Musical Anchorages

We’re in San Diego until December 1, when we plan to slip away in the wee hours of the night to make our way, finally, to Ensenada. We’ve been here now for, let’s see…since…um, I think November 15? It’s hard to say. When we’re in ‘explore’ mode, I write everyday in my journal and that helps me keep track of the days.  Somehow both of us stopped writing in our journals with the first anchor drop in San Diego. We’re not really ‘exploring’ so much as we are waiting to leave. I don’t know why that’s different. It just is. Of course, we could have left for Mexico already, but we made reservations for December 1 at the marina in Ensenada, and we figured we’d just wait until then to check in. That gives us a little more time to make final orders for parts and all that jazz. Plus our friends Kevin and Cressie on S/V Blue are here and we’ve been enjoying hanging out. It’s kind of like hanging out in the dorm back in college but without staying up all night and the ensuing hangover the next day.

Hotel del Coronado, historic and beautiful. You can walk to this from the Glorietta anchorage.

Cruisers who come after us might like our impressions of being a sailboat traveler who is ‘stuck’ in San Diego for two-ish weeks. Lots of cruisers find marina space here for awhile either through yacht club reciprocal benefits or through deeper wallets than ours. Those people are going to have had a much different kind of experience. If you are anchor-outers, like us, you are going to work harder. That’s because there are limited anchorages in San Diego Bay, and they are all  tightly regulated.

Like many places in the U.S., San Diego has trouble with ‘derelict’ boats. Usually these are boats whose owners do not have the means to keep them looking decent, keep their hulls cleaned off, and generally take care of their vessel. Sometimes that’s because they are destitute and living on a run down boat is the only kind of housing they can do. Whatever the cause, most communities do not welcome these kinds of boats. Not here, not in the Pacific Northwest, not anywhere. So there are a lot of rules that everyone else has to follow because no one wants derelict boats in their neighborhood. And that’s why we’ve been playing ‘musical anchorages’ since we’ve been here. We go from place to place, following the rules and hoping people don’t think our boat is derelict.  Unless you want to stay on a dock somewhere, you will play this game, too.

Sunset at Coronado beach.

You can go to the Port of San Diego website to make reservations at any anchorage, and reservations are required even though there is no fee. Only a certain number of boats are allowed to be at any anchorage at once. You are not allowed to reserve more than one place for the same date and each anchorage is good only on certain days of the week. We also found out the hard way that you cannot cancel a reservation on line after the first day of the reserved dates. So if you get to a place and change your mind and need to go somewhere else, good luck. That’s not going to happen unless it’s a weekday and someone is available to answer the phone and change your reservation for you in person.  It’s a complicated system and it doesn’t work on a Safari browser so heads up, Mac users.  You won’t get very far as no hot links or drop down menus show up. You won’t even be able to create an account.  Use a different browser.  However, if you call them on the phone during the week and during business hours they are helpful and friendly and you will be pleased with the service. Have your registration or documentation number handy.

Landing on the muddy La Playa beach. We chose to leave our engine on the boat. Photo by Phillip White

We started at the La Playa anchorage on Shelter Island. This is a fairly nice anchorage with good holding between two of the many yacht clubs.  The only problem with this anchorage is that there is no public dinghy dock of any kind anywhere in the area. There is a small beach at low tide that is easy to access and one end has some rocks you can tie onto.  I spoke with one of the Harbor Patrol police about pulling the dinghy up on the beach and he gave me mixed messages about leaving a dinghy there. You can do it (and people do) as long as no one who lives in the neighborhood complains. Pretty much what this seems to mean is that if you leave it there for the day, it’s going to be fine. But longer than that and the neighbors might call and report a dinghy and then the police might impound it. We did leave our dinghy there for the day and it was fine.

Also he told me that we are not allowed to leave our dinghy at the police dinghy dock down the channel. I guess we could swim ashore? Thank goodness for a blog reader who is a member of the San Diego Yacht Club, which is right by this anchorage. He gave us permission to use their dinghy dock and we were very grateful for that. You are allowed to stay at La Playa only Friday through Sunday. (Hey, that helps me remember when we got here! November 17.)

Galapagos and Blue rafted up for Thanksgiving at La Playa. Photo by Phillip White

One of the great things about La Playa is that once you figure out how to get ashore, there is every kind of marine service within easy walking distance. A huge West Marine is about a mile away and an even better chandlery, Downwind Marine, is even closer. It’s as good as Fisheries Supply back home. They have an impressive selection of sailing hardware. Sea Breeze Marine charts and books is in this neighborhood and is the go-to place for the most recent Mexico paper charts and for that cruising guide you’ve been putting off buying.  You’ll find a laundromat,  but at $5.50 per load of wash, the marina at Ensenada starts to look really close. Their cost is $1.25/load.  (I’ve waited this long. I can wait longer.) Von’s grocery store is 1-2 miles away, and a little farther is a Trader Joe’s. We have enough food to last until Easter now. There is a free pump out facility that is easy to access at the Police Dock at the head of the channel coming into the area.

