Ensenada – A Triumphant Homecoming!

Late July, 2013 – We were overjoyed to have completed the Baja Bash. Fear and nail-biting moments aside, it had been as smooth a ride on that challenging coast as we could have hoped for — far less traumatic than many of the stories we had heard before we left — and it had been super fast, taking just 8+ days of nearly non-stop motoring to cover 1,000 miles.

We were exultant!

Cruiseport Village Marina

Cruiseport Village Marina in Ensenada — with a cruise ship in port!

Ensenada Flag

A huge Mexican flag dominates
Ensenada’s skyline.

We walked around the docks and washed the boat with puffed out chests and smug grins. Neither of us had wanted to admit to the other just how frightened we had been of that voyage before we left, but now that it was over, a tumult of chaotic emotions washed over us as we acknowledged the fear and worry we had felt and the certainty we’d both had, at times, that we were facing certain doom.

We had done it!! We had snuck past the worst obstacles on the coast with a smile and a wave, and we had outfoxed Mother Nature to slip unnoticed up the coast between hurricanes. But who could we brag to?? Old friends!

Docks on Ensenada's Malecon

Looking out over the boats from Ensenada’s Malecón.

We had lived in Ensenada for six months as we outfitted our boat for cruising in the spring of 2010, and this fun city had become our home.

Ever since we left, our mouths had been watering for Mexico’s best beef tacos which are served at a special restaurant in Ensenada.

Las Brisas Restaurant Ensenada

The best beef tacos in all of Mexico are at Las Brisas!

Within hours of our arrival, we made a beeline for Las Brisas Taquería, two blocks south of the Cruiseport Village Marina entrance on the main drag.

The owner, Norma, has lured patrons to her little restaurant with her divinely marinated grilled beef tacos for twenty years. As we plopped down on two stools in front of her, she recognized us immediately and gave us a warm welcome.

In between savoring bites of her to-die-for tacos, we bent her ear with tales of all our travels: the Mayan ruins in Palenque, the colonial cathedrals of Oaxaca and Morelia, the colorful hillsides of Guanajuato, the underwater world of Huatulco, and of course the white knuckle ride up the coast to Ensenada.

Norma and Melissa Las Brisas

Norma (with daughter Melissa) has served awesome
carne asada tacos for 20 years.

She smiled and nodded enthusiastically and made us feel like long lost friends who had gone adventuring and come home to tell stories of the big wide world we’d found.

Even though she had a restaurant full of customers, she took time for us and made us feel special for having braved the ocean and made it back alive. Sitting on our stools at her counter, we suddenly felt like we had come home.

Cruise Ship in Ensenada

Cruise ships come twice a week.

 

Ensenada is a lively city, and there is always something going on.

Cruise ships come to town twice a week, bringing a boatload of tourists to the streets, and there are festivals, celebrations, gatherings and events of all kinds in the center of town all year long.

Cheerleaders Practicing with Mexican Flag

You never know what you’ll see
on the main plaza in Ensenada.

The main plaza is anchored by an enormous Mexican flag that towers over everything and is situated near three huge gold colored sculpted heads.

As we took our first steps into town past these familiar landmarks, a new and strange emotion swept over.

Everything here was exactly as we had left it — but we had changed in profound ways.

I remembered staring at those heads when we first got to Ensenada, three years prior, and wondering who in the world those people were. Now I recognized Benito Juarez and Miguel Hidalgo.

Ensenada Plaza three heads

Mexican heroes Juarez and Hidalgo (left and center)
changed Mexico’s history.

Back in Guanajuato, we had walked through a centuries old mine shaft where enslaved indigenous people endured short, harsh lives wrestling silver out of the mountains to make their Spanish owners rich.

What a searing glimpse we were given, in the cold depths of that mine, of the agony and anger that prompted Hidalgo’s “grito” (“scream”) for freedom and sparked Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain in 1810.

Streets of Ensenada

The red brick sidewalks guide tourists past gift shops in town.

However, more than just picking up a little Mexican history in our travels, we had grown in intangible ways ourselves too.

Ensenada was still the bustling city that it always had been, with a big town plaza that might be filled with performing clowns one day and a chess tournament the next.

And the red brick sidewalks still gave hesitant tourists a clearly defined path through the gift shops and bars.

However, we kept remembering our first impressions when we had arrived in Ensenada.

 

Newly minted Mexico Cruisers

Is this Groovy boat really ours?
Are we really going to cruise Mexico on a sailboat?

We had been newly minted Mexico cruisers, not really aware that we were embarking on a life abroad as ex-pats.

The pungent smells, vibrant colors, and hurly burly of exuberant vendors hailing us down on the streets were all overwhelming.

Chess tournament in Ensenada

Ensenada’s plaza hosts events of all kinds,
even chess tournaments!

We were shocked by the grubbiness and shocked to see Starbucks and McDonalds sitting proudly in the middle of it all.

I tried to speak Spanish but could never find the words, and I got all fouled up in the grammar every time. It had seemed so easy in my Spanish classes back home, but my Spanish had failed me completely on the streets here.

Mexican Flag and cart in Ensenada

The chaos and action in the streets were overwhelming at first.

And how I remember being humbled when an old, bent, toothless man had kindly told us in perfect and very polite English that we were driving our enormous truck the wrong way down a one-way street.

We were bewildered and charmed by the steady stream of horse-drawn buggies and crazy train rides tourists could take around town.

So this was Mexico, we had thought back then. Or was it? More seasoned cruisers told us this wasn’t really Mexico. It was too close to San Diego. It was a gringo town. But was that really true?

Vendor carts in Ensenada

Red brick sidewalks and vendor carts.

Now, as we walked around, we saw this vivacious town with eyes that had taken in many of the best sights in Mexico. We now knew that this fine city really was “Mexico.”

It didn’t matter how close it was to San Diego. Ensenada was a fabulous Mexican city, like many of the others that had captured our hearts elsewhere, and it was as real and authentic as any.

And now our conversations with locals dropped into comfortable Spanish at every opportunity we could find.

Horse and Buggy in Ensenada

Horses and buggies trot everywhere.

I remembered standing at the parts counter at an outboard motor store those years ago, trying to explain that we wanted to buy a two-stroke six-horsepower Yamaha outboard.

The man at the counter didn’t speak English. And I obviously didn’t speak Spanish, because our conversation went absolutely nowhere but was fringed with laughter and helpless arm waving and body language on both sides.

As we wandered past his store now, I mumbled the conversation I might have with him today… How satisfying to realize I could get the job done in Spanish now.

 

Tourist train in Ensenada

If you’d rather not take a buggy, try the tourist train!

More subtle, though, were the changes within our own souls. We had arrived in Ensenada fresh off of two and half years of traipsing around the US in a fifth wheel trailer.

We had been immersed in American landscapes and history and culture, living on public lands and perching on street corners, boondocking (dry camping without hookups to water and electricity) for free at every opportunity.

Suddenly, with our arrival in Ensenada, we were sailors living on a big beautiful sailboat in a foreign land with a different culture and different language.

Line of Volkswagons

Home to the Baja 500 and 1000 desert races, vehicle rallies of all kinds take place here.

Neither of us had ever lived abroad. Neither of us had cruised for more than a few weeks at a stretch.

Only one of us (me) had ever lived on or owned a big sailboat, and that was in a marina in Boston while working. Not quite the same thing!

The shock, thrill and awe we felt then permeated every moment of our lives.

 

VW bug woody

Classic!

Walking around Ensenada always brought us repeated “Wow!” moments as we encountered the delightful but extraordinarily different patterns of day-to-day life in Mexico.

However, the whole time we were there, our upcoming southern voyage loomed large and intimidating in front of us.

Learning to navigate foreign waters, learning weather prediction, finding safe anchorage, and learning to live on the hook rather than at marinas all lay ahead of us. We had no idea how it would work out.

 

 

Horse and buggy

Riding around Ensenada
~ in style ~

Would we like it? What gear and supplies should we take with us from the US?

How hard would it be to find things we needed down south, both for the boat and for ourselves?

Would we end up in harm’s way, either on the high seas or on shore? There were a million things to be concerned about.

Now, as we strolled the same streets and waved at the same people that had been here the whole time we were gone, our voyage was behind us. All those nerve-wracking questions were answered.

Tenancious

Sometimes in the boating life you need a little tenacity!

We knew now that we could take our boat anywhere. If we had been inclined, we could have crossed the Pacific or continued along the coast to the Caribbean.

We were confident in our sailing skills, confident in our boat, and confident in our people skills.

We knew what the cruising life entailed and how we were happiest doing it.

There were no worries at the fringes of our consciousness or unmentionable fears lurking on the edges of our days any more.

Instead, there was a growing sense of accomplishment.

 

Joachim cigar seller

Joachim chatted up a storm with us between cigar sales.

We stopped to chat with our friend Joachim, who I quickly discovered was more widely read in English literature than I was. After he told me my name reminded him of Emily Bronte, we proceeded to discuss nineteenth century English literature for half an hour!

A voracious reader as a boy, he found that cast-off English language paperbacks from tourists and ex-pats were far cheaper than new Spanish language books, so he learned English by reading with a Spanish-English dictionary in hand. His vocabulary was enormous.

One great lesson we had learned on our voyage was the joy of talking to the locals, whether dock workers or timeshare salesmen or vendors on the street, and this cigar salesman on the streets of Ensenada was teaching us this lesson once again.

 

Life Saver on the docks

A life saving ring at Cruiseport.

Back at our sailboat Groovy, we were given a priceless peek at one of the most special Mexican family traditions: the “Quinceañera” (keen-say-an-YAIR-ah) or girl’s 15th birthday party.

A well-dressed man walking the docks asked if he could get some photos of his daughter on our boat, as she was celebrating her fifteenth birthday that evening.

An entourage of teenagers, a professional photographer and a professional videographer proceeded to file onto the docks, and we unexpectedly became witnesses to this beautiful celebration that is a cross between a prom and a wedding.

Quniceanera on Groovy

Groovy helps celebrate a Quinceañera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada’s citizenry is a fantastic mixture of Mexicans and Americans, and lots of folks from north of the border have homes here.

Our good friends Beth and Gary had arrived here in their sailboat Fun in the Sun prior to our first arrival in 2010. While we were sailing south, they had put down roots here on shore. They graciously invited us to spend a few days off the boat at their home, enjoying Ensenada’s inland scenery.

Estero Beach RV park

The resort RV park at Estero Beach.

Hopping in their truck, we sped past Estero Beach which lies at the south end of Ensenada Bay, and then we drove past the upscale RV park that overlooks the estuary.

Umbrellas line Estero Beach

Umbrellas lined up at Estero Beach.

Our minds started turning, as we will soon be boatless and living in our trailer. Hmmm… this might be an option!

This part of Baja is ranching country, and a truck ahead of us on the highway was decked out with a cowboy hat and horse saddle.

Cowboy hat and saddle

Heading off the coast, we saw
Baja’s ranching and wine country.

So different than the tropical sights we had been seeing for the last 9 months!!

It felt peculiar to be sitting in a truck and seeing the world fly by us out our windows. The rural and mountainous landscapes were beautiful and remote feeling.

The next day, on a morning walk, Mark spotted a colorful vermillion flycatcher and some lovely flowers.

Vermillion Flycatcher

A vermillion flycatcher peeks at Mark

Perhaps what was most special about these days at home with our friends, though, was our long heartfelt conversations about cruising.

Cruising, for us, was both thrilling and extraordinarily hard work. Like so many cruisers, we had jumped into the lifestyle and lived it to its fullest, but also like so many, we found it proved to have its challenges.

Golf course landscape

Morning reflections

Many folks, like us, end their cruise somewhat sooner than expected. For some, all it takes to end their cruise is a few exhausting all-nighters at sea where all hell breaks loose and they are scared out of their wits.

For others, cruising ends after a few bank account draining boat system failures where the meager savings account is assaulted by foreign import taxes, overseas shipping costs and local mechanics with great intentions but dubious skills.

Tres Mujeres Vineyards

Grape vines at Tres Mujeres Vineyard.

Our friends understood these things intimately, and we talked endlessly and long into the night.

We will be forever grateful to them for sharing our intense emotions that were still so fresh and so vivid in our hearts and for making us feel truly triumphant during those days at their house.

“You did it! You lived the dream!” Beth kept saying. “Lots of people talk, but you went!”

Many cruisers voyage much further than we did, crossing oceans, sailing between icebergs in high latitudes, surviving terrifying perils at sea, and mingling among exotic cultures on distant continents.

 

Beth and Gary

Our sweet friends Beth and Gary made us feel like returning heroes.

Our journey was modest by comparison. But we felt a gratifying sense of achievement, which was something we had never anticipated.

Flowers

Mark found pretty flowers on our walks.

Our focus had always been on the going: getting to the next port, seeing what was there, and then seeing if we could find what lurked behind that!!

We had never realized how rewarding we would find the coming home. There are few times in life when you can measure your personal growth and feel it as deeply as we did during our stay in Ensenada, the point where our voyage had begun and the point where it was now ending.

Baja Landscape

A misty morning on Baja

Clay pots

The Freshman Cruisers we had once been seemed to be wandering the streets just ahead of us, shadows of ourselves but with such a sweet aura of naiveté about them.

Now as seasoned, salty, Senior Cruisers, we felt like the big men on campus.

We looked all over the place for someone handing out diplomas. But none were to be found! Ah well… We settled for patting each other on the back and reminiscing…a lot!

 

 

Brick arches

Besides wine tasting, one of the joys of winery visits
is the pretty estates themselves.

Ensenada’s Guadelupe Valley is the heart of Mexico’s wine country, and Beth and Gary took us to see two of their favorite boutique wineries.

Tres Mujeres (Three Women) Vineyard has some beautiful views around their property and a lovely stone wine cellar for tastings.

Wooden wheel chair

A bench made using old wooden wheels.

Cactus flower

We love these huge cactus flowers.

The cactus were in bloom and sported huge while flowers.

JC Bravo is another small vineyard whose main building is adorned with beautiful brick arches and decorated with unique furniture made of wine casks and wooden wheels. What great photo ops these things made!

We ended the day at the charming outdoor restaurant La Hacienda. The tables at this pretty restaurant are all nestled into the embrace of several sweeping shade trees, and one part of this gorgeous property houses a flower and plant nursery.

La Hacienda Restaurant

La Hacienda is a wonderful restaurant tucked into a flower nursery!

 

 

 

Orchids

La Hacienda has beautiful orchids.

Girl on a car ride

Almost ready to take the family car for a spin.

We were smitten by the beauty of their orchid collection, and we enjoyed a very leisurely lunch under the beautiful trees.

When we left our friends’ company to return to Ensenada, a big summer carnival was in full swing. There was no doubt that Ensenada was just as fun and exciting as we remembered.

 

Kiddie Train on the Malecon

A big fair came to town, complete with a kiddie train ride on the Malecón.

A cute little train for kids wove all along the Malecón (boardwalk) and circled around the plaza, shuttling excited kids all around.

There were motorized rides of all kinds and dozens of ways for a kid to get tossed around and jostled about.

We watched the littlest kids driving around in circles and the bigger kids shrieking as the roller coasters climbed skyward and plunged around corners at breakneck speeds.

This was just too fun a place to leave right away, and Groovy had an appointment at the Baja Naval boatyard, so we settled in to spend a few more weeks in Ensenada.

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For more from Ensenada, please check out these links:

Quniceañera!         Ensenada Wineries         Life in Ensenada

 

Baja Bash (2) – Chased by a Hurricane!

This is the second part of our story of doing the Baja Bash. The first part is here: Baja Bash (1).

Early July, 2013 – I slowly became aware of my surroundings aboard our sailboat Groovy as I woke up after just two hours of sleep. For the past two days we had been sailing non-stop from Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas, and it felt luxurious to be lying in bed at anchor in Cabo without having to worry if we were still on course or if we were about to hit something in the dark.

I was thinking dreamily of how beautiful and crystal clear the water had been in Cabo San Lucas when we had first arrived here in November 2010. It had been the clearest water we ever saw during our cruise of Mexico.

Cabo San Lucas

View from the Cabo San Lucas anchorage. Dozens of resorts line the bay.

The water had been a brisk 70 degrees then, however. In contrast, a few hours ago when we arrived in Cabo in the predawn light, the temperature gauge had said the water was 80 degrees. This wasn’t quite the 89 degrees we had left behind us in Puerto Vallarta, but I sure looked forward to relaxing for a few days and enjoying some swimming and snorkeling, not to mention catching up on much needed sleep.

I rolled over and thought about how well the precursor to the Baja Bash had gone for us. I really liked this business of taking advantage of the hurricanes. Today was Friday, July 5th, and if we waited for the hurricane coming up behind us, we could catch it on Monday, and then ride its outer southerly winds right up the outside of Baja. How perfect!

Groovy in Cabo

Groovy in Cabo when we first arrived three years prior.

Hang on… Say that again?? If we waited in an exposed anchorage until a hurricane arrived, we would do what??!! My eyes flew open. Was I nuts??

The image of the hurricane rolling off Mexico’s mainland coast that I’d seen on the weather charts the night before suddenly filled my mind. How close was it going to come to Cabo?

In one motion, I was out of bed and onto the computer, bringing up the latest weather data.

Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I stared in horror. It didn’t look anything like it did three hours ago. I thought the hurricane was supposed to approach Cabo and then veer off to the west like all the others before it had done. Now they were predicting it would head up into the Sea of Cortez. What??

Suddenly my heart was in my throat. I flipped back and forth between the weather charts, frantically trying to make sense of what was going on. The anchorage we were in was going to be blasted by high winds on Sunday if we stuck around, and even though it didn’t look like a great time to go up the coast, we had to get out of here. Now!!

Hurricane Erick goes West

The forecast for Sun Jul 7 at 12 Greenwich Mean Time (UTC),
downloaded when we first arrived in Cabo at 7:00 a.m.
Hurricane Erick will head west and bring a southerly flow to Baja on Monday and Tuesday.

Hurricane Erick goes into the Sea

3 hours later I downloaded a drastically different forecast for
that same time. Now Erick is predicted to head to Baja
and up the Sea of Cortez. Time to get out of Cabo!!
Who knows WHAT will happen there Monday and Tuesday!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Falso Cabo San Lucas Map

Cabo Falso is just an hour from the
Cabo San Lucas anchorage, but it is worlds away
in terms sea state and wind.

Problem was, the bottom west end of Baja California, called Cabo Falso, is a little cape with a big and terribly mean temper. It is one of the two most treacherous points in the whole 800 mile trip north from Cabo to San Diego. It was only an hour (6 miles) from where we were sitting right now, but for the next 30 miles after that (five to eight hours), we could face howling winds and snarling seas. Cabo Falso was a place where sailors were regularly crushed and sent packing back to Cabo San Lucas to lick their wounds.

The wise author of our guide book, Baja Bash II, said to try to reach Cabo Falso when the conditions were calmest, right at dawn, and never to attempt to get around it later in the day or if you could see white caps on the open ocean while still in the anchorage. Arghh. It was already nearly 10:00 in the morning. The sun had been up for hours. There were no whitecaps in the distance right now, but the wind was building.

Cabo San Lucas Inner Harbor

Cabo San Lucas Inner Harbor

Mark appeared in the doorway, bleary eyed and squinting.

“We have to leave right now.” I said, my voice shaking.

“Now?” He said, scratching his head slowly. “I thought you wanted to stay…”

“I was wrong. We’ve gotta go. Right this minute.” I was already flipping on the instruments in the cabin and flying up into the cockpit and turning the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life.

As Mark climbed around me and out on deck to the anchor locker, I heard him mutter: “I was wondering why you wanted to stay. We should have tied up at the fuel dock when we came in…”

He was right. We needed fuel, and the prudent thing would have been to be at the fuel dock when it opened at 8:00 in the morning. At least then we could have been at Cabo Falso by 9:00. But we didn’t have time for regrets now! I shoved the throttle to its max and we charged over to the fuel dock, weaving between the traffic jam of boats at 7.5 knots.

The guy at the fuel dock confirmed that Hurricane Erick seemed to be headed towards Baja, and he got us fueled up in record time. He glanced at his watch and then shoved us off, saying, “It’s only 9:15, you have time…”

Cabo San Lucas Arches

We bid goodbye to the arches at Cabo San Lucas

I did a double take and ducked my head into the cabin to look at our big clock on the wall. It said 10:15. Oh, that’s right, we had changed time zones! Our clocks were still on Puerto Vallarta time!

I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The witching hour of noon when the wind really begins to pick up was still three hours off.

The wind was already beginning to build in the bay, however, and we both stood anxiously in the cockpit as the boat barreled around the famous Los Arcos rock formations. We strained through the binoculars to see if there were white caps on the open water. It didn’t seem so. At least not yet.

Cabo Falso Lighthouse

The Cabo Falso Lighthouse is waaaay up there!

Watching the magic of Cabo slip away behind us, my only consolation was that the entire bay was filled with red tide. We weren’t missing any snorkeling or swimming this time!

Ahead of us, the apparent wind, that is, the wind we felt on our faces, which was a combination of the wind in the air and the wind generated by our own forward motion, quickly increased to 15 knots, then 18, then 20. The water rippled and began peaking in little wavelets. Soon whitecaps surrounded us. But the waves were blessedly small.

Cabo Falso Lighthouse

Cabo Falso smiles on us!!

Suddenly the Cabo Falso lighthouse came into view, high up on a hillside.

We stared at each other in disbelief. “This is it? We’re rounding Cabo Falso and we’re not fighting for our lives?!”

So it seemed. It wasn’t like there was a sharp corner. It was an almost imperceptible turn. The lighthouse slipped by, and as we continued, the conditions remained the same. What a relief!! Could any two people be so lucky?

As a lark, I checked the laptop to see if we could get on the internet. We could!! I quickly jotted off a note on Facebook. How fabulous and bizarre to be rounding the dreaded Cabo Falso and reporting about it on Facebook in real time. What would the sailors of old think of that??

Laundry flaps in the breeze aboard Groovy

We settle down and do some ordinary things like laundry!

We settled down and began to relax into some routine activities. We did some laundry and hung it out to dry.

Brushing past the table in the cabin, I noticed Mark’s to do list intended for our time in Cabo. He had wanted to dive under the boat and check the prop, and also check the engine and transmission oil and the fuel filters, among other things. Oh well.  Hopefully it was all okay!

To Do List for Cabo

Mark had a list of things he wanted to do in Cabo…

 

 

 

 

At least we’d gotten two hours of sleep at anchor! Now we were in for another overnight 180 mile run before we would stop again, this time in Bahía Santa Maria. Hopefully we’d get a day of rest there.

 

Baja Bash - main stops

The plan for our major stops. There are
lots of hiding places in between¡

In the meantime, I studied our situation on the computer. I had written up all the possible scenarios for this coast, the distances between all the major and minor anchorages and notorious “bad spots” we’d encounter, how long it might take us to get between each one, and what times of the day were best for arriving at each location.

Our overall plan was to make two stops — one in Bahia Santa Maria and one in Turtle Bay — before ending in Ensenada, with each of the three legs taking 30-40+ hours. But who knew what the weather gods and boat gods might have in store for us.

Before we lost the internet for good, I downloaded the weather charts one last time and reviewed them yet again. Now that we were past Cabo Falso, everything looked good for getting to our first stop, Bahía Santa Maria in about 24 more hours.

Atomic clock with wrong date

Our atomic clock suddenly resets
itself to 5 days ago!

I glanced up at the atomic clock on the wall and did another double take. It said the date was July 1st. Huh? I looked at the computer. It said July 6th. What the heck? Goofy electronics. A satellite must have given out bad data when the clock beamed up. Good grief.

I went into the head and discovered the liquid hand soap had fallen over in the medicine chest and made a big mess. Oh well, those little shelves had needed to be cleaned and tidied up anyway. At least nothing big had gone wrong.

Yanmar 4JH4E echotech watermaker

A fitting on the high pressure hose attached
to the watermaker pump suddenly started
spraying water everywhere.

Casting about for things to do to keep busy, Mark decided to make water for a while. He flipped the switch on our engine-driven watermaker, and suddenly we heard a horrible noise in the engine compartment. He instantly turned it off, pulled the stairs off the engine to see what was going on, and tried again. Yikes! Fountains of water were spraying everywhere all over our clean and sparkling engine. My heart stopped at the sight.

We had never had engine problems in 8,000 miles or so of cruising. And now we had 750 miles of motoring ahead of us! It is impossible to sail north on this coast because of the huge headwinds. And a hurricane was getting in position to block our passage to the south.

Mark flew through the cabin grabbing tools and a flashlight while I ran through scenarios in my head. If we turned around right now, we could sail downwind to Cabo in a few hours. Puerto Los Cabos Marina was 20 miles further downwind from there, and we could hide from Hurricane Erick there…

Suddenly the noise stopped, and Mark was grinning at me. I looked at him hopefully.

“No problem!” He said easily. “The fitting on the high pressure hose had worked its way loose from the vibration…”

Wow. My hero. Mark can fix anything. He is the ultimate troubleshooter. He knows how everything works. We moved the stairs back over the engine and I took a deep breath. One crisis averted!

We settled down again and took in our surroundings. The wind was a steady 15-18 knots on the nose as we barreled along at 6.5 knots, but the seas were flat. The water temperature had dropped to 75 degrees and it had become a vivid, rich green. What a startling contrast to the bright blue color of the water yesterday in the Sea of Cortez.

Vivid blue water in the Sea of Cortez

The water in the Sea of Cortez was brilliant blue

Cold water on Pacific Baja is rich green

The much colder water outside Baja is suddenly a rich green

 

Swirling clouds, haze and towering mountains greet us as we approach Bahia Santa Maria.

Swirling clouds, haze and towering mountains greet us
as we approach Bahía Santa Maria.

The afternoon slipped into evening. There was no sunset, but at 9:00 p.m. the wind suddenly picked up. The seas became steep and choppy and the wind blew a steady 20+ knots on the nose.

The boat began flying off the wave crests and crashing into the troughs, bringing the boat to an abrupt halt each time and threatening to shatter everything on board. We slowed the boat to 4 knots, climbing up and over each wave rather then leaping between them. Ahhh… much better.

 

Emily at the wheel of Groovy in jacket and long pants

No more bathing suit sailing. Now it’s jackets and pants!

When dawn finally came, it snuck in the back door surrounded by mist instead of announcing itself with a brilliant sunrise. The stark hills of Bahía Santa Maria appeared, and we saw fishermen out on their daily rounds.

Sea lion in Baja California

Sea lions bark and play around us.

 

 

 

 

 

If the cooler water temps and changed color of the ocean weren’t enough to let us know we had left the tropics in our wake, the arrival of a group of sea lions confirmed it. They played and jumped around each other, barking non-stop.

The dozens of anchorages in the Sea of Cortez are filled with cruisers trying to stay cool while we shiver sailing up the Pacific side.

The dozens of anchorages in the Sea of Cortez are filled with cruisers trying to stay cool while we shiver on the Pacific side.

As we shivered in the damp, grey morning air in our jackets and pants, it was strange to know that on the opposite side of Baja California, in the Sea of Cortez, dozens of cruisers were sweltering in 100 degree heat. They were all swimming morning, noon and night to stay cool, and sailing between the crush of red waypoints we saw on our chartplotter.

Fishermen in Baja California

Fishermen work outside Magdalena Bay and Santa Maria Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we pulled into wide and sweeping Santa Maria Bay, it was noon on Saturday, and we got a fabulous internet signal on the laptop for a few minutes while we motored around.

We downloaded a weather update to get the whereabouts of Hurricane Erick and figure out our next move. A quick glance showed that Erick was weakening and still heading into the Sea of Cortez and that our best option for our next 40 hour jaunt to Turtle Bay would be to hang out here on Sunday and wait until Monday morning to leave.

Anchored in Bahia Santa Maria Baja California

The soft curves of the hills fill our view in Bahia Santa Maria.

We picked out a well protected spot in the corner behind the mountains, away from the half-dozen anchored shrimpers, and when we discovered we couldn’t get an internet signal from there, we didn’t care.

It was a heavenly place to rest our weary bones for a few days. Mark poured our 20 spare gallons of diesel into the fuel tanks, and all seemed right with the world until he came down below with a big frown on his face.

“The fuel didn’t look right.” He said. “It was grey. Normally the diesel we get in Mexico is pink or yellow.” I looked at him quizzically. He went on, “I think maybe there was stuff growing on the inside of our jerry jugs and it mixed into the fuel we got in La Cruz and turned it grey.”

He looked truly despondent. Diesel becomes contaminated with bacteria in the tropics so easily. “I didn’t check the insides of the jugs before we filled them.” He continued glumly. “Man, I always check things like that. Why didn’t I do it in La Cruz?”

He slumped on the settee, completely frustrated. How could I console him? It was an easy oversight. We wouldn’t know if we had bad fuel until the filters clogged and the engine quit running. And that could happen at any time.

I sighed heavily. We had two spare fuel filters. But if bad fuel clogged one, it would probably clog the second fairly soon too. Oh, if only we could have found another spare fuel filter or two in Puerto Vallarta!

Sand dunes in Bahia Santa Maria near Magdalena Bay in Baja California

In the morning, we moved across the bay and anchored next to these beautiful sand dunes.

We tried to think happier thoughts and put this new wrinkle out of our minds while we enjoyed our time off in this wonderful bay. Bahia Santa Maria is like a huge lake. It is extremely well protected from the swell, and we slept like babies on a quiet boat. Ahhh… imagine if all of Mexico’s anchorages were like this!! The wind sang in the rigging, but it was a lullaby for our tired souls. We slept clear through from Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning.

When we finally awoke, we were both eager to get another weather forecast. We motored across the bay closer to town and dropped the hook near some gorgeous sand dunes. After lazily taking some photos and watching the huge rollers breaking onto the beach, I eventually downloaded the weather. What I saw struck terror in my heart! No longer weakening and moving up the Sea of Cortez, Hurricane Erick was now predicted not only to remain strong but to hightail it straight up the outside of Baja, from Cabo to this very bay!

When we first arrive in Santa Maria:  Erick will head into the Sea of Cortez

The first forecast we downloaded in Santa Maria showed
Erick going into the Sea on Mon Jul 8 at 3 GMT (UTC)

Hurricane Erick heads to Cabo

Downloaded 24 hours later: Now Erick heads to Baja
at that time and then up the outside!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh NO!! Would my heart ever stop pounding on this voyage? That panicky knot of fear seemed permanently lodged in my stomach. We had been at this for five days now and still had six hundred miles of uphill battles to go.

We grimaced at each other. Our sweet plans to hang out by these sand dunes, play on the internet and relax for another 24 hours crashed on the beach along with the rolling waves. Under misty skies, we hauled the anchor and shot out of Bahia Santa Maria with our bow aimed at Turtle Bay 230 miles away. The forecast ahead was grim, with 6-9 foot seas predicted at 9 second intervals — meaning that we would be driving into walls of water stacked in front of us — but it beat the heck out of meeting up with Erick here.

Mark naps in the cabin

Mark catches a snooze while I make a meal. Note the rubber mat that keeps everything from sliding off the countertop!

As we were leaving, we saw another sailboat on the distant horizon. This was the first boat we had seen since leaving Cabo, and it was headed south! What the heck?

We hailed it on the radio. It was a 30 foot sailboat with a 13 hp outboard engine, and the couple on board had been beating their heads against a brick wall for two days trying to get to Turtle Bay.

They had made it only halfway across. The steep seas and high winds had finally defeated them and they were returning to protection at Magdalena bay around the corner from Bahia Santa Maria. “It was horrible out there,” the man said.

 

Young seagull flying

A young seagull flies alongside Groovy.

On this portion of the coast, the land pulls back from the sea. Cutting straight across the huge bay gets it over quicker, but you end up 50 miles from shore at one point.

We aimed straight for Turtle Bay and gritted our teeth, watching the winds and seas build all day long. Just as predicted, the walls of water were waiting for us. And just like all the other nights, at sunset the wind and waves picked up even more and remained elevated until 4:00 in the morning. Our ride eased until 2:00 pm the second afternoon, but then the gods of the sea put us back on the bucking bronco and left us there for another fourteen hours.

In the worst of it on the second day, we could travel at only 2.5 to 3 knots, or we would get launched off the top of each wave only to fall onto the next one with a resounding crash. By inching along, we were able to stop the violent slamming, but traveling at the pace of a window shopper was painfully slow.  Here is a little video clip of what it was like in the late afternoon.

Sunset at sea off Baja California

A beautiful sunset at sea between Bahia Santa Maria and Turtle Bay.

As darkness fell the second night, our fuel gauge was getting perilously close to empty. Whether or not the fuel was bad, we might not have enough anyway! I was way too wound up from all this to sleep, so I took a long night watch while Mark rested.

When I finally bedded down around 3:00 a.m., I had been asleep for just an hour when I felt his hand shaking my shoulder, “Sweety, I need you to look at something.” I sat up. “It looks like there’s land on our port side… It may be boats, but it looks like a row of houses…” I flew into the cockpit. Land? There should be nothing but open ocean on our port side!

 

23 Approaching Turtle Bay - Lights 281

I didn’t have my camera when Mark brought me on deck, but this sprinkling of shrimpers gives an idea…

Sure enough there was a scary looking string of lights off the port bow. I checked the chartplotter. We were on course, but there was a row of dots to our left. After studying the dots, we agreed it had to be a fleet of shrimpers. For all the world, though, through the binoculars it looked like a neighborhood of twinkling house lights.

You can never be too cautious in the strange world of the sea at night, and we were both glad to check out these lights together. I crawled back under the covers and fell into a restless slumber only to be woken again an hour later. “Sweety, I hate to get you up again…” I groaned and then heard him say, “The fuel gauge is now on E…”

Oh no. I tried to shut out the images that suddenly filled my mind of trying to get a tow in this forlorn, misty, cold, damp, remote place. What a horrible scenario. Maybe we should have spent that $50 to buy a spare 5 gallon plastic jug in Puerto Vallarta…

“We’re only 15 miles from Turtle Bay,” Mark went on, “I think there’s enough wind, and it’s at a good angle to sail.”

Really??!! I stepped into the cockpit and felt a light breeze coming over the beam. What luck! This was the first time we’d had a favorable wind since leaving Puerto Vallarta six days ago. What perfect timing. We put up the sails, and as we did, the breeze picked up even more. For the next two hours we sailed at 7 to 8 knots until we arrived in the heart of Turtle Bay. It was drizzling, but we didn’t care. We had just enough fumes in the tank to turn on the engine and putter the last few hundred yards to drop the hook.

