Monday Morning Coming Down

At Baja Naval boatyard and marina in Ensenada, Mexico, there's loads of activity as the workweek begins. From "Passage Notes" in our February 2009 issue

January 16, 2009

cool cat crew 368

Young at heart, if mature in age, the owners of the catamaran Cool Cat are quick learners on a mission to go sailing while they can. Herb Mccormick

As it does every day at 0800 sharp, the daily VHF-radio cruisers net in the Baja California port of Ensenada-roughly 65 miles south of San Diego-sprang to life on this spring Monday morning in 2008 on Channel 22. After a short roll call, it was on to the world news. The dollar was down, fuel prices up. There’d been an awful earthquake in China, and tornados were ravaging Oklahoma. Local beaches were closed due to sharks. Weatherwise, coastal breezes were forecast from the northwest at 10 to 15 knots, increasing significantly some 30 miles offshore. Just like yesterday-and the day before.

Downtown Ensenada was also stirring, but at its own languid pace. The huge Mexican flag on the towering waterfront flagpole had been hoisted and was wafting in the light breeze, and the bountiful fish market was open for business, although few customers had yet to turn up. The bars and restaurants in what’s known as “Gringo Gulch” were thankfully silent after the weekend’s shenanigans. A colony of harbor seals honked at nothing in particular. And in the midst of it all, at the Baja Naval boatyard-a beehive of activity in the otherwise sleepy city-the new workweek was getting under way.

We’d pulled into the marina the day before on a delivery north to California from Cabo San Lucas. Many cruisers who lie over in Ensenada do so at the modern Cruiseport Village marina, but we’d chosen Baja Naval ( due to its proximity to the customs, immigration, and port captain’s offices, all of which we needed to visit before clearing out for the States. The free long-distance phone service and excellent wireless Internet connections were welcome bonuses.


So, too, was the bustling aura of the busy shipyard, which provided plenty of entertainment as we sipped coffee in the cockpit of Ocean Watch, a 64-foot steel cutter. From our slip near the Travelift, we had an excellent view of a purposeful-looking sloop called Mighty Tangaroa as it backed in to get hauled out. Something about the boat looked mighty familiar, so I wandered over to have a chat with the skipper once she was in the slings.

“This is a famous race boat, a Santa Cruz 50 built by Bill Lee,” said the Mighty one’s owner, Gary Boyd, who was aboard with his friend, Pete Wiley. “Hal Roth actually sailed this boat around the world by himself in the BOC Challenge. She has a helluva history.” Having covered several BOC events, I’d been aboard the boat, then called Sebago, before the race start in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1990. Boyd wasn’t kidding about her famous pedigree.

“I’ve had her about a year now,” he continued. “She was for sale in Honolulu and had been laying there for months and months. My brother, Bill, and I were in the right place at the right time and we bought her.”


The Boyds are a well-traveled sailing family, based out of Long Beach, California. Gary cut his teeth sailing small boats, like Cal 30s, to Hawai’i and has cruised extensively through the Caribbean, the Hawai’ian islands, down through Panama, and up and down the U.S. East Coast and West Coast. He said that Mighty Tangaroa had finished races from California to Cabo and then Ensenada, and he thought that the Pacific Cup Race, from San Francisco to Hawai’i, may be in her future.

“We’re going to have her painted right now,” he said. “Prices are very good here, and the quality is, too.”
Fine work at a reasonable cost was what brought the Leopard 38 Cool Cat to Baja Naval, too. At least that’s what her crew, David Lefebre and John Thomas, said as they watched Mighty Tangaroa join their catamaran on the hard. “They’re fantastic here,” said Lefebre. “Very conscientious, dedicated, hardworking. The price is right.”

The two friends purchased Cool Cat, a former Moorings charter boat, in Los Angeles after she’d experienced years of neglect. They’d come to Ensenada to upgrade her with fresh paint, solar panels, rebuilt heads, a new watermaker, and other goodies. Neither of the two were sailors, though Lefebre wandered the Atlantic for years on research vessels as an instrumentation engineer for Texas Instruments.


“We have this small window, right now, before we fall apart,” he laughed. “What we want to do is utilize this time the best we can. So we’re going to become sailors after 40-some years.”

Based at 3,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada between the California cities of Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, the fledgling cruisers definitely had goals. After the work was done on the boat, they planned on mooring her in the Golfo de California while they learned the figurative ropes. “Six months of winter in Mexico, six months back in the Sierras,” said Thomas. “It’s a simple plan, but it should work well.”

“After we get to know the boat, then we’re going to start exploring,” added Lefebre. “We might try to get down to the Panama Canal, and maybe go through to the Caribbean. There are all sorts of possibilities.”


Cool Cat wasn’t the only boat in Ensenada with plans to head south. That we discovered when our neighbor across the dock, David Newfeld on Episode II, a 37-footer built by William Hielig in Oakland in 1979, returned after a morning stroll with his faithful pooch, Calienta. A longtime sailor who used to run oil-rig supply boats in the Gulf of Mexico, Newfeld purchased Episode II three years ago, but he’d only been aboard for continuous duty for about six months.

“I thought I was done with ocean sailing, but my son, Dustin, talked me into buying her,” he said. “He planted that seed and kept watering it, and here we are.”

The original goal, said Newfeld, was for father and son to share some adventures. “But he fell in love!” laughed Dad. Enter Plan B. With his son and his bride moving to Santa Rosalia, Newfeld was aiming to head in that direction to find a slip for hurricane season. He’d just finished installing a second-hand Monitor windvane on Episode’s transom.

And in the future? “Well, next winter I might sail down to Zihuatanejo or maybe go to Costa Rica,” said Newfeld, adding that a friend would drive Calienta to the next port of call. “After that, it’s open.”

It’d been an interesting few hours of good conversation and more than a few surprises, and one got a rather odd feeling about the city, where on one hand it seemed there was plenty going on, and on the other, not much at all. All told, there’s probably only one sure thing about a Monday morning in Ensenada: Pretty soon, it’ll be Monday afternoon.

Look for Herb McCormick’s account of his voyage north from Mexico to California aboard Ocean Watch in an upcoming issue of CW.


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