After La Playa we had reservations for the Glorietta anchorage at Coronado. This anchorage is completely different from La Playa in almost every way. You get a view of the beautiful Hotel del Coronado from the anchorage and there is a convenient public dinghy dock just across the bay; very close. Leave your engine on your big boat and row over. This is a more ‘touristy’ area than La Playa so you won’t find marine stores or services. But it’s beautiful and historic and a great place to stretch your legs and go to the beach. Be sure to take in the little museum of the area, free or by donation, your choice. It’s well worth seeing. If you need groceries or hardware, those can be found on the main drag. There’s a Von’s grocery about a mile from the anchorage. Taking an Uber to the local Gateway Costco is about 9$ from this anchorage. We were at Glorietta on the days leading up to Thanksgiving and can say this anchorage is popular with the locals. The fact that it’s regulated keeps it from being super crowded.

Dinghy racing at La Playa. Photo by Phillip White

The third anchorage available to cruisers is the ‘cruiser anchorage’, which is close to the downtown area and right by the airport. It’s a large anchorage and the Harbor Patrol told me there are three dinghy docks available for public use. We have been advised by other cruisers to lock the dinghy, the outboard, the oars, and anything else we can lock when we leave the dinghy at any of the public docks.  We haven’t pulled into that anchorage yet, choosing to go back to La Playa to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our friends on S/V Blue and with another friend who moved back to San Diego after a short stint in Gig Harbor. (Yeah, the weather ate her alive her first winter. She’s a wise woman to move back here. It was almost 90 degrees on Thanksgiving.)

We should be going to the third anchorage, the ‘cruiser’s anchorage’ early next week. You have to have a simple boat inspection to get your permit to stay there, but then the permit is for 30 days and you can renew it twice before they make you move on. We’ll report in with our assessment of that anchorage next time.

Be ready to play ‘musical anchorages’ in San Diego if you don’t want to pay for a slip (if you can find a slip). But also be ready for a different kind of musical treat. Because there is such a strong Navy presence in San Diego and sound carries over water, you will be treated to the musical stylings of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ in the morning and ‘Retreat’ in the evening. I surprised myself by enjoying this piece of military tradition. Maybe you will, too.

Walking along the beach at Coronado while anchored at Glorietta. Our first glimpse of the Coronado Islands, in Mexico!

Today we spend a last day with S/V Blue before heading to the visitor’s dock for a night to get our batteries 100% charged. Mike is working on some tweaks to our charging system because we anchor out so much that the batteries take a real beating. Until next time, S/V Galapagos, out.

15 thoughts on “Musical Anchorages

    • It certainly is sad, Donna. And it’s bloody annoying, too. Because the rest of us then get to follow the rules made to keep those people moving along. But it is what it is, and it won’t get any better anytime soon.

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this posting, as always! Brought back memories of the ten years or so that I stayed near San Diego for two weeks each summer. Belated Happy Thanksgiving, you two!

  2. Why leave for Ensenada at night? We did this and learned it doesn’t really matter if you arrive and go to Mexican Customs/Immigration 1-2 (we were 3-4) days later. Cruiseport took care of us. Meanwhile, going at night, we were buzzed/circled by a stealth Mexican Navy boat in the dark, freaking us out (didn’t even show up on radar!) . A daytime trip would have been SO much easier/pleasant.

    San Diego: a cruiser’s paradise it aint….


    • We will be leaving shortly before dawn, and the reason is so we will arrive during daylight hours. I do not want to go into a new port when it’s dark. And no, San Diego is certainly not a cruiser’s paradise. Not unless you tie up to a dock.

      • Melissa, sorry I misread your post about time you are leaving SD. Before dawn makes good sense. Other than traffic (and the Mex and US navies etc), the only confusing navigation is the outer then inner entrance into Ensenada harbour. Very well buoyed/lit, but arriving daylight makes it so much easier. Just hope a freighter or a cruise ship is not on the move when you arrive. TECHNICALLY, one is supposed to radio the harbourmaster tower for permission to enter/leave. We had no idea of this on entering and had no issues/troubles (at 745am). (When we left the harbour a week later, we dutifully radiod the control tower but I don’t recall them answering.)

        On another note: the above is very different for entering/leaving La Paz (BCS) harbour. Although the entrance is narrow (between shallows), it is VERY well lit/buoyed and up-to-date charts accurate. AND the port captain is very good (and easy) at answering the radio.

          • Good information! My usual concern is hoping someone on the radio speaks English, until we learn enough Spanish to get by. We’ll be sure to hail the Port Captain and keep our fingers crossed that the slip we’ve been assigned at the marina is, in fact, a 50 foot slip.

            • Which marina?

              Cruiseport and Baja Naval are both INSIDE Ensenada harbour (although Baja Naval subject to boat wakes whereas Cruiseport is not). Marina Coral is NOT inside Ensenada harbour (and is a bit far from Ensenada delights) and this no need to call harbour master/port captain.

              Good luck with furler repair. FYI, there is an excellent rigger in La Paz, though there is always the $$ parts issue (no real issue if rigger does the ordering and one has time).

  3. Great journey reading…feels a bit like I’m on board. Thank you and fair winds/seas south into Mexican waters.

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