Shrimper at Turtle Bay

A shrimper anchored in Turtle Bay.

Oh my. Another leg completed, Bahia Santa Maria to Turtle Bay. 236 miles in 43.5 hours. We’d had a few scares and some discomfort, but everything was ticking along like clockwork.  With any luck, the weather gods would let us stay in Turtle Bay for two nights to recover a bit and regain our sanity.

But what was Erick up to? In no time we had our answer: it was blasting Bahia Santa Maria, the bay we had just left. We wondered how the 30′ sailboat we had talked to on the radio was faring.

For us, rest was still a few chores away. Turtle Bay is not particularly yacht friendly, and the method for obtaining fuel there is always changing. On our trip south three years prior, a fuel boat had come out to Groovy and pumped fuel directly into our tanks.

Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay.

After trying to hail the old fuel provider Enrique a few times on the radio, one of the handful of sailboats that was anchored in Turtle Bay hailed us to explain that the method now was to take your boat to the fuel dock.

What a crazy setup this turned out to be! This ultra rickety “dock” was seemingly made of castoff wooden pallets that were strung together and stuffed with styrofoam. The surge was massive, and Groovy’s weight kept yanking the dock this way and that.

Keeping busy on passage during the Baja Bash

Playing on the computer and keeping busy on the Baja Bash.

After filling Groovy’s fuel tank, Mark lined up our fuel jugs on this makeshift dock to fill them too. A man handed him the fuel pump and went up the ramp to flip the switch.

Mark had just gotten one jug filled when the whole dock tipped, nearly throwing us both into the drink. He caught his balance just in time to save the four jerry jugs from sliding off into the water too. Good lord, what an absurd place.

Back on the boat, we studied the weather charts once again. Our last 290 mile (45 hour) leg to Ensenada would begin with a major hurdle: rounding Cedros Island. The north end of Cedros Island and Cabo Falso down south are the two places on Baja that give sailors the most trouble.

Cedros Island Map

The northeast end of Cedros Island can
be very treacherous. Giving it a wide berth
sometimes helps!

The north end of Cedros is 40 miles from Turtle Bay, and it is best to pass it well before the afternoon winds kick up. Our guide book recommended going outside the island, rather than taking the more popular route inside. Doing this avoids the worst of the nasty winds and waves that Cedros likes to whip sailors with at its northeast corner.

The forecast looked perfect for leaving twelve hours from now, that is, Tuesday night at midnight. The whole week after that looked truly miserable with big winds and big seas! So much for staying here and resting up for a few days!! When the weather gods offer to let you pass Cedros Island toll-free, you go for it!!

The boats anchored around us all filed out within the next hour, but we waited another twelve hours until midnight, and when we pulled out in the pitch black after a few hours of sleep, it seemed the predictions were right on target.

A brisk wind came directly over our starboard beam, and we flew along, motorsailing at 8 knots, listening to seals barking on the invisible pitch black shore nearby. The faster we got past the top of Cedros 40 miles away, the better.

Sunset at sea

Our last night at sea we are given a brief but beautiful sunset.

 

As the sky lightened and we rounded the south end of Cedros, the winds died down. A few hours later, we passed the feared north end of Cedros Island without a hitch.

Unbelievably, the weather gods continued to give us their blessing, and for the next twenty-four hours the wind was virtually non-existent and the ocean swell was slow and languid. The motion of the boat was like being in a big old rocking chair.

 

 

Final calm for the Baja Bash

We sail on an undulating sea that mirrors the grey skies.

As a parting gift, our final sunset at sea on this voyage was a stunner. After a peaceful night of long, easy, good-sleeping watches, the next morning we found ourselves living in a world of misty gray.

The water was like an undulating glass mirror, and the horizon was obscured where the water melted into the hazy sky.

A few storms formed ahead of us, and they appeared on the radar as massive, ever-changing pink blobs. We sailed into them and found ourselves being spritzed with rain.

 

 

Chartplotter image on Baja Bash shows storms at sea

Rain squalls show up as big, constantly shifting pink blobs.

Checking the water temp gauge, it said the water was now 65 degrees. Ouch!

As we made our final turn into Ensenada Bay, a huge whale surfaced just meters from the boat.

Wow!! Minutes later, he surfaced a second time and then dove deep, showing us his tail before disappearing into the depths.

It was now Thursday afternoon, July 11th, and when we tied up at Cruiseport Village Marina, we were astonished to find that this last 291 mile passage from Turtle Bay had been our fastest ever at an average of 7 knots.

 

Calm conditions for the Baja Bash

We aren’t bashing now!

We had made the 1,000 mile journey from Puerto Vallarta to Ensenada in just 8 days and 7 hours, stopping for a total of just over 41 hours and averaging our usual passage-making speed under power of 6.4 knots.

Never mind those statistics, though, what we really wanted was a happy walk on dry land, our first steps on terra firma (besides two fuel docks) in over a week.

Walking around the docks arm in arm, we were elated.  We had actually done the Baja Bash! What a total thrill!

 

 

Sunset in Cruiseport Village Marina

Mission accomplished! The sun sets off Groovy’s bow in Ensenada.

We had chased Hurricane Dalila across the Sea of Cortez and been chased by Hurricane Erick up Baja’s Pacific coast. Yowza!

We had dreaded and feared the Baja Bash for over a year. We had heard so many terrible tales about this frightening voyage, and now it was finally behind us. Phew!!!!

We were dizzy with excitement and with lack of sleep.

As the sun set in beautiful shades off our bow, we hugged each other. We felt a million emotions coursing through our souls, from total exhilaration to incredible relief. But more than anything else, we felt utterly triumphant. What a voyage!!

 

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Our beloved Groovy is For Sale

Baja Bash (1) – Sailing on the Coattails of a Hurricane!

SailFlow Hurricane Cosme

Hurricane Cosme — YIKES!!! — Time to get back to the boat!

Early July, 2013 – Our wonderful week off the boat in the pretty beachside bungalows at Casa Maguey in La Manzanilla finally drew to a close.

Our gracious hosts invited us to stay longer, but we needed to begin getting ourselves and our boat Groovy ready for the long 1,100 mile voyage from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego.

Hurricane season had officially started, and the hurricanes had begun their steady march up Mexico’s southern coast.

A doozy storm was on its way towards Puerto Vallarta, and the skies were already darkening when we took the bus from La Manzanilla back to Puerto Vallarta. As our bus wound along the edge of Banderas Bay, the cliffs were filled with dramatic waterfalls from the recent rains.

 

Paradise Village Lush Vegetation

Lush vegetation at Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta.

This was Hurricane “Cosme” and it looked truly frightening on the weather prediction charts. Fortunately, Paradise Village Marina is tucked into an estuary, and we weren’t threatened.

Eventually, Cosme passed on, and the skies cleared to give us some spectacular days. The iguanas had been busy laying eggs, and suddenly a huge crop of vibrant green baby iguanas showed up everywhere.

The heat was intense, and the best way to beat the heat was to get in the water. We played in the waves, relishing our last days in the tropics.

Baby iguana

Baby iguanas sprouted everywhere!

Splashing around, it was impossible to imagine that once we started up the outside of Baja California, we would have to start wearing long sleeves, long pants and jackets.

Playing in the waves

Goofing off in the waves on the beach,
we were loving our last days in the tropics.

Mark in the waves

Watch out behind you!

The voyage from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego is known as the “Baja Bash,” and it is a passage most sailors dread. The wind howls out of the north non-stop, and the waves build to a frenzy, leaving the struggling sailor pounding relentlessly into fierce headwinds and steep seas for 800 miles. Traveling at four to seven mph, the suffering goes on for days!

We both read and re-read the bible on the subject, The The Baja Bash II, written by a captain who has made the trip dozens of times in all kinds of boats. It is a fabulous book that explains exactly how to tackle the trip.

Like many sailors, after reading it the first time three years ago, I vowed never to do The Bash! The vivid descriptions of misery and woe that sailors experience are enough to make any sensible person ditch the boat and fly home instead.

Buying warm clothes at Walmart

We found sweat pants and other warm clothes at Walmart.

Besides ferocious winds and nasty seas, the real kicker is that as soon as you begin the Baja Bash in Cabo, you leave the tropics in your wake.

Rather than easing through a transition from warmth to coolness as you sail north, you begin to shiver in the face of a cold, mean wind as soon as you turn the corner at the bottom of Baja.

Looking around Groovy, we realized that we had off-loaded almost every scrap of warm clothing we owned. So we dashed to Walmart to get some sweats and other goodies. What luck that they had some!

The Baja Bash II also advises doing The Bash in either July or November. Unfortunately, most people make the trip between March and June, because it gets them out of Mexico’s blistering summer heat and back to California in time for the summer sailing season.

Hurricanes on Mexico's Pacific coast

The hurricanes rolled off the coast like bowling balls

However, that is the very worst time to go. The horror stories we’d heard from friends doing these springtime voyages were truly hair-raising!

In July, on the other hand, the outside of Baja actually calms down once in a while, because the south winds blowing up from the frequent tropical storms temporarily negate the prevailing north winds.

Sailing with hurricanes brewing nearby doesn’t sound like a great idea, but in July the tropical storms tend not to make landfall on the Baja peninsula as they do later in the season. Instead, most move west, passing well south of Baja and dissipating out at sea.

We watched in amazement as the hurricanes rolled up the coast like bowling balls and then tumbled out to sea, all with precision regularity. For a few days after each storm, periods of tranquility swept up the Baja. It was like watching a train go by and the dust settle afterwards. Our trick was to find an opening, jump aboard, and ride the train.

What the forecast map looked like for our noontime sail out of Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta).  Ride that train!!

What the weather map looked like for our departure from
Banderas Bay (Puerto Vallarta). Ride that train!!

The hurricane we chose to ride was Dalila, and we wanted to time our departure for about 48 hours after it left our coast.

By then the seas would be back to their normal easy roll, and the winds would be quiet. All we would need to do is stay ahead of the next hurricane coming up behind Dalila.

Sounds easy. But hurricanes aren’t all that predictable! What’s worse, Cabo is an awkward place to hang around.

At $175 USD/night for a slip, most folks anchor in the bay that is wide open to the south instead — fine in November’s north wind but dicey when it sometimes turns south in July.

So our hope was to find an opening in the weather long enough to travel 290 miles across the Sea of Cortez to Cabo and then go another 180 miles up the Baja coast to Bahia Santa Maria, stopping in Cabo just long enough to get fuel. To do that we needed a 72 hour window. Good luck!! Weather windows were more like 24-36 hours, if they existed at all.

I had a nail-biting few days while I looked at Passage Weather and Sail Flow morning, noon and night. Each site offers about 30 weather charts covering a week’s worth of forecasts that are updated every three hours. That is a TON of constantly changing data!!

To make things really tricky, the two sites didn’t always agree on their predictions!

Adding to the confusion, Sail Flow’s charts are given in local time, but Passage Weather uses Greenwich Mean Time, which was six hours ahead of our local time. So on their charts, 00 hours Tuesday was really 18 hours (6pm) Monday. Good grief!

Paradise Village Marina Sunset

Paradise Village Marina treated us to some gorgeous sunsets.

While I got bleary eyed staring at the computer, my palms sweating and brain frying, Mark got the engine ready.

Due to the constant headwinds, this voyage is almost always done exclusively under power, and the engine needed to be in tip top shape.

Oil changes, filter changes, etc., were on his “to do” list, and he meticulously worked his way down his list.

Because the fuel in the tanks gets a really good sloshing underway on this trip, as the boat bashes through the waves, whatever debris may be lurking in the corners of the tanks gets mixed into the fuel.

Many boats end up replacing their fuel filters several times before they get to California. We know of one that went through 10 fuel filters before the engine died one final time outside Ensenada where they got a tow.

Changing fuel filters on a Yanmar engine

Mark changes the engine’s fuel filter.

We had only two spare fuel filters and wanted a third. But there were none to be found anywhere in Puerto Vallarta. The big “chandlery” Zaragoza had fuel filters for huge sport fishing boat engines, but none for smaller cruising boats.

The little boating goods store at our marina had some filters, but not our model. The chandlery in La Cruz was an expensive cab ride or long bus ride away, with no guarantee they had one either. Egads! We hoped two would do.

We also wanted more plastic jerry jugs for fuel. We carry 86 gallons: 66 gallons in the tank and another 20 in plastic jerry jugs. Under normal conditions, this is enough to travel about 600 miles. On this trip, our longest run without an easy fuel stop would be 400 miles between Cabo and Turtle Bay. However, it would not be under normal conditions!

We expected to travel much more slowly and to consume much more fuel as we fought the wind and waves. However, when we saw the $50 USD price tag for each 5 gallon plastic jerry jug, our jaws dropped. I gave Mark a shaky grimace, “We should to be able to go 400 miles with what we have, shouldn’t we????” He made a face. “Sure…” he drawled.

Emily on s/v Groovy

Life in Paradise!

These are the crazy decisions boaters face with difficult passages. In an ideal world we would tow a barge carrying all the spares and tools we could ever possibly need. We might even tow an identical boat as a “hanger queen” we could rob for parts. But this was reality.

As the tension about these technical aspects of our departure built, I wrote a blog post explaining our decision to end our cruise so we could pursue other tropical travel lifestyles.

To my utter astonishment, the post took off like wildfire, and we received the most unexpected outpouring of support and affection from our readers.

This rocked our little world. Sharing our pics and stories has become a passion for us, but suddenly feeling so much heartfelt warmth from our friends and followers made our decision to take a new path for our travel adventures that much more poignant.

Puerto Vallarta yachts in dark clouds

Every afternoon, Puerto Vallarta erupted in a blast of thunder and lightning.

Heightening our emotional roller coaster ride, every afternoon the skies became black, the lightning show started and the torrential summer rains fell.

Surrounded by rolling thunder, flashing lightning and pouring rain that pummeled our little boat in its slip, the Baja Bash loomed huge and intimidating before us. During those dockside storms the upcoming voyage felt truly life threatening.

As I examined the hurricane-filled weather charts and wrote about why we were leaving this lifestyle, Mark massaged the engine and lubed everything in sight, and we told each other with bug eyes and pounding hearts, “It’s going to be a great trip.”

Emily at the helm of Groovy

Our morning for departure finally came, and we snuck out of the marina before we were fully awake. The knot in the pit of my stomach only grew larger as we said goodbye to our dock mates and rounded the bend towards the open ocean.

By the time we reached the channel to the bay, I was beginning to choke up. Standing at the helm in a bathing suit, I suddenly realized just how much I loved this boat and this life, difficult as it was at times. Tears slid down my face.

Cruising is a beautiful way to live and travel, and it is worth every effort to pursue. But it is not easy.

This bittersweet moment as we were leaving Paradise Village Marina channel said it all: surrounded by tropical beauty, the warm, soft air brushing my tears dry, and the rolling blue waves soothing my soul, my stomach churned in sheer terror at the prospect of our upcoming voyage.

Three years earlier in Cabo, Katrina and husband Rob dived off their boat.

Three years earlier in Cabo, Katrina and her husband Rob
(the splash!) dived off their boat to celebrate their arrival.

This was it. We were leaving Mexico. We were leaving the sultry tropics and would soon be leaving our boat. Mark gave me a long, loving hug, and I realized that I was actually okay with it all, gut-wrenching as it was.

Before we could really get going, though, we needed to stop for fuel at La Cruz, 8 miles away. When we pulled in, we were greeted at the fuel dock by Katrina Liana, a phenomenal professional captain and friend to all cruisers. Three years earlier, her boat had been anchored next to ours for several weeks in San Diego Bay as we both prepared to sail south.

Katrina Liana Cabo

Katrina grins after arriving in Cabo 3 years ago.

We had sailed down the Baja coast at the same time that fall. The last time we had seen her, she and her husband Rob were diving off the bow of their boat in Cabo, happy to have completed the voyage.

As we caught up on three years of news with her now, she told us she had sailed up and down the outside of Baja at least 20 times over the years. She reassured us that we were making the trek at the very best time of year and that all would be okay.

Dolphins swim to Groovy

Dolphins swim over to say “hello”

Her cheery smile, warm spirit and calm confidence made us feel much better, and our fears began to subside.

We left La Cruz under blazing, hot sunny skies, and our hearts suddenly felt free and full of anticipation. We were going to have a beautiful sail to Cabo, and we settled in to enjoy it.

As if to confirm our good feelings, a pair of dolphins suddenly bounded over the waves towards the boat.

Mysterious clouds leaving Puerto Vallarta

A mysterious orange cloud floats overhead.

As the mainland slipped away in our wake, puffy clouds formed in the sky. Oddly, we suddenly noticed that one cloud was orange.

It was early afternoon, many hours before sunset. How could one cloud be orange? We decided it had to be a good omen.

Then the clouds got darker and darker, and the water began to take on fascinating patterns of ripples and mirrors, as if slicks of oil were spreading out in ribbons across a gravel surface.

 

Dark clouds over Groovy

Dark clouds loom over Groovy.

The clouds turned black above us. Growing heavy and thick, they spritzed us for a while and then moved off behind us.

