Ensenada Bay – Day Sailor’s Delight

sv Groovy catches a nice breeze in Ensenada, Mexico.

Groovy catches a nice breeze.

Pelicans watch us go by.

s/v Groovy in a groove in Ensenada Bay, Mexico. SV Groovy - a groovy day on the water.

A groovy day on the water.

Friends followed us tack for tack around the bay.

Mark hides out in the


The walking path to town.

Stairs near the university.

Waves carve their signature in

the beach.

Punta Morro Resort Restaurant.

Landscaping at the RV park

next to the marina.

An RV park tenant loves doing


...he has created a lush garden behind the waterfront row

of RVs.

Horses and buggies line up for passengers.

Spring Break is ON !!

Ensenada (2)

Late March / Early April, 2010 - Since our border crossings,

the days having been passing too quickly.  Each day we

wake up to a myriad of possibilities of things to do.  Try as

we might, they never all seem to get done.  We have found

that Bahía Todos Santos, the bay in which Ensenada is

perched, is a beautiful place for day sailing.  So we have

taken the boat out for a sail once or twice a week since we

got here.  The bay is a very large basin that is about 7 miles

by 10 miles or so.  It is defined by a large hook in the land,

and some islands in the distance fringe the outer edge.

There are rarely any boats out on the water.  During most

day sails we see a powerboat or two, usually sport

fishermen.  So far we have seen only a handful of sailboats

all together, and generally we are the only one.  Yet the bay

sports a delightful wind most days and the wildlife is plentiful.  One day, while sailing, a

huge whale surfaced just a few feet from the boat, making us both jump.  On another

day we came across a clump of harbor seals floating and snoozing together, flippers,

tails and heads intertwined as they drifted on the waves.  From a distance we thought it

might be the remains of a bush or a tree, but on closer inspection those things sticking

up in the air were the seals' fins.  Their deep, satisfied breathing gave them away.

Besides being a fantastic place to

sail, we wanted to use these months

in Ensenada to learn as much about

the boat as possible.  Hunter, the

manufacturer of the boat, kindly put a

little sticker near the stairs going into the cabin advising us to read the

owner's manual before operating the boat.  Very cute.

On two occasions

we have sailed

with another

boat.  On one

day in particular

we shared the

bay with a Hunter

49, a big sister to

our boat.  It was

the ideal sailing day with

modest winds, no waves

whatsoever, and bright

sunshine all day.  For five

hours we tacked back and

forth, zig-zagging out

towards the islands.  Then

we both slipped home with

the wind lightly pushing us

from behind.  We were so

free and happy, soaring on

the air in a light dance upon

the water.

These energetic days haven't been

getting their start with a Wheaties

breakfast, however.  Mark discovered

that the Mexican equivalent of one of his favorites, Coco

Krispies, can be found with Melvin on the front under the

label "Choco Kripis."  It's reassuring to start the day with

something familiar, even if it comes with a slight Mexican


But all that sugar can send you back to bed for a nap.

Where better than in the cockpit, even if you have to pile

on the blankets to keep warm?

The winter of 2009/2010 has turned out to be an El Niño

winter.  El Niño refers to the boy child, or more specifically

the Christ child, whom Peruvian farmers always thanked,

long ago, when this unusual weather effect would bless their fields with lots of rain.

Apparently difficult to predict but easy to

identify once it has arrived, this odd El

Niño weather pattern robs Montana of all moisture and totally soaks the

coasts of Southern California and Northern Baja Mexico.  El Niño has

other far-reaching impacts around the globe, generally reversing the

usual weather and delivering the exact opposite.

While the Peruvian farmers may have been elated this year, El Niño

hasn't left our rancher friends in Montana or us very happy.  The

Montanans don't mind the cold and desperately need the rain, and we

would have liked a nice warm dry season here.  However, Mother

Nature has her own, wise agenda, and the southwestern desert hasn't

been this green and lush in ages.

Our weeks get scheduled around which

day looks like it will be best for sailing, as far as temperature and wind strength are concerned.

Of course, weather prediction here has proven to be quite a challenge.  We check several

different websites, listen to Duck Breath's lengthy forecast on the VHF radio cruiser's net each

morning, and stand in the cockpit and scratch our heads.

One day that was predicted to have 9 knots of wind turned out to have 25-30 knots once we

got out into the bay, and another series of days that were supposed to inflict a torrent of

storms turned out to be balmy and pleasant.  We missed one of the most dramatic natural

events of the season during the week we drove to Phoenix.  A large earthquake in Chile

suddenly threatened to unleash a tsunami all the way up the Pacific coast to southern

California.  In anticipation, some folks took their boats out to sea, others doubled up their dock

lines and moved to higher ground, and all nervously stared out to sea and waited.

At the appointed hour the wave

arrived.  Fortunately it was far smaller

than expected.  The floating docks in

the marina rose and fell four feet in 10 minutes, but there was no

damage.  Up in San Diego, where the entrance to the bay is much

narrower and the surge is more forceful, there was some damage to

various shoreline structures.

