The Beginning

Wooden boat Rio Dulce Guatemala

The first weeks of owning Alani were a blur of chaotic emotions and a I remember a constant feeling of being totally overwhelmed.

There was no survey about the condition of the boat, so I only knew what my very untrained eyes saw and what friends and fellow boat owners were telling me. The previous owner Gary had hauled her out after she had almost sunk on anchor. He had done several plank repairs and repainted the bottom and the topsides. Alani was equipped with an old Westerbeke21 of which neither the year nor the serial number was known and it had been regularly overheating when it was run more than half an hour. There was some rotten wood in the cockpit walls, she needed new batteries, the boom had rotten spots on the bottom, there was lots of old wiring and broken instruments, the dripless shaft seal was leaking, there was a leak in the diesel tank return line, and even worse, several leaks from the decks in the cabin, and from the hatch in our bed, the Vberth. The list of things to repair became longer every day. 

I had been living, sailing and working on sailboats, and even classic wooden boats, for almost 2 years, but there had always been someone who was in charge and explained to me what I had to do and how I needed to do it. 

Female crew wooden boat Alani
Lisa helped me so much during those first weeks.

Now, I was on my own.

With the amazing help and encouragement of my best friend Lisa who fortunately endured my emotional ups and downs during that time, we started poking around the different areas and tried tackling the projects.

My insecurity and nervousness about making mistakes more than once got in my way and many days I ended up completely frustrated and discouraged. One day, after hours of trying to get the engine to work properly with a guy named Diesel John, I launched the plywood rowing dinghy by pushing it in the water from the dock, to try it out for the first time. The 4ft fall from the dock, however, was more than the thin dry plywood could take, and the cute little boat cracked open right through the middle. Another huge project on the seemingly endless list! I was in tears and ready to give up. 

Fortunately, I had been to the Rio Dulce on a boat a year earlier and remembered some great friends I had made in a bay down the lake. 

Tom, a former sailor and home rebuilder from Ohio, had set up his sail repair and rigging shop in the beautiful quiet bay of Cayo Quemado and he had reassured me when we met again, that if I needed any help, I could count on him. So I brought Alani down to his shop and with his help, the work became more structured and efficient. Step by step, I started getting a clearer picture of Alanis conditions and the time and money needed for the repairs. 

It was a lot worse than I thought. 

 There was a 6ft area on the starboard inside hull in the cockpit locker, where the frames had been broken and not replaced. The original teak decks had been replaced by plywood and fibreglass, but the seams of deck and cabin house were badly leaking. The cockpit was still covered with the original teak, that was leaking horribly as well. And the worst – The stern post connecting the end of the keel with the transom, was completely rotten. The wood, very inaccessible underneath the diesel tank installed in an unremovable position underneath the cockpit floor, was soft and soggy like a sponge. Water was constantly filling up the bilge.

If I actually wanted to live and sail on Alani, I would have to find a way to repair all of those things properly.


Read the next chapter Belizean Shipwrights

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