Mysterious water leaving Puerto Vallarta

The water separates into wonderful inky patterns.

A lightning show started off our transom. It was far in the distance over the land behind us, and we knew it was the gods’ nightly high voltage power display we had been witnessing back in Puerto Vallarta.

Storm clouds overhead

The clouds turn black above us.

Groovy at Sunset

The sun sets around us.

In no time the sun began to set, and we got ourselves ready to swap watches overnight.

The wind stayed below 10 knots apparent, on the nose, and we continued to motor peacefully all night under the Milky Way.

Sunset first night

Sunset on our first night at sea.

In the morning — the 4th of July — the mist was thick and it obscured the sunrise, but as the day progressed the sun came out and the water became bluer than blue.

The sea was silky smooth all around us, undulating in a continuous, voluptuous motion. We were on our own magic carpet that stretched in a perfect circle all around us, clear to the horizon.

 

Calm sea from cockpit

In the morning all is still calm.

Blue blue water

The water all around is vivid blue.

Calm Sea of Cortez & Mark

Could this preliminary part of the Baja Bash be any more tranquil???

The ocean had been 89 degrees F when we left Puerto Vallarta, and when we looked now it had slipped to 85.

A big pod of dolphins approached us. They were headed somewhere in a bobbing, lumpy group.

They stopped for a few minutes by Groovy to leap out of the water and check out our deck layout and our choice of gear in the cockpit.

A group of them swam to the bow and played just in front of us. They zig-zagged back and forth for a while, seeming to love zooming along while the bow of a big sailboat plunged up and down in the waves just behind them. Then they were off.

Dolphin Leaping

Dolphins leap around Groovy.

Dolphin Nose In

It is so heartwarming when dolphins come to visit the boat
in the middle of the ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking photos of dolphins off the bow

I loved photographing these guys
at our bow.

The hours began to run into each other as we made our way across this widest part of the Sea of Cortez, and eventually we found ourselves 150 miles from shore.

Dolphins play off Groovy's bow

They played just in front of our bow, never touching each other
or getting hit by the huge boat behind them.

The conditions were so totally calm, it was impossible to imagine that a hurricane was raging a few hundred miles south of us. We traded napping for reading and playing on the computer, and we took turns keeping watch and sleeping.

Sitting on the Groovy Boat

The Baja Bash was off to a great start – knock on wood!

The thread connecting all our activities was simply, “Are we there yet?” With every passing hour we were another 6.5 nautical miles closer to our goal. It was a great vast nothingness out there and there was absolutely nothing going on in it.

Calm sea off the bow

Ahhh… the calm before the storm.

As the sun began to fall from the sky our second night, the wind picked up. Within an hour we went from a sleepy 8 knots of apparent headwind to 22 knots and spray. The seas kicked up and they frothed and foamed around us.

The sun set, but we were suddenly too busy trying to keep our balance to mess with taking photos. The boat flew off a few waves and landed with a resounding crash, shaking everything on board to its core.

Chartplotter Puerto Vallarta to Cabo San Lucas Mexico

Are we there yet?

Yikes! This wind had been predicted for the last 6-9 hours of this leg of our trip, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept its arrival. We battened everything down and got ready for a long night.

A few more flying leaps off the crests of waves persuaded us to slow the boat speed to 4-5 knots. Climbing up and over each wave, alternately pointing at the sky and then at Davy Jones’ Locker was far preferable to those brutal crash landings!

We each tried our best to sleep while off watch, but it’s hard to fall asleep when your body is being thrown around like a volleyball and the boat is creaking and complaining loudly about the circumstances.

Finally, around 5:00 a.m. Puerto Vallarta time, the boat stopped mimicking a bucking bronco. Two hours later, we dropped the hook in the pitch dark in Cabo San Lucas, feeling our way around the anchorage by memory and radar. Whew! Leg One of our trip was done. 291 miles in 44 hours, from Wednesday July 3rd to Friday July 5th, averaging 6.6 knots. Just 800 miles to go. Woo hoo!!!

Expected arrival in Cabo

The forecast for our arrival that we had gotten 2 days earlier.

Actual Arrival in Cabo

The way things stood when we actually arrived 48 hours later.

After two days of no weather forecasts, we quickly got online for a sleepy one-eyed look at what was going on. Things had changed! Hurricane Dalila had died down more than expected to the southwest, but another hurricane was forming behind her. It looked like we could ride this next hurricane up the coast of Baja if we waited around until Monday. We would have a nice strong southerly wind to push us north!

Hurricane Erick off Cabo San Lucas Mexico

How cool! We’ll wait 3 days and catch a southerly from this next hurricane!!
(but wait, isn’t that playing with fire??)

Fabulous!! How easy is this Baja Bash stuff?! We could catch a few winks, go to the fuel dock when it opened in the morning, and then enjoy three days of rest anchored in Cabo San Lucas. We’d be protected from the predicted north winds while we waited to hitch a ride on the next hurricane’s south wind. Very nice. Easy peasy.

I announced these plans to Mark and he raised an eyebrow. “Really?” He said, looking more astonished than seemed reasonable. “You want to stay here?”

“Absolutely!” I said yawning and closing my laptop with certainty. “We’ll relax here and then catch that next hurricane.”

He said nothing. But something about his doubtful expression lurked uneasily around the edges of my mind as I fell asleep…   Continued…

<- Previous                                                                                                                                                                                       Next->
 

Cabo San Lucas – Way More Fun Than We Expected!

First light.

Civilization greets us at dawn.

Homes and resorts on the approach to

Cabo San Lucas.

Mansions balance precariously on the cliffs.

Playa Grande looks inviting.

Playa Grande.

The famous arch at Cabo.

A steady stream of sport fishing boats was leaving the

harbor at dawn.

Tourists blanket the charter boats in happy sunburned pink.

Three cruise ships arrived along with us.

The resorts have palm trees!

A US Coast Guard Cutter shares close ties with the

Mexican Navy.

Water taxis cut across at full speed.

Even at an early hour the resorts are ready for action.

Dozens of resorts line the bay.

Beach umbrellas and water toys are lined up for guests.

The marina is the hub for an upscale mall.

Marina Cabo San Lucas.

We caught the tail end of a parade celebrating

Mexican Independence.

Mark noticed lots of Beatle memorabilia on the walls

behind an open door.

Gordo Lele, the fifth Beatle.

Belting out "Til There Was You" and "Let It Be,"

Gordo kept us happily entertained.

Two prospective hitchhikers changed their minds

when we showed up.

A friend makes a splash in Cabo.

Crazy jet skiers circled the anchored boats all day.

There are charter boats of all kinds, and the beer

flows readily.

A marlin gets carved up before an array of

onlookers.

A pelican waits for dinner on

Groovy's bow.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Late November, 2010 - Just as dawn began to break at the end of our

last overnight voyage, our long trip down the remote Baja California

Coast came to an end.  The first signs of civilization greeted us on the

cliffs as we approached Cabo San Lucas.

Before the sun crested the horizon, we noticed the smells of

land.  We had read about people smelling land as they

approached it after days at sea, but we hadn't thought this

would happen on a coastal trip like ours.  However, the smells

of restaurants, dirt, cars and civilization tickled our noses for

an hour as we sailed towards the lights of Cabo in the dark.

Then the sun made its appearance, casting an orange light across

a small lighthouse.  A few minutes later, clusters of homes and

resorts began to blanket the hillsides.

Closer to town, these groups of multi-family buildings became

individual, unique mansions, elegant estates that clung to the rock

pinnacles.  The homes were perched in every crevice that could

support a building.

We glided alongside these craggy ridges, basking in the glow of the

rising sun and in the glow of personal accomplishment, having sailed

some 800 miles from San Diego to Cabo.  We hadn't rushed.  It took

us 17 days all together, and our wanderings between anchorages

increased our total distance traveled over those who sail the route

directly.  But we had done it: night sailing, big seas, fog, radio chit-

chat, meeting friends, and wildlife sightings.

We had been to Cabo years ago and hadn't like it, finding it

too touristy and too expensive, and we had stupidly lost a

precious day of vacation to sitting in the hot seat at the Playa

Grande timeshare resort.  The salesmen there had been a lot

more aggressive than the congenial ones back in our home of

Arizona during the hey-day of the sport of timeshare

promotions, and we left Cabo vowing never to return.

As everything does, however, Playa Grande looked

very charming from the sea.  Suddenly we knew that

Cabo would be a great experience for us this time, and

we couldn't wait to get settled.

Rounding the bend into Cabo's picturesque bay, we passed the

famous rock pinnacles and arch.  Fishing boats were streaming out

of the bay in droves and every charter boat in the harbor seemed

to be taking the day's first clients out for a tour.

The decks of sailing catamarans on snorkeling tours were

dripping with pink and white bodies in skimpy bathing

suits.  We caught the the flash of happy grins as people

posed for each other in vacation snapshots and soon

found ourselves grinning and taking their photos as well.

Not only were the smaller boats buzzing around us, but three

enormous cruise ships were in the bay as well.  One was

anchored, rapidly unloading tenders ladened with passengers

into the water.  Another was in the process of anchoring, and a

third was waiting in line for its turn.  These behemoths took up

one whole portion of the bay, and we felt utterly dwarfed by

their towering presence as we snuck past.

We could hear

music blasting

from the dozens

of huge resorts

that line the beach, and each charter boat that zoomed past was thumping to its

own exhilarating beat as well.  What an overload for the senses after more than

two weeks of sea, salt air, occasional animals and remote anchorages.

We decided to get fuel right away, so we ventured into

the inner harbor first thing.  What a crazy zoo-scene it

was in there.  There were gazillions of boats with crew

and passengers crawling all over them, some still tied

to the dock and others pulling out.

A US Coast Guard Cutter was tied to the Mexican Navy pier, and water

taxis flew past us in every direction, throwing their wake around with

great enthusiasm.  "Welcome to Cabo!" a crewman yelled from a large

charter catamaran as we went by.

We got our

business done

quickly and

rushed out of the

inner harbor as

fast as we could,

seeking refuge in

the large

anchorage that lines the beach.  The water was a gorgeous shade of

rich aquamarine, and in 20' of water we could clearly see the ridges of

the sand on the bottom.

I positioned

the boat for anchoring and Mark let the anchor fall.  "You know," he

said coming back to the cockpit with a big frown.  "We're in this huge

sandy bay and you picked the one spot where it's all grass and

weed."  He pointed to a large dark patch alongside the boat.

Anchors don't hold well in grass and weed, a big concern in this

busy anchorage.  I looked back at the angle of the sun on our boat,

gave him a quirky smile and suggested he dive in and have a closer

look at the grass.  He did and came up spluttering and laughing

sheepishly.  The dark patch was actually the boat's shadow on the

sand.  "You salty dog," he laughed.  "You knew that."

The day was just getting going, but every resort had

a party in full swing.  The umbrellas and beach chairs

were out, jet skis were wiped down and lined up

ready to go, and the beach bars were serving

mimosas and bloody marys.  We assembled the

Porta-Bote as fast as we could (we're still learning

how to do this efficiently!) and putt-putted over to the

dinghy dock at Marina Cabo San Lucas.

The marina is nestled in the cradling arms of a hundred boutique

restaurants and shops, making for an upscale mall whose center

is made up of docks and flashy boats.  Trendy, rich, and catering

to vacationers' every whim, this area is Las Vegas by the Sea.  We

quickly hustled past Hooters and the Häagen Dazs ice cream shop

to get out into the main street.

We were immediately grateful for having lived in Ensenada,

Mexico for six months, as the dusty streets, bustling traffic, friendly

waves, mom and pop shops, and mixed bag of run-down and well-

built buildings were both familiar and comfortable.  There were a

lot more Gringos here than in Ensenada, but we could read the

Spanish signs and felt very much at home.

Suddenly we noticed a huge group of horses across the

street, lined up along the edge of the road as the motorists

zoomed past.  We asked a fellow who was also staring at

them what was going on, and he said it was the tail end of

a parade celebrating 100 years of Mexican Independence.

The official date was September 16th, but being the

centennial year, the celebrations started early in the

summer and will continue well into winter.

We were on a mission to

find the Port Captain's

office, as Cabo is an

official port of entry

where mariners must

check their boats in upon

arrival and check them

out again upon

departure.  We had

already done check-in

related paperwork in

Ensenada to bring the boat into the country of Mexico, but there are additional

laws requiring boaters to check in and out of certain ports within the country

during their travels.

We found the office, but it

was closed.  However, our

walk down the smaller back

streets to find this office took us past an open doorway where Mark saw

walls lined with Beatles memorabilia.  Being a Beatles fan of the first

degree, we had to stop.

A little fat man came out to

greet us.  Mark had barely

asked about all the Beatles

photos and posters when the

man grabbed a microphone,

hit a button on a boombox,

and burst into song.  In an

instant Mark joined him,

happily crooning Til There Was You.  This guy was hilarious.  At appropriate

moments during the song he grabbed a toy guitar for a long air guitar solo, and then

a toy piano to bang out the some chords.

Once the song was over, the two of them shared true Beatle Love.  Mark told him

how one of the great tragedies of his life was not being allowed to see the Beatles

when they came to Detroit because his mother felt he was too young.  The little

man, who introduced himself as Gordo, had a faraway smile on his face as he

reminisced about the magic of seeing the Beatles at Shea Stadium.  "You couldn't

really see them, and the fans were too loud to hear them, but it was fantastic."  He

had been in New York for two weeks back then.

Other Gringos arrived and we got chatting with them as Gordo

disappeared into the kitchen.  It turned out that this guy is a well

known attraction in Cabo.  "Gordo Lele" is his full name, and Gringos

come from far and wide to find his taco shop and listen to his songs.

His beef tacos are awesome, and just a little over a buck apiece.  One

filled me up.  The shop is not easy to find, and several Gringos

enjoying lunch and tunes along with us mentioned that they had

walked all over the area before they located his shop the first time.

Totally elated, we returned to dinghy to find two pelicans

standing watch on the rail.  We tried to coax them to hitch a ride

with us out to Groovy, but they flew off as soon as we got in.

Friends that we had met in San Diego and had heard on the radio

periodically during our travels south had pulled into the anchorage

while we were in town.  I got a photo of the captain diving off his yacht

but the slow shutter speed on my camera missed the dive and caught

only the splash.  It was like old home week as boats we had traveled

with arrived, shared quick stories of their travels, and left.

The anchorage was very rolly and crazy.  Jet skis with half-

drunken speed demons raced all around us, and water taxis

zipped by at full speed without any regard to the huge wake

they threw.  Groovy pitched and rolled.  But it was such a

beautiful place and so much fun ashore that we stayed

anyway.  At night the resort across from us set off a stunning

fireworks display.  I jumped into the cockpit to enjoy the show

while Mark popped his head out of the forward hatch.  Just at

that moment a large cinder floated through the hatch and

onto the mattress in the v-berth, fortunately turning into a harmless

flake of ash by the time it landed.  "Hey, watch it!"  We shouted at the

shore.  But the show was over in moments and no one heard our

protests anyways.  The next morning the boat was covered in ash.

We moved to a spot in front of a different non-fireworks generating

resort, and ended up moving yet again during our stay.  But life on

shore was so much fun it was worth a little discomfort on the water.

We accidentally came across our friend Bob from the charter sailboat

L'Attitude 32 in the marina.  After we met him at the Police Dock in San

Diego, he had sailed south with the Baja Ha-Ha fleet.  He instantly

tossed cold beers our way when he saw us in our dinghy.  On another

day we dinghied up to a pirate looking ship in the anchorage and they too tossed cold beers down to us.  That's the nature of

this town:  friendly, happy, and warm.  The only requirements are that you must drink beer and you must spend money with

total abandon.  We enjoyed some of the former but avoided much the latter.  When Mark casually asked at Marina Cabo San

Lucas what it would cost to park our boat there overnight, the lady said, "171."  Mark shrugged, thinking she meant 171 pesos,

about $15.  But she meant 171 US dollars.  For one night.  In our own boat.  With our own linens, and our own mattress and

our own bathroom.  And no maid service.

We wandered around the other side of the marina, still in search of the Port

Captain.  An agent had left a note on our boat saying we owed 130 pesos per

night for staying in the anchorage.  But they didn't say how to pay.  Wanting to

stick to the right side of the law, we were told to hunt down the API Port

Captain, a different person than the regular Port Captain.  But his office was

closed too.  No matter, our search had taken us to a part of town we hadn't

seen yet, filled with more tourist shops and more friendly shopkeepers.  Down

on the docks a man was carving up a huge marlin.  We watched him slice

mammoth steaks from the middle, and then his buddy sawed the beak off with

a handsaw.  They sliced six finger-holes in the skin, and the two men grabbed

the skin through the holes and peeled it back with an enormous tug.  Ugh!  But

I'm sure it tasted delicious.

Sport fishing isn't just for vacationers.  A

pelican took up residence on our bow for a

while, scanning the crystal clear water for

dinner.

A lot of cruisers skip Cabo or stay as short a time as possible.  But we thoroughly enjoyed

ourselves.  We could feel the chill of winter descending, however.  High winds were predicted

for the end of the week, and we knew those winds would bring the end of summer fun to

Cabo.  So we braced ourselves for a 330 mile double overnight passage to Chamela Bay,

the northernmost bay on Mexico's Costa Alegre on the mainland.

