Ensenada – A Gathering Place for Cruisers

s/v Groovy at Hotel Coral & Marina in Ensenada Mexico

A quiet, sunny morning on Groovy.

sv Groovy gets some engine maintenance

Mark does some engine


sv Groovy gets her hull waxed

We started waxing the hull side by side in the kayak...

...but after I fell in, Mark was on his own.

Chilly Willy, Ivan and Christopher, the Hotel Coral & Marina dockworkers

Chilly, Ivan and Christopher chat with us in the morning.

Chilly demonstrates a chain splice Chilly demonstrates a chain splice Chilly demonstrates a chain splice Chilly demonstrates a chain splice Chain splice completed An aviary in front of a home in Ensenada, Mexico

The whistles and calls of an aviary beckon.

Lovebird peaks out of a nestbox

The lovebirds are a little

suspicious of the camera.

Empty liquor bottles form a window wall at Santo Tomas Winery

A window-wall of empty liquor

bottles stacked on their sides.

Wine barrels at Santo Tomas winery

Wine barrels stand in the courtyard of the Santo

Tomas tasting room.

The entrance to the Ensenada tasting room for the Santo Tomas winery

A grand entrance...

Inside the Ensenada tasting room for the Santo Tomas winery

...and equally grand interior.

The winning Scirocco Syrah wine at Santo Tomas winery

The Santo Tomas Scirocco Syrah

wins medals.

A French Fromagerie kiosk building outside Santo Tomas winery's tasting room

A French Fromagerie in the middle of Mexico.

Brightly painted homes in Ensenada, Mexico

Pretty houses.

Strawberries for sale in Ensenada, Mexico

Strawberries for sale.

Horse and buggy in front of the Centro Cultural Riviera del Pacifico

A horse and buggy run by with a wave.

Two tigers on the streets of Ensenada

Two tigers look out at the streets of Ensenada.

La Vendimia, the cruisers' hangout in Ensenada

La Vendimia (the Grape Harvest), a favorite cruiser

hangout on Thursday afternoons.

Jacko, the Media Man

Yako, the Media Man

Fidela, the Vegetable Lady

Fidela,  The Vegetable Lady

The Flower Guy

The Flower Guy

A love note coded in English.

More discoveries in Ensenada, Mexico

Early May, 2010 - After the excitement of the bike and boat races, life at

Hotel Coral & Marina simmered way down again.  The weather slowly

began to show signs of warming, letting us run around in t-shirts and

shorts for a few hours every day.  We passed the halfway mark of our six

month stay in Ensenada, and the pace of our preparations for a life "on the

hook" at sea began to quicken.  Even though Groovy is virtually brand

new, there were still puzzling things to fix and many things to maintain as

well as lots of things to add to make the boat cruise-ready.

Mark did some engine maintenance,

changing the engine oil and

transmission oil and cleaning out the

strainer that filters the engine's sea

water intake (the engine is cooled by

sea water rather than by a radiator).  It

was amazing to see the little oceanic ecosystem that had been growing in the sea strainer,

and the engine sparkled once he was finished.

The outside of the boat

needed a good wax job

too, and we tackled it in

stages.  Everyday we'd

do a small section, using

two different waxes, first

removing oxidation and

then giving it a real

shine.  We decided to

use the kayak to wax

the sides of the hull,

kneeling in it side by side.  All went well on the aft section of

the boat as we got used to maneuvering on a moving platform.  I hopped out to grab fresh towels for us while Mark moved the

kayak forward a few feet and tied it off to Groovy.  This time, rather than climbing in from the dock, I had to lower myself down

to the kayak from the deck of the boat.  I grabbed the stainless steel stanchions at the gate and began to lower myself down.

"I'll guide your foot," Mark said helpfully as he grabbed my ankle.  That was a relief, as I suddenly realized the kayak was a lot

further down than I thought.

I soon found myself doing a full split, with one foot still on the boat

and the other groping frantically for the kayak.  Suddenly I felt my

grip loosen on the stanchions and I said a quick prayer that

Mark's expert guidance would land my foot and the rest of me in

the kayak.  No such luck.  My foot found the water and then the

water found my whole body as I plunged in.  Mark had a death-

grip on my shirt as I spluttered to the surface.  "Let go of my

shirt!" I shrieked as I splashed towards the dock.  I heaved myself

onto the warm concrete dock and laid there on my back like a

beached whale, laughing til my sides ached.

