Distinctive geology marks the transition from U.S. waters to those of Mexico. Sunrise on the way south from San Diego to Ensenada.

It’s one long day’s trip from San Diego to Ensenada by sailboat. Winds were light and we motor sailed almost the entire way, leaving San Diego at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 13 and arriving in Ensenada before dusk of the same day.


Closing in toward shore as we motor sail down the coast, nearing Ensenada.

Word of mouth steered us to Baja Naval Marina inside Ensenada’s bay. The marina staff in the office speak English quite well. Thank goodness, as our attempts at Spanish are probably more entertaining to native speakers than we realize. We received excellent advice and guidance from the marina office about the clearing-in process.


Baja Naval Marina and shipyard. We met several Americans with boats in the yard being worked on. The quality of work is very good and the price is right. There were a handful of cruising boats floating in slips, as we were, getting paperwork completed and provisioning for the long sail down the Pacific coast of Baja California.

Once you’ve cleared in, you receive your visa, valid for the duration of your stay in Mexico and a Temporary Import Permit for the boat itself. The front desk at Baja Naval provides a printed checklist to guide you through the process: Go here 1st, then there 2nd, then back to #1 before going to a 3rd office, etc. One of the reasons to clear into Mexico in Ensenada is that the entire process can be accomplished by going to a single building. All of the various offices you need to visit are located in the building and share a common lobby, so you just walk from window to window. It’s a small lobby and can be quite crowded if several ships and boats are clearing in with crew at the same time. It took us three and a half hours to complete the process, but everyone – both Mexican staff and other boaters – maintained a cheerful and professional attitude, and it all went quite smoothly. In other cities in Mexico, you must go to different buildings, usually in different parts of the city. Randy was itching to create a flow chart with time and distance metrics, but Ruth’s wisdom prevailed.


One of the cruise ships that have begun calling at Ensenada again, contributing significantly to the local economy. Note the yellow water slide corkscrewing behind the exhaust tower disguised as an airplane tail. Each orange blip on the upper deck is a lifeboat.

Ensenada near the water front is a mix of newer development, older buildings, and some abandoned buildings. Infrastructure has been neglected for some time, and walking along the sidewalks requires focused attention – gaping holes in sidewalks and broken paving can easily trip up the unwary, and safety barriers of any kind are absent. The city seems to have suffered from an economic downturn, but we were told at the marina told me that business was improving, if slowly. A few years ago, cruise ships made Ensenada a regular stop. Shops and commerce along the waterfront were prosperous and busy. Then someone made the unwise decision to impose a steep tariff on cruise ships using the harbor, and they stopped coming. The result was closed storefronts and abandoned buildings. Just recently, the tariff was lifted and cruise ships have begun to return, and there is evidence of reconstruction and renewal, although it’s still uneven. We did find a very good fish market on the waterfront and bought some delicious smoked fish as well as fresh fillets for dinner on the boat later.


Being tourists. Note the band playing on the corner behind Randy, and the couple dancing. We found everyone we met to be friendly and helpful. A smile and a “buenos dias” when passing on the street seems to be universal. It was windy and a bit cool, even when sunny.


Christmas trees show up everywhere, especially at this gringo tourist bar belting out the rock ‘n roll. Also everywhere: Street vendors. But no one pesters the passerby: A quick smile and a “Hoy no, gracias” gets you a smile and a nod back.


The “Party Bus”brings you right to the rock ‘n roll bar.


Local police keeping an eye on partying tourists. Party bus just to our left.



Colorful buildings set back from the street-scape.


Public street art. Not sure who this is. Several of these busts were mounted on this street. Obviously historically significant somebodies …


Several hearts are on display as public street art. Most are more colorfully painted than this plain white one. Some anatomically correct, and some with outlandish colors.


An example of why you have to watch where you’re walking. And this was a small hole. People who live here just walk around the obstructions and holes. It’s the gawking tourist who can end up stumbling or falling down. Ensenada does not do sidewalks.


Randy enjoys hot fish stew on a cool day: Very good. Home made tortillas: Very good. Cold beer: Great.

Having completed the clearing-in process, we were now free to go wherever we wish in Mexico. Our plan was to head south down the Pacific Coast of Baja California with the goal of arriving in La Paz by Christmas Day, if possible. We could have left the next day, Tuesday. But we decided to wait a day to prepare for the longer offshore trip. Departing with several other boats all heading in the same direction was an added pleasure. On Wednesday, Dec. 16 we left Ensenada in light air, and set sail for points south. It’s a 700-mile trip from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas and most cruisers make a couple of stops along the way – however, there are really only two good anchorages on Baja California’s Pacific Coast. With the weather we had and the schedule we were trying to keep, we decided to make a non-stop run down the coast and hoped to make it in six days, if all went well. The forecast was for light and variable winds. Not perfect, but not too bad.


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