Find Cabo on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Baja – Exploring Mag Bay

sv Groovy - Twizzle Rig (

Our Twizzle Rig takes us

downwind.

Approaching Magdalena Bay

An elegant power yacht preceeds us into Magdalena Bay.

Pangas in Magdalena Bay

Pangas filled the bay.

Panga at Magdalena Bay Fish Camp at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

It is simple living at the fish camp.

Fish Camp at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Just steps from the water, life is lived close to nature.

Pelican roost at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Pelicans roost on wooden pilons from

a bygone age.

Pelican roost at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay Whaling ruins at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

Concrete pilons from an ancient jetty.

Kayak at Punta Belcher, Magdalena Bay

This could almost be Roosevelt

Lake outside Phoenix.

Gulls line the shore at Belcher Point.

Gulls line the shore at Belcher Point.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

We found shells of all shapes and sizes on the beach.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California Views from Belcher Point, Bahia Magdalena.

Friends come to join us ashore.

Views from Belcher Point, Bahia Magdalena.

A peaceful view out into Magdalena Bay.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Lots of round vertebral disks were

scattered among the shells.

All kinds of sea shells at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Someone's head.

Dolphin? Pelican?

Shrimp at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Shrimp-like creatures lay in thick

waves along the beach.

A crab at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Closed up on the defensive, a rock.

A crab at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Opened in offense, watch out!

Pangas raft up for lunch at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Several pangas rafted up along the beach for a lunch break.

A loved one's shrine or memorial at Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

A loved one's memorial overlooked the

beach and bay.

Views from Punta Belcher, Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Virgin sand stretched before us further down the beach

at Belcher Point.

Fog encloses the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

A thick bank of fog surrounded us as we crept out of the bay.

Fog encloses the entrance to Bahia Magdalena, Baja California

Fog along the Pacific shoreline of the bay

resembled glaciers in the distance.

The last lighthouse of Magdalena Bay. Next: 150 miles of open

water as the shoreline slipped away to the east.

A frigatebird

Frigatebird.

Two frigatebirds took turns trying to land on our swaying mast.

Two frigatebirds took turns trying to land on

our swaying mast.

A cruise ship heading north passes us at sunset.

Leaving Cabo behind, a cruise ship returns north while our

Cabo adventures still lie ahead on the southern horizon.

Pacific Baja California Coast, Mexico (2)

Mid-November, 2010 - Continuing our sail down the 750 miles of the Baja California Pacific

coast, we left Bahía Santa Maria and made our way 20 miles further to Belcher Cove in

Magdalena Bay.  We were now about 80% of the way down the coast on our way to Cabo

San Lucas. As we sailed, we experimented with our twin headsail setup.  With two jibs hoisted

on the twin grooves of the single forestay, this is a powerful downwind rig.  We had run it

without using any whisker poles on previous days, finding that it worked very well as long as

there was little swell and we were faced directly downwind.  On the short leg to Bahía Santa

Maria we sailed it exactly as it is designed to be sailed, using twin whisker poles joined

together by a multiply looped line.

A faster way to go, of course,

is by large motor yacht.  As we

lumped along making 4 to 5

knots in less than 10 knots of

wind, a sleek power yacht

slipped along the shoreline

ahead of us.

Magdalena Bay ("Bahía Magdalena") is as large as San

Francisco Bay, and it is teeming with fish and fishermen.

Watching and listening to the pangas (open boats used for

fishing) motoring around the bay us reminded me of my

childhood days on Boston's north shore where lobstermen

plied the waters every morning, setting and retrieving their

traps.  The fishermen were friendly and would wave every

time they passed us.

We anchored at Punta Belcher (Belcher Point), a small anchorage just

three miles from the entrance to the bay.  The main town, perched

along the shores of Magdalena Bay, is Puerto San Carlos, about 10

miles further on at the north end of the bay.  It sits on the inland shore,

tucked behind a long, twisting channel.  Out here in this outer part of

the bay there was just a small fishing camp on the beach.  The living is

very simple here, with lean-to shacks, Coleman tents, and clothes

hanging out on clothes lines.

The fishing must be excellent.

The horizon was littered with fishing

pangas in the early morning, and the

pelicans seemed well fed and content.

From the mid-1800's to the 1920's

Magdalena Bay was a major Pacific

coast base for whaling, and it is still an

important area for grey whale calving.

Now all that remains of those early

days is some concrete pilons and

other ruins along the beach.

Looking back towards the hillsides it

seemed we could have easily been at

Roosevelt Lake in Arizona, where we enjoyed

many kayak rides in the

Sonoran desert a little

over a year ago.

We walked along the

beach, where seagull and

pelican flocks huddled by

the edge of the water.

At our feet we found

endless shells and other

remnants of sea life.  The

debris was so vast and

varied we found ourselves

continually stopping amd

trying to guess what

creature's skulls and

vertebrae we were looking at

in the sand.

We realized as we walked along,

feeling the sand sneaking up

between our toes while the world

swayed oddly around us

(although we knew it wasn't), that

this was our first time off the boat

in 12 days.  We had been so comfortable aboard,

and so tired from sailing, that during our other stops

we hadn't ventured ashore.

The views into the bay were lovely, but we couldn't

help but stop and gape over the shark carcass, the

dolphin (pelican?) skull, the perfect puffer fish

remains and the many backbones we found, both

intact and separated into vertebral discs.

The thick wave of red shrimp-like creatures got our

attention too, both from the huge spread of their

bodies across the sand and the powerful odor.

The animals seemed grouped on the beach, with

piles of clam shells followed by shrimp and then

oysters and later a bunch of crabs.  These crabs

could close themselves up tightly to look like a rock

and then open themselves to reveal their claws.

Meanwhile the fishing pangas started to gather for their

lunch break.  First one panga dropped an anchor and the

fisherman raised a beach umbrella over his boat.  Then

another one came up and rafted alongside, raising

another umbrella.  Soon a group of five or six pangas

was tied together, while pelicans and seagulls eagerly

circled the group looking for scraps.

Further down on the beach we found a shrine for a deceased loved one.

Built on a slight rise, there was a little blue building with an open door

and a cross on the roof.  Surrounded by small Christian votive candles

and icons planted in the sand, this humble but meaningful memorial

overlooked the bay and the beach.

We had seen footprints, both human and lizard-like at the

beginning of our walk, but as we neared the end of the beach the

sand was virgin, and at the farthest end the tidepools were

numerous.

The next morning we set out for our last overnight trip along

the Baja peninsula, a 25 hour 170 mile sail from Magdalena

Bay to Cabo San Lucas.

We had managed to avoid fog for our entire trip so far,

and had been told you don't encounter fog once you get

this far south.  So it was a surprise as we lifted the

anchor in the pre-dawn light to see a thick bank of fog

rolling in through the bay's entrance right into our

anchorage.

For an hour we tiptoed out of the bay, watching the

pangas on the radar but unable to see anything beyond

a boat length or two around us.  Mark blasted the horn

periodically, and I watched the radar as my hair became

soaked from foggy moisture, and a trickle of water ran

in steady drips down my glasses.  But eventually we

cleared the bay's entrance and emerged from the fog

bank into warm dry sunshine and limitless visibility.

The sailing was perfect for a while, with a brisk breeze

and ever warmer air around us.  I noticed a flat patch of

water with some bubbles in it up ahead, and I peered

over the side as we went through it.  Suddenly I saw two

sea turtles almost within arm's reach.  They were

munching a floating clump of grass.  A little further on

was a third turtle doing the same.  We were moving so

quickly it was just a brief encounter, but what magic.

Up in the sky we watched two frigatebirds circling our boat.  They are

prehistoric looking, with crooked wings and forked tails.  Male frigatebirds

sport a bright red pouch on their necks that they puff up to impress the

gals.  We didn't see any of that flirtation going on, but these two frigatebirds

that came to visit were totally intent on landing on our mast.

Taking turns, each bird flew to the masthead, spread his tail and flapped his

wings to slow down, stretching his toes towards the mast.  But getting a foothold

proved challenging, as the mast was swaying quite a bit in the swell.  After each

failed attempt, the bird would circle away and let his buddy have a go at it.  After

a few tries they both gave up and flew off.

On the radio we heard people talking about seeing humpback whales, which we

never saw.  But a friendly pod of dolphins came to play along the bow of our

boat, swimming just inches ahead of us and rolling on their sides to look up at us

as we hung over the rail.  One by one they left, but the last one stayed quite a

while.  When he was done playing he suddenly doubled his speed and shot

ahead of the boat, and then rocketed into the air in an enormous leap.  I couldn't

help but scream with delight.  He slipped back along the hull of the boat and then

jumped one more time near where Mark was standing in the cockpit.  Then he

disappeared.

As the day ended we watched a cruise ship zip past us in the

opposite direction.  It was moving fast, probably en route to San

Diego or Los Angeles for a "day at sea" after visits to Cabo, La

Paz, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta down south.  The brilliant

sunset behind it must have thrilled the passengers that were on

deck as much as it thrilled us.

We enjoyed a peaceful night at sea, with little wind and little swell

but lots of warmer air.  Just a sweatshirt or jacket was enough to

keep out the chill when we ventured into the cockpit every 15

minutes for a look around.  We had basked in the tranquility and

remoteness of the last few days, but just ahead lay the mega

party town of Cabo San Lucas.

Find Magdalena Bay on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Baja – A Voyage South from San Diego

It's warmer down south.

Baja Ha-Ha Kickoff Party

Hugh and the bunnies.

Latitude 38's "Grand Poo-Bah"

Greta, West Marine's store

manager

Two boats got a little too friendly.

Sailing to warmer climes.

The 2010 Baja Ha-Ha fleet takes off.

Fresh water from ocean water - at last.

Rocas Soledad

A kelp paddy forms a magic carpet for a dozen seagulls.

Sunset before our first overnight passage.

Sunrise the next morning.

An extinct volcano at San Quintín.

San Quintín.

Another beautiful sunrise as we head south.

A wall of "kelp" suddenly took flight.

Islas San Benito loom eerily in the distance.

Dolphin Welcoming Committee at Cedros Island.

Cedros Island's southwest anchorage.

Southwest Cedros, a beautiful wide bay all to ourselves.

Pelican soaring at Cedros Island.

s/v Groovy at Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay anchorage.

Turtle Bay.

Our boat approaches a waypoint outside Turtle Bay

Rock formations leaving Turtle Bay.

Bahía Asunción

Isla Asunción.

Abreojos

An afternoon guest.

The sun sets behind our passage companions

"Wendaway."

Sunrise approaching Bahia Santa Maria.

Alone on a bluff.

Black rock mountains protect the north end of

Bahia Santa Maria.

Groovy rests at Bahia Santa Maria

The Pacific Baja California Coast, Mexico

Late October to early November, 2010 - Sunny Southern California, and

its anchorages, had been buried under a fog bank for our entire two

month stay in San Diego.  The sun peeked out here and there, but never

long enough to warm things up or dry them out, and the ten days of rain

in mid-October really took the cake.  Almost everyone around the Police

Dock and the Cruisers Anchorage was heading to Mexico soon, and the

weather map showed exactly why.

The annual Baja Ha-Ha cruisers rally was the focus of attention on

Shelter Island as October progressed.  A record 195 boats signed up for

the two week event, which sails from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas,

making two stops in Turtle Bay and Bahia Santa Maria.  The kick-off

party at West Marine was a hoot.  Held just before Halloween, this was a

crazy costume party where pirates and wenches showed up in full

regalia.

Most boats in the

rally have a crew of three to five people, and many of them came in

coordinated costumes.  A group of jailbirds, a group of cereal killers

(Cap'n Crunch and all), a group of bird lovers with a real umbrella

cockatoo (who would be sailing too), and of course the requisite crew

from Gilligan's Island were all there.  When Hugh Hefner and his playboy

bunnies made their entrance, all heads turned.

The dignitaries of

the event were also

in costume:  the

"Grand Poo-Bah"

who publishes the

sponsoring magazine Latitude 38,

and Greta the indomitable general

manager of Shelter Island's West

Marine store.  We have found

inspiration in many issues of

Latitude 38, and Greta has helped

us with countless purchases while

outfitting Groovy.

The beer flowed and the music played, but the next

morning was the official start for all those boats, so the

party didn't go too late.  Sadly, San Diego produced yet another rainy morning for their

departure, and when two boats behind us got their anchors fouled, we were secretly glad we

weren't scrambling to leave with the group.

Instead, we hopped in our dinghy and raced out to see the boat parade as it sailed down San Diego harbor and out into the

open ocean.  We listened as the group got coordinated on the VHF radio, setting themselves up to look their best for the

media boats filming for the local television stations.  Despite the poor weather spirits were high, and every crew was looking

forward to getting down south.

Back on our boat, we had faced a delay in our departure because

the watermaker kit we purchased came with two leaky membranes.

The manufacturer gladly replaced them, but waiting for them to

arrive set our schedule back a bit.  What a thrill it was when the new

membranes finally came and we were suddenly able to produce

drinking water from ocean water.

On November 2nd we left San Diego at last, bound first for Ensenada

where we cleared into Mexico and said "hello" and "goodbye" to our

many friends.  Then we cast off on our long sail south.

A large swell had just passed ahead of us down the

coastal waters, causing high surf advisories all along the

west coast as it pounded its way down from the Pacific

Northwest.  Besides the heaving and tossing we felt

onboard, we saw the surf crashing on the Rocas

Soledad rocks as we sailed past.  What a surprise to

see a group of daredevil kayakers out there.

The large swell had swept huge paddies of kelp along

with it.  These kelp carpets undulated along the top of

the water, gathering in groups as the currents pushed

them along, sometimes making it difficult to steer out of

their way.  Many were large enough to be like small

floating islands, making nice resting spots for small

flocks of birds.

We wanted to stop at Puerto Santo Tomas, a few hours south of

Ensenada, but the little cove was blocked by an impenetrable

blanket of kelp.  The next anchorage, Punta Colonet, was far

enough away that we would have arrived at night, so we decided

instead to sail all night and anchor in the anchorage after that, San

Quintín, at dawn.  The sunset was stunning, and the night's

passage was lovely.  There wasn't any wind, so we had to motor

the whole night, but sea was calm and the air was warm.  It was a

new moon too, so the sky was pitch black, blending seamlessly into

the black sea.

Traveling alongside a blip on

the radar screen for an hour, and watching this neighboring boat's navigation light in the

dark, the captain suddenly hailed us on the radio and we chatted for a while.  He was a

delivering a 75 foot motor yacht to La Paz and was going there non-stop.  The balmy night

reminded him of his first night passage twenty years ago, and his dreamy recollections

lent a sense of calm to the intense darkness.  As the sun rose the next morning we felt

triumphant.

San Quintín offers two

anchorages spaced three

miles apart.  We saw

boats at the first

anchorage near the point

but continued on to the

further anchorage by the

beach.  This is a serene

stretch of beach, except for the pounding surf, and we slept like babies after the long night

at sea.  What a surprise it was the next morning to hear on the radio that the boats

anchored by the point had had a really rolly night and didn't sleep a wink.

We left just as day

was dawning, with

another overnight

passage planned

for that night.

As we were motoring along the rippling silver water, I suddenly saw

a wall of kelp blocking our way.  It stretched as far as I could see on

both sides in front of us.  I turned the boat quickly to avoid getting

caught up in it, only to see the entire mass of kelp suddenly take

wing and fly away.

On this passage we would head for Islas San Benito, a tiny group of three islands off the mid-coast of the Baja peninsula.  We

had met the authors of the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Mexico cruising guidebooks while we were in San Diego, and they had

told us that these islands were the most remote, rugged and interesting of all the anchorages on the Baja coast.  Anticipation

of landfall at these wild islands kept our spirits high during a challenging night passage.  There was more than enough wind to

sail, but the seas were sizable, and we lurched along uncomfortably.  The waves repeatedly picked up the whole boat and

heaved it to a new spot.  We felt like we were sitting inside a washing machine in the dark.  "There isn't anything about this that

I like," Mark said miserably.  "And I'm so wide-eyed, I don't think I could open my eyes any wider!"

When morning arrived, our expectations were

quite high for these fabled islands, so what a

disappointment it was to have the weather

suddenly grow grim and cold.  There would be

little incentive to get off the boat in layers of

jackets and hats to go hiking, and the anchorage

was a bed of kelp paddies to boot.

Totally let down, we turned the boat towards the

next anchorage, a nearby bay on the southwest end of Cedros Island.  The guidebooks had little to say about this anchorage,

so we arrived with no expectations whatsoever.  Suddenly, a group of dolphins came leaping towards the boat.  While I ran for

the camera, Mark watched one dolphin leap straight up in the air five or six times, shooting up like a rocket out of the water.

His show was over by the time I got my lens cap off, but the rest of the dolphin welcoming committee provided great

entertainment for us as we motored into the bay.

The bay was immense, several miles across, and would

provide great accommodation for hundreds of boats.  It is off

the beaten track, however, and we were the only boat there

for the night.  Other than one fishing panga (pronounced

"ponga"), we didn't see a soul while we were there.  The

pelicans were numerous, however, and we watched them

flying and fishing all around us.  Again, we were spared from

any swell and we slept deeply.