We were blissfully unaware of any of this until the day after it

happened.  Casually reading the newspaper headlines in a Phoenix

coffee shop, my heart jumped when I saw the words "tsunami" and

"Baja Mexico" in one sentence.  But I quickly realized that the wave

had already come and gone 24 hours earlier.

The event we did not miss was the earthquake that struck just 100 miles inland in

Mexicali, California.  We didn't get sloshed around in the hotel's hot tub or get a good

shake-up in their restaurant like so many others here.  Instead, we were quietly sitting

below decks listening to the snap, crackle and pop that goes on under our hull all the

time.  We have been listening to this noise since we moved aboard, and we had heard it

years ago during sailing lessons in San Diego bay.  We had asked other cruisers about it

and been variously told it was marine creatures eating the scum off the bottom of our

hull, it was electrical activity in the water, it was the new-boat fiberglass settling in, or it

was the bottom paint flaking off into the water.

None of these explanations seemed right, but with so many other exciting things going on

in our lives, who had time to research a noise that all the other cruisers seemed to accept

without concern?  Not us.  Not us, that is, until the earthquake hit.

There we were, quietly relaxing, when suddenly the volume of the snap, crackle, pop

increased to 4-5 times its usual volume.  Mark sat bolt upright and looked at me wide-

eyed.  We both shot out of the boat and looked around to see what might be causing the

popping to get so loud.  Mark thought maybe someone was spraying our hull with a hose,

and I thought maybe something had sent a huge electrical surge through the water.  But

everything out in the marina looked just the way it always does.

So we ducked back down in the cabin where the noise soon subsided

and resumed its familiar peaceful crackling.  I didn't think anything

more of it until we walked up to the hotel later in the day and learned

about the earthquake.  What pandemonium.  People had leapt out of

the hot tubs and pools like greased lightning, screaming as they ran

off.  The earthquake had hit right about the time our boat was

engulfed in crackling.  Suddenly I put two and two together:  the noise

must be caused by creatures who were unnerved by the quake.

I had heard the likely noise-creating

marine creature was "krill" eating the

stuff that grows on the bottom of the

boat.  But why would the appetite of

krill, a small crustacean, suddenly

increase during an earthquake?  Not to mention, how can the tearing of soft, scummy tissues

off the bottom of a boat make such a sharp, popping noise (like bacon frying) that resonates

throughout the hull?  Furthermore, why didn't the noise abate for a few days after a diver had

scrubbed the bottom of the boat clean?  The crackling was always present, regardless of how

little marine growth our boat seemed to have.  Lastly, no diver had ever seen any creatures

munching on our boat's (or any other boat's) bottom.

A little more research and I finally discovered

who our creatures were: "snapping" shrimp, or

"pistol" shrimp, from the family Alpheidae and

genus Alpheus of which there are some 250

members.  These little guys sport a large

asymmetrical claw that they cock and then snap

shut to stun and kill their prey.  But this is no ordinary claw snap.  These guys

aim the claw between the eyes of their prey and snap it shut at such lightning

speed that an air bubble is emitted and bursts with a huge POW.  This releases

a blast of light and heat that is equivalent to that found on the surface of the sun.

The noise of these pistol shots ranks these little half inch shrimp among the

noisiest of the sea's creatures, right up there with sperm and beluga whales.

These crazy, noisy

shrimp aren't

feasting on the

underside of our

boat.  Instead, they live in the nooks and crannies of the seabed

floor below us, and they snap their way through life,

communicating with each other via snap language and killing their

dinner as it crawls by.  They form male/female pair bonds, sharing

a home and food, and some species even take up communal

residence in sponges, behaving much like bees in a hive.

Sound a little unlikely?  I discovered a wonderful website of a

biologist who has studied these fellows in depth.  We had a

delightful, lively exchange of email messages about these shrimp.

She explained that they live among the rocks below us in little

burrows they build for themselves, but their noise is so loud, even

15 feet below us, that we hear it as if it were right outside.  During the earthquake, she explained, they not only felt the earth

move, but they probably saw their burrows crumbling all around them.  No wonder they started snapping like mad.  They were

reacting just like the folks did in the pools and restaurant up at the hotel.

The website pointed me to two terrific YouTube links where you can see what these guys are all about:   A Brief (cute) BBC

Documentary shows the shrimp in action, and The Snap explains the physics and biology behind the shrimp's lethal claw.

Before all the excitement surrounding the earthquake, Holy

Week brought lots of Mexican Spring Breakers to Ensenada

and the area's beaches.  Easter Sunday the town was hopping

and the horses and carriages were lined up to take tourists to

see the sights.

We went downtown to see just how Spring Break was progressing.

The energy was high and the mood was a party.  Several young

boys were break-dancing and doing crazy gymnastics moves

outside a street-side bar.  It's an unusual kind of grace, but their

strength and coordination were impressive.

On two subsequent April weekends we

watched another kind of strength, agility and

sportiness in action during two long-running

Ensenada races.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.