The majority of visitors to Baja Mexico usually find their way here either by driving south across the border or by an airline flight into Loreto, La Paz or Los Cabos. Another option is by water and there are several cruise lines that bring down a steady flow of visitors with the larger cruise ships making regular port of calls at Ensenada, Los Cabos, La Paz and Loreto.
One can easily understand the allure with ocean cruises offering a lot of value for one fare with a long list of activities to enjoy while traveling instead of being stuck in a car for a long drive on a lonely highway or dealing with airport parking, luggage and PSA hassles, waiting for often late or delayed, cramped flights with a small child behind you kicking your seat topped off with the same airport hassle in reverse and car rentals upon arrival.
One downside for many however, is that the cruise itself becomes the main focus of the vacation experience and the port of calls relegated to just another short cruise activity.
For those who would prefer to focus on the destination itself instead of shuffleboard tournaments, dancing classes, bingo, non-stop buffets and poolside belly flop contests, there’s another option to see Baja by water if you have a boat and are willing to take the helm.
Where cruise ship passengers typically see Baja Mexico through the eyes of a tourist making a port of call, this group of adventurers often come down here with plans to stay for an extended period and form a class of floating Expats, often choosing to live aboard their own watercraft while here in port in lieu of seeking a long term berth and a local apartment to rent.
While boaters on the East Coast are typically drawn to places like the Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Keys and all the different Caribbean islands, West Coast boaters tend to prefer the Hawaiian Islands or Mexico’s northern Pacific coastline, focusing on the Baja Peninsula’s coastline and Sea of Cortez.
As with the majority of Expats living down here today, most of these boaters come from the United States and Canada seeking what attracted the rest of us; mild winter weather, remote terrain with bold and dramatic contrasts in landscapes, all framed by largely untouched coastlines ranging from the rough and wild Pacific to the Gulf of California / Sea of Cortez, which Jacques Cousteau once called “the world’s aquarium.”
I call them “BEBs” (Baja Expat Boaters) and there are actually a lot of them, with sources estimating that at least 2,000 of personal watercraft sail or motor down to Baja along the Pacific side each season.
With over 2,000 miles of coastline – mostly undeveloped – including many secluded bays, coves, sea caves and islands; it’s a strong and powerful allure to those who have invested in creating a life on the water and explaining why it’s usually rare to see a Baja marina at anything less than full or nearly full capacity.
BEBs are an interesting and immensely diverse group of characters with some interesting demographics; roughly evenly split between males and females, ranging in age from their early twenties to octogenarians and aboard vessels slightly larger than a small dinghy to 50+ foot fishing yachts to some that can only be defined as incredibly expensive, floating mansions.
A breed unto themselves, those who prefer to harness the wind live for the sound of the flap of their sails, navigating by and connecting to nature’s rhythms where every day is different; the cloud cover, the wind and the seas backed up against an endless horizon.
Some adventurous sailors will harness the northwest winds along the Pacific westerly current all the way down to Baja’s southern tip and beyond, later making the loop back up to the Hawaiian Islands before charting along the northern currents back to the west coast.
The trip is often difficult and with unpredictable wind patterns and currents may leave you far off course, but it’s all part of life aboard a sailboat.
In contrast with watercraft dependent solely on motorized propulsion, everyone aboard a sailboat will typically be actively involved in some role to ensure the vessel stays safely on course – forget about the photos you saw online of tanning under the sails drinking Mai Tais.
Life aboard a sailboat on the open ocean teaches you the patience to endure days without wind (that are sure to come) as well as battlefield nerves to survive darkening skies that can turn into a 35kt squall bringing pouring rain with wave crests the size of 3 story buildings as you desperately clutch onto the tiller to maintain control, guiding your vessel through the storm while praying you manage to avoid a tragic end with no one out there to help; just you, your crew, your faith in your abilities and your vessel.
“It makes you or breaks you,” as one sailing friend likes to say.
If this type of experience sounds enticing to you, then sailing may be something you want to try your hand at. If you live close to the ocean or a large lake, there may be sailing classes available in your area.
If you would like to participate in some popular events involving sailboats, the Baja Ha-Ha (San Diego to Cabo San Lucas) and Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race are on the calendar each year along with dozens of local sailing events held each year in Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Loreto.
Cruising in Style
If waiting for the wind to blow for days at a time is not exactly your cup of tea but you’re still fascinated with the idea of life on the water, motorized powerboats may be up your alley and such vessels usually offer more space and comfort than sleek lined sailboats.
Motorized watercraft large enough to comfortably live on, often come with a hefty price tag however, such as the one recently purchased by an old friend from my navy days who now lives full time on the water.
