Ensenada’s Baja Naval – An Excellent Boat Yard Experience

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


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

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.