Crossing the Border

Ensanada Harbor customs

Ensenada shipping harbor and port of entry


We woke at 1:30 am still nestled in our slip at the transient docks in San Diego.  One snooze alarm later we dragged ourselves out of the v-berth and brewed some coffee, undressed the sails, took Nikka for a stroll, and lashed the few things on deck not already bolted down.  An hour later just as we decided we were as ready as we were going to get, Erik started in on a lot of last times talk.  “Say goodbye to the U.S. may be the last time.  May be the last time at a dock…”  I’m pretty sure he meant the last time for awhile, but he left off that end part and the stress of his last time business mixed with my heavy apprehension over the border crossing ahead created an unsettling concoction in my gut.  I about lost my nerve when Erik marched Nikka and I over to the wide grassy area near the docks to touch U.S. soil, for you guessed it, “the last time.”  For a change of pace and practice we switched up the routine and I reversed us out of the slip while Erik shoved us off.  We were out of the channel and back in the Pacific before I handed the reigns over and shrugged off the tension of the morning, losing myself in the dark nutty aroma of my coffee, which up until that moment lay untouched in its thermos.

Several miles before we crossed, the border ominously peered through the darkness to the east.  Even at night we could clearly make out the large lighted fence with vast no man’s land dividing the sprawling city lights of the north from the south.  Crossing the border by boat was surreal.  Less than 5 nautical miles off the coast we nonchalantly motored past under the cover of darkness, with no passport checks or customs forms to fill out.  I couldn’t help shake the feeling we were crossing illegally, and as the sun peaked above the arid Baja hills I caught myself scanning the horizon, half expecting to see the Mexican border patrol speeding after us.

As we neared our point of entry, I hastily grabbed a copy of Charlie’s Charts and decided to do a last minute review of immigration requirements.  While skimming the opening paragraphs I came across the typical hours for Mexican businesses which are apparently 9-3 Monday through Friday.  Our anticipated arrival was 3 pm, and did I mention it was Friday? Shit!  My tongue hung heavy at the base of my throat making it difficult to swallow as large beads of sweat began multiplying on my forehead.  The clock was ticking, Nikka’s health certificate was signed almost 18 hours prior and we had to be in the immigration office, certificate in hand before the end of 72 hours.

Through the commotion of finalizing boat projects, buying last minute provisions, and checking off requirements to allow Nikka entrance into Mexico and later Hawaii, I had completely neglected such a minuscule thing as business hours.   I tried to hide my immense oversight from Erik, but by this time the sweat had started dripping down my cheek and pooling at my collar bone.  He took one look at me and knew the news was not good.

We soared the rpm’s, finally gliding into our slip at Baja Naval around 2:30 pm.  With potentially half an hour left until close of business I hastily lofted our starboard bow line to Carlos, the Baja Naval employee who met us on the dock, and attempted to explain our need for haste through an embarrassing barrage of rusty spanglish.  He looked at me for a moment then smiled as he informed us in excellent English that the offices had closed early that day and we were mere minutes too late.  Seeing the harrowed look on our faces, he quickly continued to explain that lucky for us, the offices are open one Saturday a month and we happen to be there the day before just such a Saturday!

By the time we finished checking in with the marina and took Nikka for a short walk we were exhausted and ready for a well deserved night’s rest, but unfortunately the good luck we had earlier dissolved with the setting sun.  At 11:30 we were startled awake by the jarring whine of the propane sensor alarm.  Annoyed and exhausted, Erik closed the propane tanks and reset the sensor.  Although we were not about to go lighting matches, we did feel safe enough to eventually drift back to sleep.  Not more than an hour later we woke again, this time to the screeching of the CO detector, “beep, beep, beep, CARBON MONOXIDE, CARBON MONOXIDE” it repeated over and over again as we groggily grabbed Nikka and fumbled through the companionway into the fresh, salty air of our cockpit.  Realizing that our heavy eyelids and throbbing heads were the result of mild CO poisoning we stayed topsides and waited for the boat to sufficiently air out enough to silence the alarm.  Both of these alarms sounding off in similar succession was eerily reminiscent of a night we spent in Half Moon Bay at the very beginning of our trip.  In both instances our boat was filled with exhaust from a neighboring boat either idling their engine or running a generator, causing a false alarm on the propane/gas monitor and a very real, very accurate, and very scary alarm to go off on our CO monitor.

The morning after our night of alarms we woke early and arrived at the immigration office as they were opening their doors.  The check in process was surprisingly painless and although we ran back and forth between offices like a pinball, we were done with the entire process before noon.  It turns out the customs official was not even interested in the fact that we had a dog with us.  When I thrust Nikka’s health certificate at him, imploring that he at least glance it over, he just smiled a toothy grin and shook his head from side to side as he motioned for me to remove the paperwork from his desk.