Miraculously, no one had seen our stunt.  Usually, anything you

do around your slip in a marina is done in front of an appreciative audience, complete with cheers and heckles and

goodnatured ribbing.  Well, at least I got out of the waxing chore for the rest of the day.  Our friends who work in the marina,

Chilly, Ivan and Christopher all got a kick out of our tale.  Ivan and Chris spend their days diving in the marina, cleaning the

bottoms of the boats.  Chris and Chilly speak English very well, and they patiently help us through our halting Spanish.

One of our boat preparation projects was to upgrade our

anchor and replace our chain/rope anchor rode combination

with one that was all chain.  In the process I learned more

about types of chain, manufacturers of chain, dimensions

and galvanizing of chain, and the vagaries of Chinese-made

chain than I ever thought I could know.  Our boat had left the

factory with a modest anchor setup, but the previous owner's

attempt at upgrading the rode had resulted in the wrong size

chain attached to a wonderful length of brand new anchor

line.  In the end, we wanted to attach this new rope to a short

length of the right size chain to use as a spare.

Chain and anchor line get connected to each other with a

beautiful type of braiding that allows the transition point to

slip through the anchor windlass without binding it up.  I

found a great website that explains how to do this kind of

knot and it looked so easy (here).  I laid out the chain and opened the end of the three-strand nylon rope and started the

process.  After about an hour of starting and re-starting, replaying the knot-tying video over and over and struggling to open

the tight twists of line to weave the ends through, I asked Chilly if he could help.

Chilly spent many years as a commercial fisherman, plying the entire eastern Pacific coast from Alaska to Peru, and not only

can he do a hilarious imitation of all the different Spanish accents (and facial expressions) that can be found along that coast,

he is a whiz with knot-tying.

I had figured I'd take photos of his hands as he went along so next time I could do it myself.  I also figured he'd scratch his

head at least once before getting going.  But his hands flew, fast and furious, right from the start.  Accompanied by occasional

om-like chants of "mmm-Hmmm,"  the rope flip-flopped in his hands as he wove the ends back on themselves effortlessly.  He

paused now and then just long enough to give it a firm tug and utter a satisfied "hmmm."

"You see, you skip one then go under the next one."  It sounded good, but I didn't quite see.  "This is easy rope to work with

because it's brand new.  It's much harder on the ships when the line is old and filled with salt."  I tried my hand at the final few

braids, grunting as I tried to open the impossibly tight weave.  The line was ultra stiff and the pattern still escaped me.  I

suspect it takes a lot of hours on a rolling boat (and probably with a demanding captain) to master that knot like Chilly has.

But the finished product was a lovely braided section.  Chilly

grabbed a hot-knife and sealed off the three ends.  He handed the

finished work to me with a shrug.  "See, it's not hard,"  he smiled --

and winked.

Out in town we kept exploring new neighborhoods.  In many ways,

walking the streets of Ensenada is like stepping back in time.  The

storefronts are small, jammed together cheek by jowl, and most

shopkeepers have a specialty.  We passed a barbershop with no

patrons and saw the barber snoozing peacefully in his chair, head

thrown back and mouth open.  Next door was a shoeshine shop

overflowing with patrons.  The brushes, polish and banter flew as the

customers held their shoes out for buffing.

I heard the familiar chirping of

parakeets and stopped at a gate to

gaze at a huge aviary set back from

the street in a garden.  A lady came to the gate and let us in as I explained that I used to raise

budgies and am a bird lover.  These guys were making a happy racket, and we discovered

nest boxes filled with cockatiels, conures and lovebirds as well.  "Do you know that the English

word for these birds is 'love bird?'" I asked her in Spanish.  She told me the Spanish word for

them is "párajo de amor," which has the same meaning.  I was surprised the birds would take

the same name in two languages until I looked it up later: their scientific name, "agapornis,"

comes from the Greek words for "love bird."  Of course anyone who has hung around these

colorful little stubby birds knows that they can be rather argumentative, even crotchety, lovers.

Around the corner we found the back end

of the huge in-town sales complex for the

nearby winery Santo Tomás.  First we saw

the wine barrels lined up outside the

building.  The brick wall had intriguing

"windows" that had been constructed of

liquor bottles stacked on their sides.

Pretty purple flowers hung down from a


Out front the wine tasting room features a

grand entrance and and equally elegant

interior.  We haven't yet been out to the

vineyard itself, but some time spent with

the salespeople here has put a trip to the

vineyard high on our "to do" list.