When we left Cedros the next morning, fully rested and recovered

after that difficult previous night's passage sloshing about at sea, the

radio crackled with the conversations between other boats.  Boats hail

each other by name on the radio, and we recognized the names of

many boats we had seen at the Police Dock and the Cruisers

Anchorage back in San Diego.  Boats talk directly to one another, but

the airwaves are open to all, and most boaters eavesdrop on the

conversations of others.  We were surprised to hear what a difficult

time everyone had had over the past two days.  We weren't the only

ones who had been pitched and tossed while crossing the

Vizcaíno bay, but we were the only ones who had found a

peaceful anchorage for a good night's sleep.  All the other boats

had spent the night on the north and east side of Cedros island

(we had been at the southwest end), and not only had they seen

wind gusts to 50 knots (we saw only 25 knots), but one boat

dragged its anchor a mile out to sea, where the sole person

aboard woke up with a shock to find himself nowhere near land.

Everyone was making their way towards Turtle Bay, and we joined

the procession into the anchorage late that afternoon.  Turtle Bay

is the first stop for the Baja Ha-Ha rally, so we had heard a lot

about this anchorage.  We hopped in our kayak and paddled

around to visit friends' boats.  However, the cold air and biting

wind sent us back to the boat in a hurry.  We didn't feel inclined to

go ashore through the choppy, nippy waves, so we stayed aboard

for a day and two nights, tidying up the boat, cat-napping, and

preparing for the upcoming segments of our trip.

I still find myself amazed at the electronic navigation equipment used

by boats today.  Growing up in the era of paper charts and parallel

rulers, the power of an electronic chartplotter is stunning.  Gone are

the days where you held the boat's wheel in one hand and a folded

chart in the other, squinting at the horizon and twisting the chart

around, trying to decide whether the bump of land in front of you is

the island on this part of the chart or the peninsula on that part of the

chart.  Now you move a cursor to where you want to go and press

the "Go to cursor" button.  Not only does the boat magically take you

there, correcting for any wayward currents as it goes, but the chart is

displayed with the boat at the center, and continually turns as the

boat turns, so you never have any question about where you are or

what you are looking at.  Where the chart may be wrong (as is often

the case in Mexico because the original survey data is half a century

old), a radar overlay identifies the exact contours of the land.  Truly,

every conceivable element of guesswork has been eliminated.

Our sail from Turtle Bay to Asunción was a delight.  Bright sunshine

and lively wind combined to make a great sailing day.  We have

rigged Groovy with two headsails, and we had a chance to fly them

together.  We haven't perfected the rig yet, but it made for a

powerful downwind setup.  An unexpected hail from another boat

yielded warm compliments on the rig.  "It looks like the petals of a

flower."

The views along the coastline were dramatic too.  Huge striated

rock mountains burst up along the shoreline.

Many boats headed south were buddy-boating, moving down the

coast in pairs.  We followed the radio conversations of many of these

pairs of boats, getting a sense of their planned itineraries and the

challenges and joys they had experienced so far.  During our sail to

Asunción we were overtaken by a pair of boats that had been

together since San Diego, Wendaway and Maja.  We were friends

with the folks on Maja, but our schedules hadn't quite meshed at the

beginning of our trip so we hadn't sailed together yet.  Now, on our

way to Asunción, we reconnected.  And what lucky timing, as they

caught a 14 lb yellow fin tuna en route and shared the spoils when

we got to the anchorage.  Yum!

We planned to do a short (20 mile) daysail from Asunción to San

Hipólito, but once we got out on the water the wind picked up and we

were flying along at 8.5 knots having a blast.  As we neared San

Hipólito the conditions were too perfect to take the sails down and call

it a day.  So we carried on towards Abreojos where Maja and

Wendaway were heading.  No sooner had we decided to sail the extra

30 miles with them to Abreojos than the wind began to howl.  "Should

we reef?" (shorten the sails to go a little slower), we asked each other.

Just at that moment the boat hit 9.2 knots and threatened to broach

(roll over on its side a little further than is comfortable).  That

answered that, and we scrambled to take in the sails a bit.  Of course,

no sooner did we get the sails set up for high winds than the wind died

all together, shifted direction, and then blew a nice gentle breeze on

us for the rest of the afternoon.

Abreojos means "Open eyes" in Spanish, and this is a

really good idea to do as you round the point on the

way in.  There are rocks and reefs and crab pot

hazards everywhere.  We tip-toed into the anchorage

trying not to get snagged.  Mark kept his eyes glued to

the water through the binoculars, picking out a course

for us between the crab pots, while I followed the

chartplotter's contours along the 30 foot depth line

around the rock strewn reef.  It made for a white

knuckle entrance as the sun was nearly setting.  We

got in without a hitch, however.  We planned to stay two nights there and rest up, but this was the first anchorage we'd stayed

at where the boat rolled continually, so our sleep was fitful and we didn't need a second night of that.

So we decided to sail with the other two boats on to Bahía Santa Maria the

next day, a 130 mile overnight run.  Again, the sun shone brightly and the

wind was a sheer delight, coming perfectly over the beam on our best point of

sail.  Grinning at each other and feeling very smug for having made it this far

on our ocean going adventure without sinking or dying, our jaws dropped as

we watched a little finch suddenly fly into the cockpit.  We were 20 miles from

shore.  After checking out a few spots in the cockpit he flew down into the

cabin, landing on the sofa, the TV, the bookcase, and the ledge by the

windows.  I tried to coax him to stay, putting out a little bit of bread and water,

as I figured he must be tired and hungry.  But after a few minutes of

assessing our boat and us, he decided he'd seen enough and he flew off.

That evening the

sun set in a spray of

fiery orange, as our companions on Wendaway sailed next to us.  We

sailed side by side all night long, just a mile or two apart, again

comforted by the presence of another boat's light and blip on the

radar as we left the shore 50 dark cold miles to port.

We were awed by the half moon that rose in the early evening sky,

shining a bright path towards us along the water.  It set as a bright

orange candy slice around midnight, its watery path changing from

silvery white to warm orange.  The half moon laid on its back, and as

it sank into the horizon it looked like a little orange boat out at sea.

The next morning brought more celestial fireworks.  The

looming black rock hills that form one of the protecting

peninsulas of Bahía Santa Maria rose alongside us as we

motored towards the entrance to the bay.

A lone building on a bluff welcomed us in, and a tranquil

anchorage awaited us on the other side.  A peaceful day

or two here would set us up the remaining miles of our

passage down the Baja Pacific Coast.

Find these Pacific Baja anchorages on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada’s Baja Naval – An Excellent Boat Yard Experience

WestMarine.com
s/v Groovy is hoisted at Baja Naval in Ensenada

Groovy is hoisted out of the water in front of an

audience of tourists.

sv Groovy is hoisted at Baja Naval in Ensenada s/v Groovy is hoisted at Baja Naval in Ensenada

Groovy slides into her parking space at Baja Naval.

sv Groovy gets bottom paint at Baja Naval, Ensenada, Mexico

The scum is powerwashed off the bottom.

s/v Groovy gets bottom paint at Baja Naval, Ensenada, Mexico

The bottom is sanded and a new layer of copper (an

anti-fouling agent) is exposed.

sv Groovy gets bottom paint at Baja Naval, Ensenada, Mexico

New paint goes on in a contrasting color so we can tell

when it is time to paint again.

Workers play volleyball at Baja Naval

Baja Naval workers play volleyball just below our boat.

Groovy gets a thru-hull at Baja Naval

A new thru-hull is drilled

into the boat.

Fine capentry work for s/v Groovy at Baja Naval

Baja Naval has excellent craftsmen.

Fine capentry work at Baja Naval

Fine varnish work is done in a dust-free room,

"Varnish's Depot."

Taurus a 1968 German Frers 49' wooden yacht and s/v Groovy a 2008 Hunter 44DS

A wonderful contrast of old and new: a wooden 1968

49' German Frers designed yacht was next to us.

Taurus a 1968 German Frers 49' wooden yacht and sv Groovy a 2008 Hunter 44DS

Narrower, heavier and sleeker, the older boat has a

more pointed back end and no swim platform.

Groovy at Baja Naval

Groovy peaks out over the fence to the

tourists walking along the Malecon below.

Ensenada statue honoring education and teaching.

This statue honors the

trandition of education and

teaching that is a foundation

of Ensenada's culture.

La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico

Acrobats amid wine.

La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico

L.A. Cetto offered a full array of wines to taste.

La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico

Gourmet desserts.

La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico

Gourmet cheeses.

La Vendimia festival Ensenada Mexico

Huge vats of soup.

The Golden Statue Man performs for us on Gringo Gulch.

The Golden Statue Man

performs for us.

Bikes along Gringo Gulch La Vendimia Sushi Festival Ensenada Mexico

A singer performs at the Sushi Festival going on at

the same time on the waterfront.

Hotel Coral & Marina

We walk through Hotel Coral for final goodbyes.

Marina Coral

Marina Coral was a classy home for six months.

Cruise ship as seen from Baja Naval

Groovy checks out a cruise ship parked next door.

sv Groovy is launched at Baja Naval

Groovy gets rolled to the water's edge.

s/v Groovy is launched at Baja Naval Cruiseship Paradise in Ensenada

The cruise ship behind our Baja Naval slip lights up at night.

Goodbye Ensenada.

Baja Naval Boatyard - Ensenada, Mexico

Early August, 2010 - Our last chapter in Ensenada, after all the fun, faces

& races we'd enjoyed over the past six months, was a visit to the Baja

Naval boatyard.  Groovy needed a new coat of paint on the bottom to

prevent the sea critters from homesteading and slowing us down.  We had

gotten quotes from yards in San Diego as well as Ensenada's yard Baja

Naval, and we debated where the service, quality and price would be best.

From a distance, having boat work done in Mexico seemed potentially

problem ridden, and we had heard boat yard horror stories that gave us

pause.  In the end, however, several friends blazed a trail before us and

came back from Baja Naval with glowing reports.

The travel lift for hauling boats out of the

water has to cross the Málecon

(harborfront boardwalk) in order to take the

boats from the water to the yard, so the

Málecon is closed off by gates for a few

minutes each time a boat is hauled or

launched.  This gave Groovy quite

an audience of tourists as it was

lifted and then carried to its parking

space in the yard.  Groovy got a

spot on the edge of the yard looking

out over the harbor, but before we

had time to set up housekeeping

and figure out how to live in our boat

as if it were an RV, the guys got to

work on the bottom.

"Conscientious," "hard-working," "punctual" and "meticulous" are all

words that immediately come to mind when describing the workers

at Baja Naval.  Every morning just before 8:00 we could here the

laughter and chatter of the guys as they got ready to begin work.  At

precisely 8:00, according to our atomic clock, the machines would all

roar to a start and the boatyard would come to life with the sounds of

sanding and pounding and the beep of the travel lift as it criss-

crossed the yard carrying boats in its slings.  Like Marina Coral,

everyone works a six-day week.  Saturday work goes from 8:00 to

2:00 with no lunch break.

For several days we danced the Boatyard Blues.  Rather than a

small step up onto the boat from the dock, we had to climb a tall

ladder to get aboard.  Because boat grey water tanks flush directly

into the water below the boat, we had to quit using our sinks during

the day.  It isn't pretty, but after the workers left in the evening, every

boat with people living aboard quietly opened the thru-hull valve for

their grey water and let it pour out onto the pavement below.  Unlike

an RV, which has a long sewer hose that can take the grey water

from the rig to a thirsty bush, the water would simply gush from a

hole in the bottom of the boat 8 feet up in the air.  Look out below!

At exactly 1:00 the workers all take a lunch break.  Sometime after

1:30 they roll out a volleyball net and a fierce game of volleyball

ensues.  They played just outside our boat everyday, and the ball

landed in our cockpit a few times, eliciting laughter all around as we

tossed it back down.

One of our projects was to install a thru-hull valve for a water

maker (a water desalination system that converts ocean water to

drinking water).  It was a little odd to watch a guy take a hole saw

to the bottom of the boat, but the finished installation was

impeccable.  Because we had some interior work going on too, the

workers covered our entire floor with cardboard to keep it from

getting scratched or harmed by workers traipsing in and out.  In

addition, the workers put booties on top

of their shoes every time they came

aboard. We appreciated the care they

took with the boat, although we found it a little weird to lose all our privacy each day.  At any time

between 8:00 and 5:00 one or several workers might show up, tools in hand, asking permission to

come aboard and do their thing.

Baja Naval has three levels of workers.  Each boat is assigned a desk-based supervisor who

speaks fluent English.  This fellow reviews every aspect of every project with you both before and

after the work is done, and he can produce a bill for all work done to date at any moment during

your stay.  These parts-and-labor bills are detailed down to the individual plastic cups used to

decant varnish and paint for small paint jobs ($0.84 per cup).  Mario, our supervisor, was easy to

work with, courteous, detail oriented and professional.

The next level of workers is the

"managers" who are masters of each

trade (Master Carpenter, Master Mechanic, etc.).  These guys

come up with the designs and solutions and oversee the actual

work done on the boat.  Very skilled in their trades, most speak

English very well.  However, to ensure nothing is lost in translation,

the supervisor always acts as a translator, presenting everything

the manager proposes in excellent English.

The guys that really get the work done are the next level down.

Young, friendly and energetic, these guys are good.  Perhaps what I

liked most was the camaraderie and good spirit shared between all

the workers.  It seemed that the managers were teachers as much as

they were bosses, and each of them gave direction to their

subordinates with good will, humor and patience.  During our entire

stay I never saw a sullen face or got the sense that anyone resented

their job, the yard, the boss or anybody else.  That seems so rare in

the modern workplace.

Baja Naval has a reputation for nickel and diming its customers a bit,

and that seemed true to a certain extent.  We were present on the

boat all day every day, holding flashlights and lending tools where

helpful, to spare workers from climbing down the ladder, crossing

the yard to get the necessary tool and climbing back up again.  This

way we knew exactly how long each person had been on the boat

and we could intercept anything that didn't look right.  The

supervisor and managers were always happy to review what was

going on, and at one point we had two supervisors, the yard

manager, a trade manager and two workers on the boat all at once.

Spanish and English flew as we all discussed the challenge at hand.

Diagnostic time like that isn't charged, but what impressed me was

that everyone wanted to make sure the right solution was found.

The labor hours were padded by anywhere from 10% to 30%, but

since the labor rates were $22 to $30 per hour (as compared to $75

to $100 in California), the labor was still less expensive.  Some

customers felt they paid the same as they would have in a California

boat yard but got better quality work, while others felt they paid less

but got the same quality.  Some of it depends on how much of the

final bill is labor or materials, as the labor costs less but the materials

cost more.  If a worker does something for the boat, a minimum of

one hour is charged, and if he doesn't arrive at the boat until 8:30 his

clock still starts ticking at 8:00 because he is getting direction from

his manager and is gathering tools and materials needed for the job.

We didn't understand these nuances of their billing policies at first,

but once explained to us it made sense.

If you know which materials you need in advance,

bottom paint for instance, you can provide your

own, buying the goods stateside and bringing

them across the border.  However, as we learned

with our thru-hull project, you might not buy quite

the right stuff.

After six months in the water at Marina Coral,

always sitting in the same orientation, it was

exciting to have a new vantage point.  One night

we heard fireworks and I poked my head out to

see a beautiful display coming from the Riviera

Cultural Center.  It was the kickoff party for the La

Vendimia festival which celebrates the wine grape

harvest.  The ensuing days were filled with all

kinds of activities downtown.  La Vendimia is

celebrated for several weeks each year,

but the first weekend draws the biggest

crowds.

We strolled down Gringo Gulch to

find a huge wine tasting and food

festival going on.  Not only were the

streets filled with booths from many

of the local wineries, but catering

outfits and restaurants were

offering gourmet food, cheese and

baked goods as well.  Music

thumped loudly from a set of

speakers and a local acrobatic

troop did tricks for the crowd.

Wine flowed freely all

around and we had a

happy afternoon of

sampling.

Street performers wowed the

crowds, and people showed up in

all kinds of crazy get-ups.

Leaving Gringo Gulch, we

wandered down to the waterfront

and found a Sushi festival going

on.  A singer crooned to a large

seated audience from a raised stage, and

a line of booths was set up for sampling

Sushi.  That evening we drove by the city

park to find it overflowing with people,

tents, booths, music and action too.  La

Vendimia is celebrated to the fullest in this

town. Months ago we had discovered

that you can always gauge the popularity

of what's going on in Ensenada by the

room rate posted on the neon sign in

front of Hotel Santo Tomas.  On the

opening weekend of La Vendimia we

noticed that the price had soared from a

mid-winter mid-week low of $240 pesos

per night (~$19 US) to $770 pesos (~$62

US) for this special weekend.

As work progressed on our boat we

began saying goodbye to all our favorite

places and people.  One afternoon we retraced our steps through our old daily patterns at Hotel

Coral, walking down to the docks and up to the spa and around the grounds, sadly leltting this

unique chapter in our lives come to a close.  We went to our final

cruisers' happy hour on our last Thursday night in Ensenada, and

all our new-found friends gathered to bid us farewell.

It was during that last happy hour of our stay, as everyone

surrounded us for final hugs and goodbyes, that I realized just

how many great friends we had made in such a short time.

After living on the road in our trailer for two and a half years,

without a regular, daily circle of friendships, this six month

pause in Ensenada had suddenly introduced us to a wonderful

social life.

