San Diego Anchorages – Boondocking on the Water

Isla Coronado Sur

Fishing boats rafted at the Coronado Islands.

A ketch anchored at La Playa Cove.

Beautiful mansions cover the hillside at La Playa

Cove anchorage.

We decided this was our favorite house.

The roses smelled so sweet too.

sv Groovy gets a new light bulb on the mast.

Mark changes the bulb for our

anchor light.

Folks of all kinds enjoyed La Playa Cove for

the weekend.

Hobie's slick trimaran sailing kayak.

Segways of the sea.

"Sure, I can squeeze through there."

A surfer gets a tow from a windsurfer.

Morning dawns at Southwestern Yacht Club.

Our kayak became our lifeline to shore.

A closed paddle-boat restaurant fills our view at the A9

cruisers' anchorage.

Those dirty towels sure pile up on a boat.

Sunsets from our cockpit were a little slice of heaven.

The full moon hovers over downtown, serenely

keeping an eye on the chaos of humanity below.

San Diego Anchorages

Late August, 2010 - We pulled out of Baja Naval marina in Ensenada,

Mexico after a flurry of paper chasing to get our exit documents together

in a form that was acceptable to the Port Captain.  The position of Port

Captain carries a lot of prestige, and he or she holds ultimate power over

all boating activity in the port.  Having checked into Mexico through Hotel

Coral & Marina, the Ensenada Port Captain told us we now needed our

exit crew list to be written on the letterhead of Baja Naval Marina, to show

our movement from one marina to the other during our stay.  Good grief.

The cruising guide had indicated we could write up our exit crew list

ourselves.  No such luck.  Lots of boats leave Mexico without getting exit

papers, but because we plan to return in a few months it seemed wise to

follow the prescribed protocol, so we put a few miles on our shoe soles

that morning as we ultimately made three trips to visit the Port Captain.

The morning was misty, and the sea created a smooth, undulating

blanket beneath us as we motored into the sunny haze.  We planned to

stop at Las Islas Coronados for an overnight rather than do the entire 70

mile trip to San Diego in one shot.  These islands are a few miles

offshore from Mexico, lying just below the US/Mexico border.  We had

heard to steer clear of the fishing activity at the south end of the

southernmost island before turning in to the anchorage that lies at its

midpoint on the eastern shore.  So we were very surprised to find that

fish pens and fishing boats occupied the entire eastern shoreline of the

island, effectively blocking us from turning towards our planned

anchorage until we got all the way to the northern tip.

Doubling back south and snaking our way along the shore, we eyed the

eight or so rows of three or four fish pens per row.  A lone sailboat was

anchored amid 30 or so fishing boats, and we took a spot nearby.  It is a

pretty little anchorage, and when morning came we didn't want to leave.

The gulls were calling each other, seals surfaced here and there around

the boat, and the rocks glowed orange in the sunrise.  Facing the hustle

and bustle of San Diego did not seem appealing at all.  Being anchored,

and free, after months of harnessing our boat in a slip, tying it down like a

horse penned in a stall, this brief whiff of pure freedom beckoned us.  After

all, opening our souls to this world of nature is why we chose to get a boat

and go cruising.

However, our

truck was parked

in 72-hour on-

street parking on Shelter Island and it was now 96 hours since we'd

parked it.  Duties and obligations reeled us in, and we sailed into the US

customs dock in San Diego and filled out more paperwork for more

uniformed officials to document our arrival back in the US.

Our arrival coincided with the arrival of summer in southern

California, despite it being August 17th.  The sun shone from first

light every day for ten straight days, and it seemed like it must be


We spent a few errand filled days tied up at the harbor's Police

Dock, taking advantage of having easy access to our truck and

stores from a slip in the heart of San Diego's sailing community.

We were in an intermediate phase now, without a permanent slip

for the boat, but not yet cruising full-time without wheels on land.

Our plan was to hop between anchorages until mid-October,

finishing our various outfitting projects on the boat and learning to

live on the hook, before setting sail for southern Mexico.

One delightful free anchorage is

available--weekends only--at La

Playa Cove behind Shelter Island.  Tucked between the

San Diego Yacht Club docks and the Southwestern Yacht

Club docks, this pretty spot is hugged by a hillside

studded with multi-million dollar waterfront homes.  As we

swung slowly from side to side at anchor, we admired

these beautiful glass-walled mansions, imagining what

that life must be like.