The Mexican wines of this region are

becoming internationally recognized,

and this winery has a strong line-up of

medal winning wines.

Outside the winery is a

French Fromagerie in a

little brick kiosk structure.

How funny to walk into a

little brick building filled

with huge rounds of French


This whole neighborhood has a

colorful flair.  There is a French

bakery and a natural food store

and other specialty shops that

give these few blocks an

international aura.  Each shop is

barely 12'x12' inside, but what

fun to duck inside each one and

find gourmet products from around the world.

Strawberries were in season, and we picked up several boxes.

Rather than leaving them in their cartons, as would be done

back home, all our little boxes were emptied into a big plastic

bag for easy carrying.

Wandering back towards the tourist roads along the harbor front, I again

got a chance to catch a horse-and-buggy in my lens.  Mexicans so often

love a photo op, and this guy was no exception, giving me a wave and

suggesting we hop in for a $3 ride around town.  Another time.

We turned up another street and heard all kinds of noise blaring from a

vehicle as someone yelled incomprehensible Spanish in a loudspeaker.  I

turned and saw a pickup pulling two cages, one containing a black

panther and one with two tigers.  Where were they off to?  Who knows.

Gotta learn more Spanish so I can understand these things!

Every Thursday night the cruisers from the

marinas around town all gather at a restaurant

called "La Vendimia" ("The Grape Harvest").  Run

by Katrina, a Liverpool-raised British ex-pat who

knew George Harrison and watched the Beatles

play at The Cavern Club every week before they

hit the international stage, this little gem of a

watering hole offers two-for-one specials for

Happy Hour and a free spaghetti dinner.  So for $7 or $8 we can

both have a few beers and dinner and see all the faces behind the

boat names we hear on the Cruiser's Radio Net every morning.

Besides the fun ambiance, Katrina's

charm and the amazing prices, the thing

that keeps the cruisers coming back

week after week is the guest stars who

drop by every Thursday.  Most

important is Jacko, a Huichol

descendent of the Aztecs who is an

artist and has studied Linguistics at

prestigious American universities.  He

comes to La Vendimia every Thursday

night to take orders for and deliver very

inexpensive movies and music on DVD

and CD.  These then get passed around and shared at the

Wednesday morning cruisers breakfast.  When Jacko arrives,

eager customers jump up from their barstools to hand him their

lists of "must have" movies and to pick up their delivery from the previous week.

The other main event on Thursday nights is the arrival of the Vegetable Lady.  She grows

organic vegetables in her garden and comes with a huge box of beautiful vegetables for

sale.  When she shows up another group of happy customers all vanish from the bar and

pack around her like flies, oohing and aahing over the beauty of her baby carrots, zucchini,

sweet peppers and shelled peas.

Usually a Mariachi band will wander

through at some point, stopping for

an appreciative table and singing

their hearts out.  One evening they

even inspired Mark to take me to

the dance floor, and soon almost the whole motley crew of sailors was

jigging around on the dance floor.  The Flower Guy swings through

every Thursday as well, offering beautiful flowers for romantic men to

buy for their starry eyed loves.  I have a feeling he has better luck at

the bars where the cruise ship tourists go than with the crusty old

salts at La Vendimia.

My own love surprised me one

day by putting a sweet note in my

shower bag.  I always stop for a

few minutes to talk to the women that give out the towels at the hotel spa where we

grungy cruisers get to take our luxurious showers (such a life!).  Their English is just a

smidgeon better than my Spanish, but they get a kick out of watching me stammer

through whatever I have to say.  I always rehearse a little something before I walk in so I

can try to improve.  When Mark's note fluttered out of my shower bag onto the floor I saw

a perfect opportunity to engage Erica, a sweet young girl at the desk who blushes and

giggles every time she says something in English.  "Mark wrote this for me," I said.  "It's in

English."  She examined the note and I gave her a start, "I..."  "love you," she finished.

Her cheeks dimpled as she smiled at me.  She pointed to a flower on her desk from her

"novio" (boyfriend) who is "muy guapo" (very handsome).  What fun.  This is a truly

magical time in our lives.

A week later my mom came to visit, and we had a chance to share with her some of Ensenada's treasures, including the

famous blow hole and zany crazy tourist scene at La Bufadora.

Find Ensenada on Mexico Maps.