We spot Puerto La Salina on the horizon.
The surf at the entrance is a little intimidating.
Many empty slips - lots of space for visitors.
Machine gun toting guards
keep an eye on things.
Mark checks out the surf at the breakwater up close.
A pelican is oddly tolerant of our close approach.
Leaping dolphins rush over to welcome us to
Ensenada's huge bay.
They swim alongside the boat.
We approach our final waypoint.
Hotel Coral & Marina has a skinny entrance.
Hotel Coral & Marina
Elegant nooks and alcoves around the hotel offer
views and privacy.
Every hotel room has a private balcony
overlooking the marina and ocean beyond.
There are swimming pools and hot tubs inside
This will be awesome once the weather warms up.
Groovy in her new slip, home for six months.
Puerto La Salina & Hotel Coral Marina
Late January, 2010 - The trip from San
Diego to Ensenada is just 65 miles, a long
one-day sail. However, winter days are
short and our boat Groovy was new to us,
so we were extra cautious and charted a
route that included an overnight in Puerto
La Salina, about 45 miles south of San
Diego. We slipped between the bouys
marking the outer channel of San Diego
harbor in the early morning mist and headed south
right out of the mouth of the harbor. Soon the
ocean swells were upon us, and we heaved and
rolled under power, letting the autopilot do the
steering while the GPS and chartplotter did the
thinking. Whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds kept
us occupied with their antics.
Puerto La Salina gets a brief mention in the
guidebooks, but solid information about this small
marina is scarce. One guidebook mentions it twice
but locates it in two positions about four miles apart. The
marina's website gave GPS coordinates for their channel
entrance, however, and we hoped that would be all we
needed. As we approached the GPS position, we could
see a very small cut between two breakwaters, with surf
pounding at the entrance. The marina staff were slow to
respond when we hailed them on the radio, but that might
have been because we didn't realize yet that the VHF
radio had two settings: long range and short range
communication. Oops. This was one of many new things
we needed to learn as we faced a very steep learning
curve with this sailing life. But acquiring new skills is a
large part of why we undertook this adventure.
What a surprise it was when a launch boat from the marina came out to greet us. He was bouncing all over the huge waves at
the channel entrance and kindly escorted us down the narrow channel and through the quick turns to our assigned slip. We
surprised ourselves and docked like pros and congratulated ourselves on arriving intact without sinking or dying or having any
mishaps. This had been only our fifth time out in the boat by ourselves.
Puerto La Salina Marina and the ritzy neighborhood around it have great potential: dramatic ocean views, fancy construction
and close proximity to San Diego. However, many slips were empty, skeletons of unfinished buildings ringed the
neighborhood, there was no running water in the bathrooms that day due to recent storms and the advertised wifi had "never
worked" according to the disgruntled marina resident in the slip next to ours. Oh well - not a problem for a brief overnight stop.
In my first glance around the marina, once we finished tying up the boat, I caught sight of a
machine gun toting guard in camouflage gear. Huh? Nearby Tijuana has had a lot of drug
related violence lately, but what was this all about? We found out later these guys (there
were several) were also involved in search and rescue efforts at sea as well as occasionally
chasing drug runners. They set up a tent at the gated entrance to our dock and apparently
slept there overnight. If nothing else, we felt very secure!
The homes that have
been built around the
marina are lovely, and we
had a pleasant walk
surroundings. It slowly
dawned on me that not
only were we not in
Kansas anymore (or San
Diego or the Caribbean
for that matter), but we
were in a new country I knew little about.
The dock master's English was very iffy, but my Spanish was even more
so. I mentally made a note that not only did I need to spend the next six
months studying all aspects of sailing so we could cruise safely throughout
the rest of Mexico, but I needed to dust off my Spanish textbooks and
study that as well.
Out at the end of
the breakwater the
against the rocks.
The wall had been
breached on the
other side during a
storm last year and
the rocks were
A lone pelican lay dozing along the breakwater wall. He was so
passive we walked right up to him to get some close-ups. I bent down
next to him and looked him right in the eye and he even didn't blink.
There was a strange air about this whole place. Even the wildlife was a
Out in the ocean the next day the wildlife was anything but off -- it was
jumping. A huge whale crossed our path. He was on a mission to get
somewhere and he never swerved, ducking under our boat as he
made his way steadily out to sea. Then, as we approached
Ensenada's large bay, we spotted a group of dolphins out fishing. We
had heard that they fish cooperatively together, encircling their prey
so there's no escape. Sure enough, these guys were very intent on
the job at hand and fins and tails were flapping like mad.
