Puerto La Salina & Marina Coral – Maiden Voyage South

WestMarine.com

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.

Waterfront condos.

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

Hotel entrance.

Fine dining.

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

and out.

This will be awesome once the weather warms up.

sv Groovy in her new slip in Ensenada, home for the next six monthgs

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

exploring our

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

surf crashed

against the rocks.

The wall had been

breached on the

other side during a

storm last year and

the rocks were

strewn about.

The Pacific

Ocean is

anything but

peaceful.

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

bit off.

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

welcoming committee.

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

nature.

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.

Hotel Coral

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.

Home free!!

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

beyond.

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

massage area

offer all the

pampering

anyone could

ever need.

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.