this: their braying signals to move aside for landing (or the hard no on landing), the bickering when one does not want to yield pole position, the synchronized turn of heads when they all look to spy a next new arrival, the repositioning of webbed feet/toes and tightening grip moving from stainless of pulpit to thin thread of lifelines... yes, it did get to that point! Rocking and rolling toward the Baja under full sail .... There were now 10 boobies aboard and counting,
heading very fast/very far AWAY from their rookery.
It was a testament to their tenacity and plucky curiosity that they hung on and changed positions, added and subtracted their number over the course of the next 30 hours or so. During this time, we were checking and trimming sails while clocking plus-7 knots in seas that were building. Night time settled and we thought they may gradually decide the ride on wave surface is just plain easier going. But even through the darkness, there were a few knocked off the rail by wind or wave and they (or others) came in for landing so that there were 13 boobies on board at one point. Daylight hours brought sail changes including dropping the staysail and yet they only cocked their heads as a community to watch Mike work. To a bird, they appeared quite enthralled by our comings, goings and doings around the rigging. We traveled together, boat and boobies, all the way into the Canal Ceralvo at Isla Jaques Cousteau. Best crossing yet!