All of a sudden they
stopped what they
were doing and
came flocking over
to our boat.
Leaping along, the
whole gang made a
bee-line for our boat
and then swam
alongside us for a few
minutes. Wow. What a
Then, as quickly as they had arrived, they turned and leapt away,
returning to the spot where we had found them, and resuming their fishing
efforts. Fantastic! Their joy at seeing us felt like a warm embrace from
Ensenada began to
grow ahead of us.
We were grateful for the newfangled chartplotter system that modern
boats have these days. I had laboriously charted every aspect of this
brief trip on paper charts, using the old fashioned plotting tools that got
ships safely around the world for ages. But the electronic chartplotter,
GPS and autopilot had been the real navigators. Before we left, in just a
few minutes, I had entered all the information I had deduced from our
paper charts, and throughout the trip this electronic whiz-bang machine
had done everything after that, visually showing us our progress while we
hung over the rails and watched the world float by.
Marina was our destination, and what a glorious spot that turned out to
be. Like La Salina the night before, the channel entrance was scary-
skinny, but once through and into our assigned slip, we were stunned
by what we found.
No machine gun armed guards and no disgruntled neighbors.
Instead, we were welcomed into a warm, happy community of fellow
boaters who, like us, have discovered that Ensenada is a little, unsung
piece of paradise. The staff at the marina knocked themselves out to
make us feel at home. First things first, we needed to get to the
customs office the next day to check into Mexico officially.
This proved to be quite an adventure. It was a Tuesday after a long weekend, so the Customs office was busy with lots of
people in boats and RVs who had arrived in town over the weekend. We had to get paperwork stamped not just for ourselves
but for the boat too. Boats are given a 10-year temporary import permit, but this is not given out lightly. We stood in several
lines for over two hours. At one point we ended up behind a mega-yacht captain holding a stack of passports and waited while
he checked in all ten of the people on his boat. Then we were suddenly asked to press a button on what looked like a traffic
light. An alarm sounded and a huge red light flashed. We had flunked our check-in! The customs officials wanted to inspect
our boat in person.
Alfredo, the marina's staff person who was helping us
through the check-in process said just one in 100 boats
flunks and gets a personal inspection by the customs
offices. Great! Two crisply uniformed and badged officers
bearing clip-boards hopped in an official government van,
and Alfredo loaded us into another van and followed them
back to the marina. Once there, they marched down the
docks to get a close look at Groovy. The boat had been to
Mexico under another name, and our Coast Guard
documentation papers were not yet fully completed in the
US, so that might have been the red flag that brought these
folks onto our boat. Or perhaps it was just random luck. No one could tell us for sure. But in the end it was simple. They
verified the hull number on the outside of the hull and had a look around inside (we hadn't been expecting guests, so it was a
bit messy!). One fellow opened the fridge and asked if that was all the alcohol we had. Mark noted that he kind of smirked at
the two lonely beers inside, as if to say, "That's it??" And then they were gone. We stood watching them drive off, clutching
our hologram-decorated ten year import permit for the boat, with our new six month tourist visas tucked into each passport.
The marina itself is like a resort, and we wandered around with
our jaws hanging open. The hotel restaurant offers very fine
dining, and we discovered it is a favored spot for both
townspeople and tourists alike.
The hotel is luxurious, with several little private alcoves looking out over
the property, offering peaceful spots to read or chat with friends.
There is a small, well-appointed gym overlooking an indoor
swimming pool and hot tubs with views of the boats in their slips
Outside there are two more swimming pools, another hot tub, and
some tiki bars that were begging for some warmer weather when
local bands come play.
A spa, sauna,
steam room and
offer all the
We clamored back aboard Groovy and shook our heads in
disbelief. We had had a very different impression of Ensenada
before we got here, and friendliness and cleanliness were not
things we expected to find. Our fellow boaters gave us endless
tips, from making sure we got a discount card for all hotel services
to explaining where the big box stores were located in case we
needed a Home Depot or Walmart to get things for the boat.
Waking to some gorgeous sunrises, we found ourselves quickly
falling in love with our new home and new lives in Ensenada.
Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.