We went to Ensenada to learn as much as possible about our new

means of transport and to outfit our boat for cruising.  We never

anticipated that in the process we would fall in love with the town,

the local people and the cruising community there.

We left Ensenada in stages, first leaving Hotel Coral &

Marina to stay at the Baja Naval boatyard, and then

leaving the bay all together to sail north.  This gradual

departure helped ease the parting.  However, while at Baja

Naval we kept bumping into friends in town, and we ended

up saying "goodbye" to some of them quite a few times

before we finally left for real.

There is a Mexican saying:  "El que mucho se despide pocas ganas tiene de

irse," which means roughly, "He who says a lot of goodbyes doesn't really

want to leave."  This was true for us, but once Groovy was launched back in

the water and we heard the waves lapping the hull as we laid in bed at night,

we felt a growing excitement about where this new life might take us.  Mark

stocked up on brownies from Peter the Brownie Man, and we made our last

errand runs around town.  When we finally untied the lines and motored out of

the harbor, bound for San Diego, we felt the same giddy, happy, butterflies-

in-the-stomach scary feelings we had felt when we first left Phoenix and drove

to Dallas to start our fulltime RV lifestyle three years ago.  Goodbye friends,

goodbye security, goodbye safety and certainty.  And hello world.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada Inspiration – Let’s Go!

WestMarine.com
A megayacht too large for Marina Coral anchors outside.

A megayacht too large for Marina Coral anchors outside.

"Inspiration" leaves Ensenada for

Alabama via the Panama Canal.

Richard Dreschler of Catalina 470

Fearless cancer survivor Richard Dreschler of "Last

Resort" provides true inspiration.

Two little boys at Marina Coral

Two little boys at Marina Coral keep us all

young at heart.

Hanging in the rigging at Hotel Coral y Marina

Hanging in the rigging.

Hanging in the rigging at Hotel Coral y Marina A whale breaches near Islas Todos Santos

A whale breaches as we approach.

Juvenile black crowned night heron at Hotel Coral and Marina

A juvenile black crowned

night heron.

Juvenile black crowned night heron at Hotel Coral & Marina Re-corre tu Puerto, Ensenada, Mexico

Numero Uno.

Re-corre tu Puerto, Ensenada, Mexico Re-corre tu Puerto, Ensenada, Mexico Re-corre tu Puerto running race, Ensenada, Mexico Re-corre tu Puerto 6k running race, Ensenada, Mexico

Lined up for the "Re-corre tu Puerto" 6K race.

Re-corre tu Puerto 6k running race, Ensenada, Mexico

This is a race for people of all

ages, and not just those on foot.

Re-corre tu Puerto 6k running race, Ensenada, Mexico Re-corre tu Puerto 6k running race, Ensenada, Mexico A wedding at scenic Hotel Coral & Marina.

A wedding at scenic Hotel Coral &

Marina.

A wedding at scenic Marina Coral

You may kiss the bride...

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

Papas & Beer 5K race, Sol Beer gals and rock

musicians.

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

A youth running group stretches before the race.

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

Warming up...

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

Tres...dos...uno...!

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

The Sol Beer gals play with the finish line tape...

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

...but the tape is intact when the winner arrives.

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

The raffle grand prize is a trip to New York.

Papas & Beer 5K running race, Ensenada, MX

Emeterio Nava and Mark swap stories about runners

and races in the 1980's.

Personalities & Running Races in Ensenada

July, 2010 - Although we ventured out of town for a wonderful

day on La Ruta del Vino, we found there was always more

than enough action in town to keep us very busy.  Marina

Coral is one of three major marinas in Ensenada, and boating

travelers heading both north and south stop here for fuel,

provisions, rest and a spell in the hot tub.  Many mornings

we'd be woken at oh-dark-thirty by the sound of an engine in

the water as a new boat arrived or as a boat we had just met

pulled out.

The marina can handle boats over 100' long, but some

travelers float about in such grand style that their yacht can neither negotiate the skinny entrance nor tie up at the docks

without hanging way over.  These guys have to anchor outside the marina entrance.  Whenever one showed up it was always

worth a kayak ride to go check it out.  Seeing a helicopter perched on deck, ready to take the owners ashore, was proof

enough that these people lived in a different economic stratosphere than any we'd ever know.

Even more fun was meeting all the folks returning from their adventures down south during

the springtime migration up the west coast.  As hurricane season approaches each year,

the cruisers in southern Mexico either stay close to harbors where they can find refuge

from sudden tempests or they come north to spend the summer sailing in southern

California.  All had fascinating tales of their adventures in the tropics, and on many

occasions we sat spellbound in their cockpits, our Mexican cruising guide opened wide and

pen in hand, as we listened to them describe the places they had been.

Once in a while a boat would take off in the opposite direction, heading south towards the

Panama Canal for adventures in the Caribbean.  Aptly named Inspiration, a motor yacht left

the marina one grey morning bound for Alabama via the Central American coast, Panama

Canal and Western Caribbean.  The final destination wasn't particularly exotic, but most

ports in between would surely offer up adventures of all kinds.

The travelers stopping in at Hotel Coral & Marina ranged from a young couple in their early

thirties fresh off an 8 month Mexican sabbatical escaping high paying jobs at Microsoft to a

nearly 80-year-old retired physician who had spent the last 17 years cruising Central

America.  One couple had purchased a big beautiful brand new catamaran right from the

factory in France and sailed it from France to Ensenada via the Caribbean, while another

couple set out on a tiny 1970's vintage thirty footer to see what they could find in the South

Pacific and New Zealand.  Meeting people like this on a daily basis was refreshing and eye opening.

But perhaps the most inspirational story of all was that of Richard

Dreschler aboard Last Resort, a Catalina 470.  Diagnosed in 2005 with

a particularly complicated form of throat cancer that was expected to

kill him in a few months, Richard battled the disease into remission and

in 2008 took off with his wife Sharon to go cruising.  Alaska was first on

their agenda, and a year later they went south to Mexico.  We met

them on their way back to California before they restarted their

journey, this time for Central America, through the Canal, the

Caribbean and on to the Mediterranean.  All this exotic travel, and yet

Richard is unable to eat.  He survives on a special medically

formulated liquid diet because his esophagus is only a pencil thickness

wide.  As he said to me casually, "My neck has been completely

reconstructed."  For anyone who is letting fear hold them from

pursuing their dreams, this man is an inspiration.

While pondering the meaning of life and dreams,

we got daily entertainment from a charming pair

of boys who lived aboard a boat in a slip nearby.

Aged five and seven, and growing up with a

degree of freedom that would make most kids

extremely jealous, we watched them cavorting

everywhere.  They rode their bikes up and down

the docks, catching air whenever possible,

terrifying all us wiser folks that they would fly off

into the water.  But they had the confidence of top

BMX racers and never missed.  When they

wanted to climb the rigging, their parents simply

strung them up in their sailing harnesses so they

could play safely.  Families with children are rare

in traveling lifestyles, and it was pure joy to watch these

little monkeys as they hung by their knees and chased

each other all over the docks.

Out in the bay many mini whale families

had migrated up from the south.  Mama

whales could be seen all around

babysitting their calves.  Unlike the

wintertime when the whales had been on

a mission to get from Point A to Point B,

we now found them lolling around, resting,

sleeping, and probably watching their

calves cavorting under water as we had

been watching those boys on the docks.

Another creature arrived at the marina

around this time too.  Late each afternoon

a flock of big, noisy birds would show up,

taking over the marina as if it were their own.  We didn't pay much attention at first, simply

tuning out their shrill, raucous cries.  But when we found evidence of their nightly fishing

expeditions all over the deck of our boat in the form of bird poop, we stood up and took notice.

These bombers were big and loud, and when they dropped their payload it sounded like

someone was spraying the boat with a hose.  But they were wonderfully funny characters too.

They were black crowned night herons, and once darkness fell their favorite fishing spots were

on the docklines that each boat had tied across its slip.  Marina Coral is only half-full at the

moment, so every boat enjoyed a double slip to itself.  Because the surge is significant, most

boats tied several docklines across the adjacent empty slip to the cleats on the far side.  As

evening fell, each heron would choose a dockline and then gingerly step out onto it like a tight

rope walker, testing the line with its toes a few times before venturing out.

Once out in the middle of the line, the bird would patiently ride

up and down as the line tightened and loosened below him,

rising and falling with the surge.  Scanning the water for fish

(and on many nights the water was literally boiling and popping

because there were so many small fish near the surface), the bird would time his catch with

the movement of the rope.  But sometimes he would line up his perfect catch, extend his neck

and beak towards the water ready to snatch the fish, only to have the line begin to tighten

below him and raise him up and out of reach of his prey.  Oh well, better luck next time.  We

laughed out loud watching these antics through the window.  However, despite the

complication of fishing from a rising and falling platform, the herons always got their fill by

night's end and deposited the digested remains on the deck of our boat and all over the

docks.  Personally, I thought the evening's comedy show was worth the mess in the morning.

A brief stop at a running store in town got us hooked on running

once again.  A 6K running race was coming up, sponsored by the Port of Ensenada, and

suddenly we found ourselves in training.  I did too much too soon on broken down shoes and

put myself out of commission with a bum knee almost immediately, but Mark trained diligently,

increasing his efforts slowly.  By race day his bib #1 looked pretty good on his chest.  Usually

reserved for seeded racers, he got the number by virtue of having been the first to sign up for

the race.

We didn't know what to expect, but Glenda, the race

organizer said free t-shirts would go to the first 600 runners.

Would that many people sign up in the remaining 3 weeks?

What a shock on race day to find the plaza around the

waterfront packed to overflowing with runners, walkers and

families.

Music blared and people of all shapes and sizes stretched and

warmed up around us.  Amazingly, there were 900 entrants,

and from what I could see we were the only Gringos to show

up.  But running has a culture and a language all its own.  This

was a day for racers and a day for families, and it didn't matter

if you were on foot or on wheels, it was all about having a good

time.

Unlike races in the US where there is a hefty entrance fee,

timing chips tied into your shoelaces, and special recognition for

winners of different age groups, this race was free and your

finishing time was a private matter between you and the race clock.  However, a huge raffle at the end made many folks

winners -- of gym memberships, running shoe discounts, and even an all expense paid vacation to Las Vegas.  What a fun

way to celebrate the running spirit.

Back at Hotel Coral we discovered that July is

wedding month.  During our runs and walks along

the waterfront into town we could see catering

trucks and wedding receptions being set up at villas

all along our route every weekend.  One Saturday

morning we counted nine different weddings under

construction for that afternoon.  Hotel Coral is a

picturesque spot for a wedding, and while sitting in

the hot tub with a wedding party on the day of their

rehearsal, I found out the hour of the wedding the

next day and snuck back with my camera.

Mark's race time in the Re-Corre tu Puerto race

wasn't quite up to the standard he sets for himself.

So he was thrilled to find out there was another

race in a few weeks sponsored by the popular bar

Papas & Beer ("Papas" are potatoes).

He trained carefully and hard,

and was definitely in high

spirits when race day

arrived.  Even bigger than

the previous running race,

this one attracted 1500

entrants, and again we

were just about the only

Gringos that I could see.

Running clubs gathered

here and there, and a

high school team did

group stretches nearby.

Mark took off to warm up while the sexy Sol Beer gals entertained the

rest of us on the stage.  A cheerleading group did acrobatics nearby.

The music was loud and the place was

humming as everyone gathered under the

Tecate beer sign for the start of the race.  Suddenly

the gun sounded and they were off.  Milling around

the now empty streets, we all waited with high

anticipation for racers to bring the life back to the

party.  The Sol Beer gals played with the finish line

tape and the race clock slowly ticked away.

Suddenly the winner appeared, led by a police

car with sirens wailing and lights flashing, and

the excitement returned.  Mark shaved a few

minutes off his time and was ecstatic that at 56

he hasn't lost it yet.  But checking the world

track and field records online a little later, he

discovered that in his age group the 5K world record is 15:37, faster, ahem, than his fastest pace in his

prime.  Those records hold a lot of hope, however, as there is a 100+ age group for several distances.

For the 400 meter (~1/4 mile), the 100-year-old world record holder cooked along at less than a 15

minute per mile pace.  Merely being alive at 100, never mind donning running shorts, pinning on a race

number and jogging around a track, is remarkable.

The Papas & Beer race is all about family fun, not record setting,

however.  The party went on for hours as sweaty runners downed water

and oranges and bananas.  Cheering spouses, grandparents and

children exchanged proud smiles.  As with the previous race, all the

prizes were awarded through a raffle, and the grand prize was an all

expense paid trip to New York.  Of course visiting the US requires

government paperwork, and these days the US is not making it easy for

Mexicans to vacation north of the border.  As a Mexican friend

explained to me, applying for the mandatory $200 US visa is not as

easy as it sounds.  The visa might or might not be granted by the US

government, and sadly, if your application is rejected you won't get a

refund.  This makes it a risky bit of government paperwork to purchase,

especially since the minimum wage in Mexico is around $5 per day.

The grand prize trip to NYC was won by four different raffle ticket

holders before the eventual winner -- a bona fide US travel visa holder -- was actually able to accept it.

Government policies pale next to personal friendships,

however, and Mark discovered he had a lot in common with

race organizer Emeterio Nava.  Both had raced in the same

era, and they knew a lot of the same runners.  Mark

mentioned Mexican legend Arturo Barrios whom he had long

admired for setting the open road 10K world record (among

several other world records) in 1989.  Emeterio grinned

broadly and said, "He's a good friend of mine!" and promptly

called him on his cell phone and handed the phone to Mark.

What do you say to an idol?

These were our final weeks in Ensenada.  Our emotions were

becoming bittersweet as we realized we could count the days until

our departure.  One last week at the Baja Naval boatyard would

complete our stay before we headed off into the sunrise for

anchorages unknown.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada Wineries – Beautiful Properties and Great Tasting Wine

Ensenada, Mexico vineyards

Esenada vineyard in the Guadalupe Valley

Ensenada, Mexico vineyards

Grapes hung from an arbor just overhead

L.A. Cetto Winery

L.A. Cetto Winery

L.A. Cetto Winery

Pretty paths wander through the grounds.

L.A. Cetto Winery moonshine tanks used during Prohibition

These huge tanks were used to make "moonshine"

sherry during Prohibition.

L.A. Cetto winery

Grapes travel this corkscrew.

Steel tanks for aging wines

Steel tanks for aging wines.

Oak barrels age the more select varieties.

Oak barrels age the more select varieties.

L.A. Cetto Winery has won over 130 international awards

Gilberto pours wine after our tour.

L.A. Cetto Winery L.A. Cetto Winery outdoor picnic areas

Lots of gracious places for a picnic.

L.A. Cetto Winery outdoor picnic areas

We chose a secluded nook.

Dona Lupe vineyard tasting room Dona Lupe vineyard tasting room

Jams, jellies and honeys accompany wine at Doña

Lupe's tasting room.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery gatehouse

The gatehouse.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery

Adobe Guadalupe Winery statue of Pegasus

Pegasus

Adobe Guadalupe Winery.

A welcoming property...

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B

...with gracious views outside.

Wine tasting at Adobe Guadalupe Winery

Minerva tells us Adobe Guadalupe's poignant

history.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery features wines named for archangels Adobe Guadalupe Winery features wines named for archangels

Kerubiel, Serafiel, Miguel, Gabriel

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B arched hallways

Arched indoor hallways..

Adobe Guadalupe Winery open and airy living room

A lovely living room.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B arched hallways

Arched outdoor hallways.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B courtyard and fountain

A fountain filled courtyard.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B arched hallways Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B courtyard and fountain Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B courtyard and fountain

Adobe Guadalupe's courtyard.

Adobe Guadalupe Winery and B&B has a swimming poopl

A great spot to rest for a moment...

Ensenada's Wineries

Mid-July, 2010 - One of the charms of northern Baja California, and quite

different than the dusty, speedy, beerfest of the Baja 500, is a visit to the

delightful wine country.  The Guadalupe Valley is about two-thirds the size

of Napa Valley in California, and has the same climate as southern

France, making it an ideal location for wine making.  We had driven

through these pretty vineyard landscapes several times when we drove

up to the border crossing at Tecate, and we had sampled wines at two

tasting rooms in Ensenada, however we had not yet visited any wineries.

During our stay in

Ensenada, the fog

of "June Gloom"

had spread its

chilly, grey misery

well into July, and we were tired of waking up to damp, dark skies and

living under their scowls all day.  Knowing that the sun was shining and

summer was happily swinging away just a few miles inland, we piled

into a car with friends for a day tour of Ensenada's wine region along

"La Ruta del Vino," the wine route.

During grape growing season, the Guadalupe Valley is a

desert landscape that gets cooled by breezes from the

same misty spring and summer fog that had engulfed us at

the coast.  It is an ideal climate for grapes if not always for

people's moods.  This valley, along with the famed valleys in

California, is so perfect for grape growing that, after first

encouraging the development of New World wine

production, Spain ultimately banned it all together in 1699 to

avoid competition.

Visiting the scenic L.A. Cetto winery, our tour guide Gilberto explained

that wine making really got established in this area at the turn of the

last century when Russian Molokan immigrants settled the region.

