Groovy is hoisted out of the water in front of an
audience of tourists.
Groovy slides into her parking space at Baja Naval.
The scum is powerwashed off the bottom.
The bottom is sanded and a new layer of copper (an
anti-fouling agent) is exposed.
New paint goes on in a contrasting color so we can tell
when it is time to paint again.
Baja Naval workers play volleyball just below our boat.
A new thru-hull is drilled
into the boat.
Baja Naval has excellent craftsmen.
Fine varnish work is done in a dust-free room,
A wonderful contrast of old and new: a wooden 1968
49' German Frers designed yacht was next to us.
Narrower, heavier and sleeker, the older boat has a
more pointed back end and no swim platform.
Groovy peaks out over the fence to the
tourists walking along the Malecon below.
This statue honors the
trandition of education and
teaching that is a foundation
of Ensenada's culture.
Acrobats amid wine.
L.A. Cetto offered a full array of wines to taste.
Huge vats of soup.
The Golden Statue Man
performs for us.
A singer performs at the Sushi Festival going on at
the same time on the waterfront.
We walk through Hotel Coral for final goodbyes.
Marina Coral was a classy home for six months.
Groovy checks out a cruise ship parked next door.
Groovy gets rolled to the water's edge.
The cruise ship behind our Baja Naval slip lights up at night.
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
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
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
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.