Shelter Island had unexpectedly become like a second

home to us after we spent October, 2008 and half of

January 2009 parked along the streets in our fifth wheel.

So we enjoyed getting to know its other side, soaking up

its unique warmth and familiarity from the water.

Our first anchoring experience at Isla Coronado Sur on the way to San Diego had revealed that

our anchor light bulb at the top of the mast needed changing.  It took two sailors to change this

light bulb, one manning the winch (me) and one scurrying up the mast to change the

bulb (Mark).  What crazy stuff this boating life gets you into.

Being the first truly

gorgeous, sunny, warm

weekend of the summer,

the cove was soon filled

with merry-makers of

every type.  If you had

something that could

float, this was the

weekend to take it out.

We saw rubber dinghies,

sleek little sailboats, a

Hobie sailing trimaran

kayak, traditional

kayaks and even folks

who could walk on water.

These standing paddlers

are like Segway riders of

the sea.

Lots of hot shot sailors

came through the

anchorage in impossibly

large boats, weaving

between everyone under

sail power alone,

showing the world just what amazing sailing skills they

have.  It was a little unnerving when a single guy showed up in a

ketch, a sailboat with two masts and three sails, all flying.  For a

moment the bowsprit on his boat threatened to hole Groovy right

through the middle, but he turned just in the nick of time and anchored

perfectly, running his engine for less than three minutes as he

dropped the hook.

Big kids, little kids, kids who ride on boats -- all love La Playa Cove.

During this time we gradually adapted to our new life at anchor.  No

longer able to simply step ashore and walk a few paces to our truck,

we now had to get ashore by boat.  We used the kayak at first, as it is

just so much fun to run around in.  Getting into the kayak from the

back of Groovy can be tricky, since both boats move, and not always

in a synchronized manner.

Ferrying family and friends

to the boat was a new

experience too.  Since the

kayak is built for two, and

two only, each visitor had to

be brought aboard one at a

time.  And a ride in the

kayak is never a dry affair.  Wet butts, wet feet, and salty hands were the name of the

game, but it was all such a blast.

When the weekend ended Monday morning, the boats

slowly drained out of the anchorage and we headed

over to our new home base, the A9 anchorage off the

end of Harbor Island.  This anchorage is free to all non-

San Diego County residents, and you can stay for up to

90 days, renewing your 30 day permit twice.  Not quite as picturesque as

La Playa Cove, it is still a very pretty spot.  Situated behind a now-closed

paddle boat restaurant and very upscale marina, it lies between the San

Diego airport and the Navy's airbase with a great view of downtown.

There is a constant stream of planes coming and going on either side,

and boats of all sizes ply the harbor's waters.  Tankers, cruise ships,

Navy ships and sunset cruise boats come and go all day long, and

between them the pleasure boaters fly about at full speed in power boats

and at half speed in sleek sailboats.

We loved our new spot and continued to adjust to this new life on the hook.  I did a load of laundry by hand, to alleviate the huge

pile-up of dirty clothes that would require a trip ashore by boat to get to a laundromat.  We found little things that were trivial in the

fifth wheel or living at a marina, like getting groceries or disposing of garbage, now became Major Expeditions.  Every trip on or off

the boat required a kayak ride and we got used to hugging our groceries and balancing bags of trash in our laps as our legs

pushed the pedals.

Mark continued working on the

various projects he'd tackled to get

ready for long term cruising in

Mexico.  Access to the truck was

both a boon and a bust, as it needed

to be moved from Shelter Island to

Harbor Island, a distance of several

miles.  Not a big deal for the truck,

but the kayak on the other hand...

Mark's legs were sore after soloing

the kayak against wind and current

while I drove the truck around to

meet him.

Late afternoons in the cockpit were

pure heaven.  We would kick back

and watch the scene around us.

Jets arrived in regular one minute

intervals to our left, the coast guard

choppers hovered over their base

just a little further on, and the Navy

jets exploded into the skies across

the harbor on our right.  It wasn't a

tranquil anchorage, but the hum of

human activity was intoxicating in

its own way.

What a surprise it was, as we sat

there one afternoon, to see the full

moon suddenly appear above the

city skyline right in front of us.

Mother Nature still sets the stage for

all human activities, even in our

biggest cities.  It hovered and winked

over the glowing buildings, welcoming

us to our new life of boondocking on

the water.  Happily, many more

enjoyable days in San Diego's

anchorages lay ahead of us.