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Baja California Dreaming

Lead Line — July 2005
By Richard Thiel

Baja California Dreaming
The big question is whether enough U.S. boats would take advantage of the marinas.
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This being our annual passagemaking issue, it seems appropriate to bring up a subject that affects all of us: We’re running out of great cruising destinations in North America. Two reasons are the explosive growth in boating and the disappearance of undeveloped waterfront property. My favorite anchorage, whose location I guard only slightly less aggressively than my computer password, is still relatively uncrowded, but over the winter someone built a fence at the high-tide mark, so while you can still anchor there, you can no longer go ashore. The same is true all along the East Coast. And things are no better on the West Coast, where ports have always been few and far between—and jammed. Forget about solitude—just finding a slip is cause for rejoicing.

The problem on both coasts is too many people. We need a place to go boating that’s not densely populated—unpopulated would be even better. Parts of Alaska qualify, but they have a mighty short boating season. Mexico’s Baja California has great weather, is unspoiled, and has almost no people—inhabitants or touristas—once you get south of Ensenada. But it also has virtually no marina facilities.

That might change. I was visiting Mikelson Yacht’s Dick Peterson a few months ago when he showed me a press release from the Baja Department of Tourism touting a government project called Escalera Nautica, or Nautical Ladder. The idea, formalized in February 2001, is that boaters will be able to leave San Diego and travel south to Cabo, up into the Sea of Cortez, and down the west coast of Mexico and never be more than about 150 miles from some kind of marine facility. That’s a major development considering that today there are only a handful of fuel sources—some nothing more than quays that can accommodate a fuel truck—in the entire peninsula.

A government Web site, www.escaleranautica.com/indexenglish.html, discusses an initial string of 12 new “inns” and two centers scattered along the west coast of Baja containing some 1,800 slips for boats 30 to 55 feet. Besides docking and fuel, an inn would offer food, spare parts and repairs, bait and tackle, Internet services, haulage, and pump-out. I couldn’t find information on the centers, but presumably they’d be even more extensive.

But Escalera Nautica faces big challenges, despite the fact that most of the estimated $1.9 billion would supposedly be borne by private individuals. The big question is whether enough U.S. boats would take advantage of the marinas to make such a huge investment worthwhile. It seems that eventually some sort of infrastructure will be built, but probably a more scaled-down version than the initial 22 ports the government projected for Baja’s west coast.

But imagine: Even just six marinas scattered along Baja’s 2,500 miles of coastline would open up this spectacular cruising area to boats 40 feet and larger and provide a much-needed financial shot in the arm to the locals while maintaining the signature desolation that makes Baja so attractive. It’s enough to make a cruiser’s mouth water.

This article originally appeared in the July 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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