The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

All Marinas Are Not Created Equal

Don and Heather Cudmore

Hans Christian 33
May 3rd, 2016

After a three day storm of forty-five  knot winds, it was a bit of a struggle to raise the hook, but after wrestling forward  and back, we finally broke the anchor free of its muddy holding in La Playa Cove, San Diego.  We had spent three months harbour- hopping down the US coast and our next stop would be Mexico; our chosen destination for sailing “fun in the sun”.


We departed from San Diego during the early daylight hours so as to avoid the numerous crab traps and kelp beds within the Bay. Naturally, we had hoped to arrive in Ensenada before nightfall, but the delay with raising the anchor looked as though this might not be feasible. Once out of the channel, we hoisted the main and unfurled the jib.  Winds funneled from across the mainland and with lumpy following seas, we set sail at 6.9 knots.  It was a long day and, as predicted, we rounded Punta San Miguel as the sun was setting low in the sky.  All light disappeared as we navigated the busy, unfamiliar harbour.

Looking for markers in the dark was no easy feat.  Spotting the green light that flashes every five seconds, we slowly proceded toward it. However, other expectant markers were absent.  I scanned the waters and looking about, I admired the lights of Ensenada.  That was when I suddenly became aware of a blinding light flooding the cockpit, followed by a resounding blast of the horn.

Horrors! What I had thought was a stationary vessel turned out to be a moving cruise ship exiting the very channel we were traversing. Immediately, we deviated 100 feet out of the channel and idled there in the inky blackness, eyes glued to the depth sounder as the ship passed along our starboard side. The cruise ship shone its spot light on us again as she passed us by, and we became aware of the passengers snapping photos of the Canadians with a death wish. With the ship gone, our visibility was greatly improved. We re-entered the channel and immediately spotted the markers we had difficulty locating earlier.


Beyond the breakwaters, we entered a smaller bay leading to four various marinas.  The water showing not even a ripple upon the surface.  The guide lights for entering Cruiseport Village marina were confusing, so we consulted the slip guide as to an alternative. We thought it best to enter a marina whose office was open at this time of night.  Many of the write-ups indicated the offices were closed on the weekends or were only open until 1400h.  We had arrived after 2000h, and Baja Naval boasted 24 hr security.  We radioed the marina without success, and decided someone was likely down on the docks. Thinking we’d have someone to assist us upon arrival, we headed there.

Once tied up, we became aware that within the marina there was an incredible surge. The boat rocked as if in an exposed anchorage and was not at all comfortable.  Don wandered the docks searching out a more appropriate slip and we moved ourselves along closer to the ramp.  Although improved, the surge remained, and it was significant.

Sunday morning arrived and we met the 24-hour security personnel.  He did not speak any English and with my broken Spanish and the use of charades, we were able to determine that the marina office would not be open until Monday morning, at which time we could access a pass to the washrooms and showers.  The system at this particular marina was that it has triple locks.  The first set of locks ensures individuals cannot access the shore without a key. Hence we could not use the showers or approach the marina office.  We could however, walk on the docks. The second set of locks allows access to within the boat yard, bathrooms and marina office and the third and final set of locks secured the boat yard from the city itself.  We were like prisoners unable to leave the dock.


It was while roaming the docks, that we ran into old acquaintances traveling on a Westsail 32.  By using their pass key, we utilized the washrooms and showers, and the four of us went out for fish tacos and beer.  It was a well-appreciated treat to get off the boat and away from the dock.

While visiting with our new-old friends, Dave and Pete, we learned of their experiences since arriving at Marina Baja Naval.  It was during the big winds we’d experienced in San Diego that here in Baja Naval things got nasty.  The surge was causing havoc as the docks heaved and the boats lurched at their moorings. It necessitated every line owned by the various cruisers to stay secured to the dock.  Sometimes, as many as seven or nine lines were stretched across the empty slips beside them and secured to the fingers opposite.

Many cruisers in Baja Naval experienced the shock of lines snapping, boats lurching and attempting to climb up onto the dock.  Our friends, Dave and Pete, however, not only experienced a line breaking, but the horrendous sound of the Sampson post breaking.  When the Sampson post cracked and was shifted from its position “it sounded like a cannon had gone off”, explained a witness to the event.  Their boat narrowly escaped crashing into another moored vessel.

Normally, anchoring is prohibited behind the breakwater. However, due to the unrelenting winds and big surge, Baja Naval encouraged boaters to anchor off and charged a decreased moorage fee for the duration time at anchor.  Dave and Pete felt their fee should have been waived due to the boat damage. However, as assistance was required to restore the boat, they did not argue the point. So, the couple returned to Baja Naval Marina and Boat Yard and no responsibility was absorbed by the marina.

Monday morning arrived and after checking in at the marina office, we set off to clear Customs.  At Baja Naval, the cost to tie up is $1.00 per foot, a little lower than at some of the other marinas. Assistance with Customs comes at an additional cost of $60.00. We chose to use the free print-out provided and bungled through the process independently, determined to leave Ensenada the following morning.


During the night, the wind picked up and the surge within the marina increased.  We were up three or four times throughout the night, adding and re-positioning lines.  On Tuesday morning, we awoke exhausted.  We had seven lines securing the boat to the dock and worried while the lines stretched and moaned and the boat heaved itself on and off the dock.  We wondered; what would we do if a line broke or, worse yet, if something broke on our boat?  Our next destination was 180 miles south, a forty-eight or fifty-hour passage and we could not see us under-taking this leg of our journey without sufficient rest.  We checked out from Baja Naval and motored to Cruiseport Village Marina, the newest marina in Ensenada.

Cruiseport Village Marina was more expensive, charging $1.50 per foot for the first three days, and then the rates drop.  The longer one is at the marina the lower the cost.  One 40 footer we met had paid a monthly rate of $400.00 and is currently tied up for $12.00 daily. Here, someone will take you, via the company vehicle, and provide assistance with Customs/Immigration at no extra cost.  The company vehicles will also chauffeur you for fuel and drinking water (as there is none in port).  The washroom facilities are clean and well kept, as are the common areas.  WIFI is not only said to be available here, it is accessible at the dock. The surge is minimal at Cruiseport, and where we tied up it was not noticeable at all. I would recommend anyone going through Customs in Ensenada to utilize the Cruiseport Village Marina, as their services are superb.  In addition, you’ll sleep like a baby. Sometimes paying a few extra dollars is worth a good night’s sleep.

After speaking to cruisers who have stayed at the various marinas, it is evident that surge within the Ensenada basin is a fact of life.  Those who stayed at Marina Coral also experienced difficulty with tidal surge.  Some Marina Coral clientele also anchored off during the storm.  Around the corner in Juanitos Boats, one vessel sank while tied to the dock, due to the configuration of their breakwater,

Cruiseport Village Marina has the least surge problem.  So, remember, do your homework; because not all marinas are created equal.