He had just paid a little over a million dollars in a 24 hour, all cash distress sale deal for a very lightly used, 65 foot yacht during the height of the pandemic financial squeeze and justified the purchase by comparing it to the cost of a 900 square foot, 2BR 2BA beachfront condominium in Santa Monica with neighbors boxing you in on 3 sides that was built back in the 1940’s.
With the difference being his yacht offers well over 3,000 square feet living space including 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, state of the art amenities with 360 degrees of panoramic ocean views with no neighbors to box him in.
When I asked about the monthly cost for slip fees and he reminded me that condos have association fees.
Inquiring about his monthly fuel costs, he countered with that same condo’s monthly gas and electric bills as well as thousands of dollars spent going on beach vacations somewhere for two weeks each year while he was living like a king on his yacht, on vacation, all year long.
It became obvious that I wasn’t going to win that argument and taking a tour of his ship it was easy to see why he so defended the choice he had made.
The boat had everything on board – a gourmet kitchen, dining room for 8, comfortable living room with a 50″ flat screen, luxurious bedrooms and baths, a sauna, open air jacuzzi and quarters below for an onboard crew of up to 4 if required as well as lots of cold storage for food, a potable water maker and huge fuel tanks for extended travel.
It even had a very impressive solar panel array mounted aboard in addition to 2 wind turbines feeding a large battery bank to help keep the vessel’s electrical panels energized, allowing full kitchen operation as well as running the desal system and keeping the boiler full of hot water, all without the need to fire up either of the diesel engines.
Sitting there at his bar with a panoramic view out the stern gave me a small glimpse into the idyllic life he was living while he shared with me his plans to eventually convert the vessel into a commercial operation, offering private tours for 2 up to 8 people seeking anything from an afternoon harbor cruise to extended vacations anywhere along the Eastern Pacific coastline.
As he shared his plans I recall thinking he was really living his dreams.
Before disembarking, he asked me about a boating event called FUBAR (Fleet Underway to Baja Rally) and I promised to investigate, discovering that it had been renamed to CUBAR (Cruise Underway to Baja Rally), where larger boats motor all the way down to La Paz from San Diego, California.
The event requires all boats participating to have a minimum range of 400 miles at 8 knots, ensuring that each vessel is able to reach the next fueling station on the route.
This event gives power boaters an opportunity to experience long distance cruising to Mexico within the safety of a large flotilla of boats, accompanied by both mechanical and medical personnel cruising alongside in the fleet.
The next event is scheduled for this fall, October 30 – November 13th and I highly recommend it if you ever considered making such a trip but were afraid to do it on your own.
Another friend of mine and a member of our Talk Baja community is someone definitely not afraid to go it alone and across an even much greater distance on the water.
Meet Bill Bailey
Also forming part of this unique, BEB experience is another friend who owns a very popular and unique cruise company called Pacific Catalyst. Several years ago, about the same time when I first met Bill, he was making a big move to expand his business a few thousand miles down to this amazing aquatic landscape that is Baja, Mexico.
Growing up as a surfer in Southern California, Bill would eventually move to the Pacific Northwest area where he spent most of his life on the water, working as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska and cruised extensively with his family in his free time.
He always had a soft spot for older wooden boats and over the years learned the fine art of caring for them along with the skills required to keep them thriving.
Over the last forty years, he has spent in excess of four thousand days at sea covering over seventy thousand sea miles and would eventually begin offering personalized cruises in the Pacific Northwest to Alaska’s Inside Passage, Glacier Bay and the San Juan Islands aboard two historic wooden ships – the Catalyst and the Westward.
The only problem with that business model were his vessels being forced to seek berthing in the late fall to survive the winter cold, snow and ice. The challenge inspired Bill to make a strategic move, bringing the Westward down and around Baja’s southern tip to La Paz each fall to offer similar, personalized style cruises in the Sea of Cortez.
Now with each spring, Bill steers Westward back north to prepare for the summer cruises again in the Pacific Northwest while also escaping the perennial Eastern Pacific tropical storms and hurricanes.
His business plan must be working because last time I checked, nearly every one of his cruises was already completely booked, far in advance! If you are interested, check out their website and let them know I sent you.
Before You Buy a Boat…
So now you got the bug and want to go out shopping for a sailboat or a yacht?
My advice is to cool your jets a bit and first invest some serious time into researching much more than sticker prices; really find out what is actually involved with life on the water. Consider seeking out some folks who already made that decision online to get their perspective and better understand all that a life at sea entails – it’s a big commitment and not just financially speaking.
