Balance crossed the US/Mexico border about 6am November 1, the sky was beginning to shade from dark grey to a pale grey above the lights of Tijuana, and we could see the border fence lights marching up the hillside over on shore. Leaving San DIego was much easier than entering, we decided to hop from Pier 32 Marina down the Bay to Point Loma Marina, near Shelter Island and a bit west of downtown Oct 31, in order to get a very early start the next day. We left Pier 32 Marina at the perfect time, just before sunset lit up downtown San Diego as we motored by.
Pier 32 Marina and Point Loma Marina are owned by the same company, so it was easy to arrange a mooring berth. We arrived in the marina in the dark, following the trusty chart plotter on the radar, and found ourselves berthed in a 60 foot slip, between two 50 to 60 foot sailboats. Balance seemed like a toy sailboat berthed among behemoths (there are sailboats up to 200 feet long, but we haven’t been next to any of those yet). After a very short stroll up to the waterside walkway we immediately found Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar glowing invitingly. Inside we were greeted by a young woman dressed up as Waldo, two waiters and bartenders dressed as Hasidic rabbis, and another waitress looking like the Swiss Heidi. This year we weren’t dressed up for Halloween, but we got treats anyway. Fish and chips, a huge salad of greens, cranberries, feta, toasted pecans with raspberry vinaigrette, and a Grapefruit Mojito gave me a festive mood. Here is the recipe for the Grapefruit Mojito, kindly written down by our Hasidic rabbi:
2 oz silver rum
1 oz St. Germaine liqueur
Mull some mint and add to the glass before the other ingredients and garnish with mint.
In the somewhat wee hours of the morning, 4:30 am to be exact, we cast off to try our luck at getting across the border. Nov 1 must have been a lucky day, because we saw no cruise ships, almost no fishing boats, and pretty much had the Bay to ourselves right until the last buoy, when a tug pulling a barge was coming in, but easily avoided. Soon enough we were in Mexico, and as the daylight arrived, we motored and sailed our way down the coast only about 3 miles offshore, watching hillsides covered with houses and hotels all the way down the coast to Ensenada. Before the economy tanked, many Californians and others drew their dream home on a paper napkin, then had that home built between Tijuana and Ensenada due to a lack of housing regulations. (I got that information from a book about sailing the Pacific coast of Baja.)
Just before the entrance to Bahia de Todos Santos Balance sailed right through a pod of about one hundred dolphins, flashing silver and white as they leapt, dove, and arced through the water. About ten surfed our bow wake for ten minutes, just as we thought the show was over, back they came. I’m going to try to attach a video, the marina here has incredibly slow internet.
(The video attached, but below the next paragraph.)
Cruiseport Marina on the waterfront had a berth for us, and on a Thursday was very quiet. We met many other cruisers on their way south or staying months and years in Ensenada. The town has been cleaned up considerably since the 60’s when it was a filthy destination for college students looking for a long inebriated weekend. No, I wasn’t one of those, but heard about it from fellow college students who lived in California or went to Ensenada on a break between terms. Ensenada and alcohol go back to Prohibition, when Jack Dempsey and perhaps some Mafia contributors built the beautiful Pacific Hotel in downtown Ensenada. Frank Sinatra sang at the opening, as did a female singer from Baja who became Rita Hayworth. Since the Spanish land grants of the early 19th century, the Ensenada area has been famous for also producing a wide variety of olives. The climate here is very similar to the climate near Ronda in southern Spain, where I saw miles and miles of olive groves from the window of a train.
Friday we checked in with the Mexican authorities, it took two hours with the help of Enrique, one of the employees at the Cruiseport Marina office, it might have taken all day without him! Forms to fill out, about us and about the boat, insurance, crew list, duplicates and triplicates, and then paying money, more forms, more money and then customs (luckily this was all in the same building, it used to involve going to three different buildings when Nikk sailed here in the early 80’s). Ensenada was cold until Sunday, the Ensenadans were wearing parkas, because the temperature only reached the high 60’s. The sun was shining, though, so we walked a lot doing errands and finding food. Nothing special, except for the huge papaya and pineapple at the market, and the wine bar where we sampled four wines from L.A. Cetto, a local winery up in the hills, and bought two bottles of their cabernet sauvignon, not as complex a blend of flavors as South Australian cab sav, but a good mix of fruity and deeper tones like chocolate or maybe coffee. We’re saving them for a special dinner somewhere, alone or with friends.
Sunday the sun shone brightly, it felt warmer, so we grabbed the two marina one-speed bikes, complete with huge tires and wire baskets, and set out for the estuary about five miles away. The route we followed took us along the malecon, the wide paved sidewalk, then up to Hwy 1, a rather too busy highway with three lanes in each direction, and finally the turn-off down a long street to la playa, accessed through a trailer park. We found a little taco shop, got delicious fish tacos, made with fried yellowtail and condiments of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, salsa and shredded cabbage.
The beach was a combination of trailer park, small beach cottages, larger homes beautifully landscaped, and a large hotel. The public area has a park, small swimming pool, and estuary beach, from what I’ve read Ensenada is a place like La Paz where Mexican couples and families vacation, but the Mexicans spend a little time in Ensenada shopping, and more time relaxing at hotels with beach access and restaurants, probably to avoid the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships. Cruiseport Marina has two huge outside slips where cruise ships dock. One came in Friday night, another Saturday morning, and another arrived Saturday night as the first one was leaving. By Sunday morning they were all gone! When they arrive and disgorge their passengers, the area near the docks where there are two long streets full of small shops selling merchandise, and vendors accosting you in a friendly manner, gets really crowded. When the ships are there on the weekend we also saw a lot of indigenous parents sitting on the sidewalks while their children hawk little trinkets, to add some money for those families with so little. This seems to be common in every place where gringos congregate.
Of course we tried to find a different way back, wound up in the barrio, cycling along dusty streets, with only a few little dogs running out to chase us, yapping but not biting. After riding into an arroyo and back out again, weaving through more streets of homes, we were back at the highway and then the boat. Altogether a four-hour jaunt.
I’m including this next picture for my brother, who rides his bike into unknown territory too.
Feeling the wind strengthen as we pedaled our tired selves back to the marina, stopping so Nikk could reattach the chain, which kept coming off, getting redder and hotter by the minute, we were looking forward to casting off and sailing across the bay to the Marina Coral. By about three we were sailing in 15 knot winds, feeling the breeze, listening to the shush of the water slipping by the hull, finally with no motor, but only an hour of sailing brought us to the fuel dock, and then the marina. Staying here is twice as expensive as any marina we stayed at in the US, but we have the bonus of the use of the luxurious hotel’s pool and spa.
This is our last luxury before sailing south, anchoring in the shelter of bays and coves, perhaps seeing whales, and exploring the areas where the desert meets the sea.