South-of-the-Border Service

Family-owned Baja Naval and Gran Peninsula continue to serve U.S. and Mexican boat owners.

DSCN3959 copyENSENADA’S FAMILY-OWNED BAJA NAVAL BOATYARD and Marina and Gran Peninsula Shipyard are well-known and respected for their craftsmanship and customer service. And U.S. and international boaters are their mainstay.

“Approximately 40 percent of our business is repeat customers, and that, along with word-of-mouth and our reputation, has accounted for our success in these nearly 30 years,” said Diego Fernandez, who oversees operations at Baja Naval Boatyard. His brother Tomás is in charge of Gran Peninsula Shipyard, both on Bahia de Todos Santos (Todos Santos Bay) near the entrance to the growing port city of Ensenada.

Like any shipyard with a dependence on U.S. boaters, Baja Naval—just 49 nautical miles south of the U.S.- Mexico border — endured some tough years, but looking around the boatyard one sunny January day, Diego counted eight of the 14 vessels being serviced as repeat clients. He added that business has been more than steady, even in the winter months.

“Business has increased the past two years by more than 30 percent,” he said. “I think there are several reasons for this, and one is the improved U.S. economy. In 2009, boaters were taking care of maintenance issues — doing what needed to be done. Now we see more clients who are upgrading.”

Established in 1987 in Ensenada by Tomás Fernandez G., Baja Naval is a 120,000-square-foot facility with a 75-ton Travelift and an enclosed 65-foot work shed that accommodates boats up to 70 feet. The day-to-day operations of the boatyard and shipyard are now handled by Diego and Tomás, respectively.

The 50-slip marina, with docks up to 100 feet, is mere steps across the Malecon from Baja Naval and is undergoing expansion to 78 slips. With its convenient access to the city’s restaurants and shops, it is a popular and desirable location for visiting and long-term boaters. Larger vessels, with an LOA of 80 feet and up, are serviced at the 14-acre Gran Peninsula, thanks to its 16-motor 2,500-ton Syncrolift.

Both the boatyard and shipyard, independent entities under the same management, are meticulously maintained and include in-house carpentry, painting, aluminum welding and other services, including linear polyurethane systems and blister repair, hull extensions, teak decks and more.

“Our shipyard is full right now, and January is typically a slow period,” said Tomás Fernandez. “We are known for our meticulous work. Our Syncrolift-engineered rail-transfer table and our nine 330-foot-long independent dry working spaces mean we are able to handle large ships simultaneously.”

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Craftsmen and workers at both yards tend to be longterm. At a recent employee banquet, four yard workers were each honored for 25 years of service to Baja Naval and Gran Peninsula.

“For us, quality of life for our employees is important, and they, in turn, have a great sense of loyalty and pride in their work,” Diego said of the 72-employee boatyard and auxiliary staff. “Our people can earn up to 75 percent of their salary in efficiency bonuses. And we haven’t missed a payroll in 30 years.”

Loyalty to the boatyard and shipyard is evinced by U.S. boaters, many returning regularly for maintenance and updating. In January, the San Pedro-based 1974 Imperial 51-foot ketch Chez Nous, owned and piloted by Al and JoLinda Garnier, was having multiple jobs completed, readying for a cruise to Puerto Vallarta.

Al Garnier, a longtime Los Angeles Yacht Club member and former commodore, said he first became acquainted with Baja Naval in 1989 when Ray Wallace’s Nautilus lost its drive shaft and prop near Todos Santos Island during a Commodore’s Cruise. Chez Nous towed Nautilus to Baja Naval, at that time a fledgling business.

“We walked around the yard and were very impressed,” Al Garnier said of his first visit, which led he and his wife to bring Chez Nous — a Formosa Boat Yard-built ketch, hull #3, that they’ve owned for 41 years — to Baja Naval 10 years later for topsides work. “This began our relationship with the yard and the Fernandez family. In 2001-2002, we replaced our teak decks after structurally repairing the deck core and painting our masts. Baja Naval has also fabricated tanks, made deck hardware and modified our galley layout.”

After 16 years of taking their boat to Baja Naval, the Garniers still recommend it to other boat owners.

Cruisers Rob and Rose Benson of the R&R Kedger, a 46-foot Hunter 460 sloop-rigged sailboat, also enthusiastically recommend Baja Naval.

“Baja Naval stands out as one of the most competent boatyards anywhere, and they’re certainly the cleanest we’ve seen,” said Rob via email from their present mooring in the Bahamas. “U.S. boaters should definitely consider Baja Naval as a viable option. For us, it was cost effective. In addition, we were able to have a bit of a vacation in Ensenada while the boat was in the yard.

“If I were to give any boater advice, it would be to know what special materials you may need and consider bringing them with you,” he said. “Baja Naval can certainly acquire anything you might need, but it might take a little time to get it, and they will happily work with you on determining if you have special needs before you head to their facility.” Longtime customers — or clients, as the brothers Fernandez refer to them — are common at Gran Peninsula, as well.

Capt. Mike Lever of Nautilus at Sea has been an annual GP shipyard client since 2007.

“We operate two oceangoing liveaboard dive boats in Mexico, specializing in diving with great white sharks at Guadalupe Island and the giant mantas at Socorro Island,” said Lever. “I’ve been working with Tomás Fernandez at Gran Peninsula Shipyard for longer than I can remember, and he looks after our 116-foot Nautilus Explorer and 145-foot Nautilus Belle Amie.”

Picture2 copy“Tomás works incredibly hard to make refits and repair work go as smoothly as possible, and the yard always seems to be full of yachts and mega-yachts of all sizes. Gran Peninsula has all the facilities and trades that anyone could ask for, and the mild climate makes refit so much easier than working on our boats up north.”

The Fernandez family, including the patriarch Tomás G. and his wife, Rocio, are well-respected throughout Ensenada for their support and encouragement of local charitable organizations benefiting children and adults.