If you decide to go forward, first take a look at some of the older models on the market that are more reasonably priced. If you are willing to shop around, you can find some real bargains today available from boat owners who are going through financial difficulties along with others being sold by folks who likely bought on impulse before they fully understood the commitment that came with it.
It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure, but it can open up an entire new world for you if you are in the right circumstances and have the right mindset.
Baja Ports / Marinas
When motoring / sailing around the Baja Peninsula, one should be keenly aware of the limited access to fuel, supplies and assistance along what are very long stretches of remote coastline and plan accordingly. You shouldn’t have too much trouble securing what you need in the major ports and marinas however in between you may have to rely on small coastal villages where the availability of fuel – especially diesel – could be limited so it’s best to plan well ahead. To obtain fuel/supplies from a coastal community without a well defined or deep enough port / dock, set anchor a safe distance from the shore and hail for some help on the radio. Someone will eventually respond and help arrange for “water taxis” to supply you with what you need. Such sales are almost always cash only and most appear to be using VHF channel 16 for that purpose.
Here are the Major Ports and Marinas:
Puerto Salina La Marina — Rosarito Beach
Extremely shallow draft entrance, harbormaster – Paul Hernandez, email – email@example.com, phone +52(646) 155-4188, +52(646) 155-4106, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.marinapuertosalina.com, VHF – channel 16
Marina Coral — Ensenada
Slips – 353 – 30’ to 109’, end ties to 100’, harbormaster – Fito Espinoza, phone +52 (646) 175-0050, from USA (866) 302-0066, email – email@example.com, website – www.hotelcoral.com, VHF – channel 71
Baja Naval Marina — Ensenada
Slips – 50 from 33’ to 80’, harbormaster – Victor Manuel Cantu Aguilar, phone +52 (646) 174-0020, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.bajanaval.com, VHF – channel 77 & 16
Cruiseport Village Marina (ECV)— Ensenada
Slips – 189 – 36’ to 68’, end ties 135’, harbormaster – Ana González, phone +52 (646) 178-8801 x3304, from USA (877) 219-5822, website – www.hutchisonportsecv.com, email – email@example.com, VHF channel 12
SOUTHERN COASTAL BAJA
Marina del Rey — Cabo San Lucas
Slips – 80 to 130’, harbormaster – Arturo Serrano Torres, phone +52 (624) 143-6522 ex25, from USA (619) 259-6902, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.marinadelreycabo.com, VHF – channel 06 & 16
Marina Puerto Los Cabos — San Jose del Cabo
Slips – 200 from 30’ to 260’, manager – Anibal de Iturbide, phone +52 (624) 105-6028, +52 (624) 105-6181, email – email@example.com, website – www.puertoloscabos.com, VHF – channel 22A
Marina Costa Baja — La Paz
Slips – 250 – from 30’ to 220’, dockmaster – Gabriel Ley, phone +52 (612) 121-6225, from USA (888) 866-9394, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.marinacostabaja.com, VHF – channel 16
Marina Palmira — La Paz
Slips – 193 – from 25’ to 145’, manager – Eduardo Medina, email – email@example.com, phone +52 (612) 121-6159, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, VHF – channel 16
Marina Cortez — La Paz
Slips – 50 – from 40’ to 300’, manager – Guadalupe Morales Sanchez, phone +52 (612) 123-4101, +52 (612)157-0013, email – email@example.com, website – www.marinacortez.com, VHF – channel 16
SEA OF CORTEZ
Marina Puerto Escondido — Loreto
Slips – 100 – up to 200’, dry storage, moorings, harbormaster – Javier Fuerte, phone +52 (613) 133-0189, email – firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.marinapuertoescondido.com, VHF – channel 16
Marina Fonatur Santa Rosalia — Santa Rosalia
Slips – 20 – up to 50’, 1 longer end tie, phone +52 (615) 152-1769, +52 (615) 152-1768, email – email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, website – www.marinasfonatur.com, VHF – channel 16
There is mooring access for smaller sized vessels at the Molino Viejo dock inside the San Quintin Bay however there is no fuel available directly for sale at the dock. Such services can be arranged in advance with the help of private parties via cash sales. For more information, contact by email: email@example.com
There is a fuel dock with good access however there have been mixed reports as to quality of fuel at times by some users.
Tel: +52 6151580383 / cell +52 6151063899 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cash and Major Credit Cards accepted
Fuel available by water taxis, cash sales only. VHF – channel 16
As a very last resort when out of fuel, you might be forced to consider anchoring and taking a dinghy onshore at small coastal fishing camps you may encounter to try your luck in negotiating with fishermen who might be willing to part with some gasoline (you probably won’t find any diesel) in a cash sale at very expensive prices. This is considered slightly risky and not generally recommended.