Tracing their roots to a Christian sect that rejected the Russian

Orthodox Church in the 1500's, these faithful Slavs insisted upon

eating dairy products during official Church fasting days, earning them

the label "Molokans" (milk drinkers).  In 1904 a few hundred of them

left Russia, bringing wine grape saplings to their new home in Mexico.

We followed Gilberto under a

beautiful grape arbor where

ripe, juicy green grapes

dangled overhead in easy

reach.  Passing some towering

tanks, he described life in this

area during Prohibition when

thirsty Americans provided a

ready market for the sherries

and port wines that came out of those

very same tanks at the hands of Italian

Don Angelo Cetto.  He set up shop in

northern Baja in 1926, bringing a

knowledge of wine making from his

birthplace in Trento in northern Italy.

Today L.A. Cetto produces a million cases of wine each year,

the less expensive varieties aged in steel tanks and the more

select varieties aged in oak casks.  We had joined a family

group of Mexicans for the tour, and we all got a kick out of

listening to Gilberto's presentation in both Spanish and English.

We took turns taking photos of ourselves with the oak barrels in

the background, while we exchanged appreciative nods and

mumbled what we could in each other's languages.

Along with the other immigrant winemakers of the region, Cetto's

winery grew slowly, and in 1951 his son Don Luis Agustin Cetto

took over the reins.  The winery's fortunes really changed in 1965

when the talented young Italian winemaker Camillo Magoni joined

the team.  He overhauled the equipment in 1967, adding

refrigeration.  Amazingly, Camillo is with the winery to this day, and

in 2004 was selected as the top wine maker in the world by the

Dutch magazine Vinbladet.

These days the vineyard is run by grandson Luis Alberto Cetto.  The

wines are exported to 27 countries, and in 2010 they received the

Vinalies Paris International Gold Medal for their 2007 Petite Syrah.

While tasting this delicious wine, I marveled at the wall of awards

behind Gilberto's back.  I asked him which one the winery was most

proud of.  He shrugged, and I got the sense that even with over 130

awards to their credit, award winning is not what makes this place tick.

L.A. Cetto's free wine tastings are offered with an eye towards

educating the public in the joys of wine and its culture.  The

lovely grounds shelter a myriad of picnic areas tucked all around

the main building, and visitors are encouraged to buy a bottle

and enjoy a serene moment of classy outdoor elegance.  We

settled into a private nook with an engaging view of flowers and

fountains, and feasted on a spread of L.A. Cetto's homemade

bread and olive oil accompanied by a delicious Cabernet.  It is no

surprise that when President Obama recently entertained

Mexican President Felipe Caldarón at the White House, L.A.

Cetto wine was served.

We knew it would be hard to top this

introduction to Baja Mexico's wine

region, but we soldiered on.  We

stopped at Doña Lupe's tasting room

where little jars of gourmet goodies

filled the store from floor to ceiling.

Jams, jellies and honeys were all on

offer, and we sampled around the

room with delight.

Guadalupe Valley is filled with little

boutique wineries, but many require

advance appointments and most

require a healthy fee for tasting.  Our

taste buds had lost a little spark after

tasting at least eight wines at L.A.

Cetto and sharing a bottle in the

garden, so we weren't sure they

deserved much further investment for

the afternoon.  However, pulling up at

the gate to Adobe Guadalupe brought

all our senses to a peak once again.

This beautiful winerey / B&B

guesthouse / horse farm is the delightful opposite

extreme to L.A. Cetto.  After taking photos at the gate,

and of the gatehouse itself, a little man came out and

explained to me that there was a group arriving at 3:00

to take a tour.  I asked if we could join them, and after making a phone call, he said yes.

The short wait until their arrival gave us time to wander around outside the gate and get

a few photogrpahs.  Horses are near and dear to the owner's heart, and I especially liked

the picture Mark got of a Pegasus-inspired sculpture.

The vineyard is set back from the

main road, and the entire property

feels like a desert oasis basking in

the sun.  The rows of grape vines

seem to stretch all the way to the

distant mountains, and the

buildings, although new, have a

delicious old world feel.

Unlike L.A. Cetto where the history

of the vineyard is intertwined with

Mexico's history of the settling of the Baja Peninsula, the winery called

Adobe Guadalupe was created just over ten years ago to be a living,

spiritual memorial for a lost and beloved son.  Tru Miller's adult son Arlo

died tragically in a car accident.  While in Paris shortly after his death, his mother visited

the Notre Dame cathedral and received what she felt was a sign from God telling her how

to share and honor his memory.

Arlo had loved Mexican culture,

and there inside Notre Dame

Cathedral his mother saw a

Mexican chair covered with a

Mexican serape.  Upon a return

visit to the cathedral two years

later, she found the chair had

been incorporated into a altar

dedicated to the Virgin of

Guadalupe.  She decided right

then and there to settle in

Mexico's Guadalupe Valley, and

together with her husband Don,

they have created a property as

relaxing and welcoming as it is

stunning in its beauty.

Our hostess, Minerva,

told us this tale as she

poured our selection of

seven wines, each

named for an arch

angel.  As we savored

these rich bodied red

wines, we all scratched

our heads trying to

remember the English

names of the arch

angels, and stumbled a bit

over whether there were

really four or seven.  Miguel

and Gabriel were easy, but

Serafiel and

Kerubiel had us

stumped.  But

when Lucifer

showed up in

our glasses at

the end, we all

knew exactly

who he was.

Tru and Don live

in this glorious

property, but they keep most of it

open for visitors to explore.

Minerva led us down some

fantastic arched walkways into a

bright and airy living room.  Six

guest rooms are available in the

B&B, and I could easily imagine a

fantastic weekend of rest and

relaxation in this romantic setting.

We were led outside through

another hallway of arches and

then stepped into a palm tree

filled courtyard that embraced a

sparkling fountain.  Our cameras

snapped continuously as we

walked.

Finally emerging on the far side of

the building, a row of lounge chairs

lined up in front of the swimming

pool and invited us to take a load

off.  I have to admit that our heads

were spinning a little by this time,

what with all of the heavenly arch

angels paying us a visit through

their rich red nectar.  When we

finally left, our spirits were high and

our souls were refreshed.  I had

been waiting for a special day and

special friends to share a waltz

through Ensenada's wine country,

and this had been the perfect day.

All this wine and good cheer meant it was time to get serious

about our waist lines once again, and two Ensenada running

races got us inspired to get a little fitness back.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ensenada Gentility (Riviera Cultural Center) and Craziness (Baja 500)

Centro Socio Civico y Cultural de Ensenada

Manicured grounds, Riviera Cultural Center

Centro cultural del Pacifico

Unique architecture

Riviera Cultural Center, Ensenada, Mexico

Entrance of the "Centro Cultural Riviera"

Chinese lions guard the gates of the Riviera Cultural Center.

Given by cities of Pulandia and

Dalian in Liaoning Province, China

Cuautemoc, the last leader of the Aztecs

Cuauhtemoc, last Aztec leader

Arched entrance of the Hotel Riviera Pacifico

Arched entrance.

Hallway of arches, Hotel Riviera del Pacifico

Hallway of arches.

Arched courtyard, Riviera Cultural Center, Ensenada

Back courtyard makes the rest of Ensenada seem

worlds away.

Tiled image of a bullfight, Hotel Riviera del Pacifico, Ensenada History of where the Margarita was invented.

The Margarita was invented here

in 1948...

Bar Andaluz, Riviera Cultural Center

Bar Andaluz

Classical guitar and flute concert, Centro cultural Riviera

Classical guitar and flute concert.

Local politicians get the word out before elections.

Terrible Herbst's Prevost in the marina parking lot.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Mechanics tweek the race machines.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Hoods off -- all the way off!

Team McMillin, Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Team McMillin sets up shop next door.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Vehicle parade before the inspections.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Race vehicles come in all shapes and sizes.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

A souped up VW bug that Mark really liked.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The throngs were so thick the race cars had to creep past.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Drivers give autographs.

Tecate beer sponsors the Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Beer for all.

Monster sponsors the Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The Baja 500 is a testosterone fest.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

An all women's team.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Wacky hats were the norm.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

A chihuahua was one team's mascot.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

But I only had1 beer, officer...

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

Everyone posed with the hot

promo gals, no matter how

young or old.

Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico Score Baja 500 off-road race, Ensenada, Mexico

The scene before a lightning fast racer sped past.

Riviera Cultural Center & Baja 500 Race

June, 2010 - Now into our fifth of six months in Ensenada, we took a

break from the local tourist scene and began to zero in on final boat-

related projects to prepare Groovy for cruising.  Our major project was to

install an arch support for three large 24-volt solar panels.  This involved

shipping parts to San Diego, picking them up and hauling them here in

our truck, as well as having a local stainless steel expert design and build

the arch support.  Not a trivial project.

So it came as welcome relief

when our new Australian friends

who had come through the

marina on their way south in April

returned to Ensenada once again

on their way north.  As we

watched their videos of leaping dolphins and exotic rock formations in the more remote

parts of the Sea of Cortez, our appetites were whetted for upcoming Groovy

adventures, making all that work on our solar charging system seem very worthwhile.

At the same time, we had a chance to show them one of our newest Ensenada

discoveries: the Riviera Cultural Center.

This special spot in town is

impossible to miss, as it is

a huge, white, ornate

building with many wings

right on the main drag.  The architecture is grand and historic

looking, and the grounds are meticulously maintained.  However,

it was not obvious to me that the building was open to the public.

Two lions guard one

entrance, gifts to Ensenada

in a spirit of brotherhood by

the cities of Pulandia and

Dalian in Liaoning Province,

China.

A statue of the last leader of the Aztecs,

Cuauhtemoc, graces another part of the front lawn

of the Riviera.  Cuauhtemoc ruled Tenochtitlan

from 1520-21 before it fell to the Spanish and was

rebuilt as Mexico City.  His name alludes to an

eagle diving for its prey, in reference to his

determination and aggressiveness.  Assuming

leadership at just 18, probably no amount of

determination, youth or aggression could have

stopped the Spanish from decimating the Aztecs.

When he would not reveal where the (nonexistent)

gold treasure was hidden, he was tortured by

having his feet put to fire.  He died at 25 when

Cortez deceived him and had him killed.

On a lighter note, the Riviera is a beautiful and

unique property.  The cultural center hosts a wide

variety of events all year long, and there is an art

gallery at one end.  But perhaps its best feature is

the famed Bar Andaluz which not only makes the

best Margaritas in town, but claims to be where the

Margarita was first invented.

After walking through the prettily landscaped

grounds, you pass through an arched entrance into

a wooden ceilinged hallway of arches.

From there you emerge out into a back open air

courtyard of lined with more arches.  The walls are

decorated with tiled images of all kinds.  Many tiles

depict various mission churches that are located

throughout Mexico.  Each mission tile painting is

accompanied with a quote from a famous thinker,

ranging from Confucius to Francisco de Quevedo

(a 17th century Spanish writer) to John F. Kennedy.

The decorative tiles also tell the

building's history.  First opened

as the Riviera Hotel and Casino

in 1930, it was occupied by the

Mexican military in 1941-42.  In

1948 it came under the proprietorship of one Señora Margarita Plant.

After the "Golden Age" of the 1950's, the hotel changed hands several

times and was renovated as a cultural center in 1990.  Back in 1948,

the fussy Sra. Margarita Plant wanted a tasty drink but disliked the

flavor of Mexico's native libation, tequila.  So she asked her bartender,

David Negrete, to create a special drink for her.  Combining the tequila

with lime juice and Controy (a

Mexican orange liqueur like

Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand

Marnier), and rimming the glass

with salt, the Margarita was born.

Looking online for a little more info on the history of the Margarita, I discovered the

drink is attributed to several possible inventors, but Sr. Negrete in Ensenada, Mexico is

definitely a front runner.  Interestingly, most English language histories list this

bartender as "Daniel" Negrete, not "David," while in

Spanish they all point to "David" Negrete.

The bar is small but cozy, and the back wall is

covered with a dramatic mural depicting all kinds of

Spanish icons, including a lovely Flamenco dancer.

The Margaritas are truly the best

I've ever had, made with lime

juice so fresh it is squeezed into

your glass.  We returned yet

another night to watch a free

classical guitar concert put on by

local university students.

Ensenada boasts five universities

in and around town, and the bar

room was packed with university

people.  As we sat

there listening to

guitar and flute

duets by Bach, I

felt that we had discovered yet another side to Ensenada, one that has

nothing to do with the tourist party scene or the boating, biking and off-road

racing scene.  Our musical evening at the Riviera was enchanting.

Back out on Gringo

Gulch one day, we

heard a commotion

ahead and saw an

open air double

decker bus coming

towards us beeping

its horn loudly.  It was

decorated with posters and filled with people wearing matching hats and

waving flags.  As they went by we realized it was a local politician out

campaigning, Mexican style, for the upcoming elections.

Not long after that, the Baja 500 Boys showed up in the Hotel

Coral & Marina parking lot for their annual 500 mile off-road

race through the desert.  In just hours the marina parking lot

was transformed from a ho-hum dirt lot partially filled with

boaters' cars to a high intensity, high profile, home base for

the two major teams that were in contention for overall race

honors this year.

We watched in awe as the two million dollar Prevost motorhomes owned

by Terrible Herbst (the same folks who own the Terrible's casino and

convenience store chains in Nevada), circled each other in the parking

lot and made space between them for coolers, barbecues and camp

chairs, not to mention exotic race cars and mechanics to work on them.

Hoods went up, wheels came off, and many pairs of hands reached into

the bellies of these vehicles to tweak them to max power.

Just moments later

the McMillin team

appeared and set up

a large tent for their

racing fleet and

mechanical wizards.

I knew we were in the

presence of the titans

of this sport when one

fellow I'd been talking

to suddenly told me in

hushed tones, "See

that guy over there in

the blue ballcap

looking at that

engine?  His

name's Larry

Roeseler and he

won the Baja 1000

a bunch of times."

But this visiting crowd of desert speedsters weren't the only new kids on

the block.  As I looked around at my cruising friends who had joined us

in the parking lot, I suddenly I saw them metamorphose.  Men whom I'd

known only as sailors outfitting their boats with Single Sideband Radios

and heavy duty ground tackle while comparing notes on how to read

the weather offshore, suddenly began to ooh and aah over custom

steering linkages, big lobe cams and long travel suspensions.

Throughout the week leading up to the race we heard the rumbling

thunder of race cars coming and going from the hotel all day and

seemingly all night too.  A small portion of the racetrack was open

for practice runs, and the teams took full advantage.  The gates

leading out of the marina hotel are on an uphill, and the drivers

would rev the engines to max volume in salute to their friends each

time they left through those gates.

The Baja 500 is definitely a testosterone fest.  The day before

the race all the vehicles (cars, trucks, buggies and motorcycles)

paraded through town on their way to the inspection area.  The

crowd was so thick you had to bump your way through to get

anywhere.  People hung over the cars, patting them, posing

their kids in front of them for photos, and asking the drivers for

autographs.

Beer was stacked in front of every bar in anticipation of a rowdy

weekend, and the all the sponsors brought the hottest gals they could

find.  All the vehicles were exotic looking, tricked out to the max and

ready to take on the challenging dirt roads of the desert.

Checking out a friend's

photos from the Baja 500 on

his cell phone a few days

later confirmed my suspicion

that the guys there took as

many photos of the leggy,

scantily dressed promo gals

as they did of the cars.  They

were everywhere, and they

posed with everyone, from

tyke to teen to grandpa.

One all pink race car bore the

license plate "Alotta" (in

reference to the first name of

Austin Powers' hottie?) while

lots of folks paraded around

in crazy hats and getups.

One of the race cars

had a chihuahua atop

as a mascot, and Mark

found a Tecate can he

couldn't quite lift.

The race featured 289 entrants from 26

states and 13 countries.   Starting in

Ensenada, the course took a loop through

the interior of the northern Baja peninsula,

returning to town after 438+ miles.  The

motorcycles left at 6:00 a.m. followed by

the four wheeled vehicles in various

categories a little later.

I had hurt my knee so I decided

not go to the race start, but Mark

put his camera into video mode so

I wouldn't miss a thing.

Unfortunately, he didn't check the

camera settings before he started

shooting.  When he sat down to

show me his very cool videos, all

he had were still images of the

empty track before and after each

car zoomed pass.  Oh well.  He

said it was truly awesome, rockets

on wheels flying by in thunderous

clouds of dust.

The first motorcycles could be

heard screaming back to town a

few hours after lunch, while the first

four wheelers didn't get back until

dinnertime.  Slower buggies and

trucks could be heard roaring

across the finish line in town all

night long.

Walking by the McMillin tent near

sunset we suddenly heard their

radios crackle to life with chatter.

Their car had just won the main

event of the race.  Drivers Scott

and Andy McMillin, father and son, are the 2nd and 3rd generation of desert drivers in this

legendary racing family.  They finished in just over 9 hours, averaging 47+ mph.  When

the pair returned to the hotel, we heard the distinct roar of their triumphant, tricked out

850 hp Ford 150 truck as it took a noisy victory lap down through the entrance gates and

into the marina parking lot.

The next few weeks found us in constant motion as we ticked down our "to do" list of boat

projects that we wanted to finish before leaving the luxury of Hotel Coral & Marina.  But

friends finally swept us away to a delightful day

in Ensenada's Wine Country.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.