I spent the last 3 weeks living on a project aimed at fostering a nomadic lifestyle through an alternative way of living: Sailing. Other than a brief description on a Workaway page, I had limited information about what this project would entail. Fortunately, I followed my instincts to join the project in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, as it turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences during my travels.
The project is a sailing community of diverse, open-minded persons living and contributing to a shared experience of affordable, ethically-conscious, and off-grid living & traveling across a fleet of sailboats.
Constantly evolving, the project’s core vision is to have multiple affordable sailboats with shared ownership & responsibility, which support this alternative way of living. The community maintains & renovates the boats (mostly the interior), as it sails across the seas, depending on weather window opportunities. Attracting skilled laborers to assist with boat repair-needs is a high priority at the moment!
The project aims to teach its members how to sail the boats, and everyone is welcome to return in the future and be part of the community again (wherever the community happens to be across the seas!). At the time of writing, the community is based in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
The community is currently supported by a fleet of 3 uniquely different sailboats:
As participants, we got the opportunity to sail on 3 types of boats, each of which involves learning different sailing techniques.
As this is an eco-conscious community, life on the boats involves returning to the ‘basics’ and more natural ways of living. It’s fascinating to disconnect from urban society & many of the modern-day conveniences of perpetual carbon foot-printing, and learn the possibilities of living in more sustainable lifestyles.
As such, in effort to be eco-conscious, we:
This alternative community lifestyle is all done affordably. Boat-living does not require significant funds and can be done on a minimal budget if you’re willing to live a more minimalistic lifestyle, forego certain comforts, and invest a little additional effort. A major part of the fun & adventure of boat-living is being surrounded by nature without the luxuries offered by urban life. I personally enjoyed this part of the adventure most!
To give you a brief idea:
Yet, all of this is in a constant state of change! The boats are the center-focus of the project, so everyday we are all working to address each and every issue or challenge faced on the boat, whether it’s fixing leaking windows, creating more cushions for outside seating, replacing aged boat rigging, or setting up effective cockroach traps if needed. The boats are our home, so we treat them as so by working to make them function better and more comfortable for living.
The nature of a sailboat is that it will require continuous repairs due to normal wear & tear, even more so when the boat is utilized to teach inexperienced sailors how to sail! On top of that, the current fleet of boats supports a community of approximately 15 people at a time, so both continuous maintenance and renovations are required as well.
As we sail along, we work approximately 2-3 hours on the boats each day during the times we are at anchor. Boat work broadly includes general maintenance, painting, varnishing, carpenting, sanding, fiberglassing, fixing leaks, cooking, shopping, sewing (i.e., sails, sail covers, cushions), and walking the dog on land.
Although all motivated participants are welcome to join the community, skilled laborers such as carpenters, construction workers, architects, etc., are especially sought out to help advance on specific boat projects.
Daeli, along with Dja, his right-hand woman, and Diesel, their cuddle-loving guard dog!
Although they come across as laidback and easygoing, Daeli and Dja are adventure-seekers with endless stores of energy. Their stamina and physical strength is nothing short of impressive. (When you can lift the catamaran’s 150ft long steel anchor by hand, on your own, then let’s talk!)
They’re from France, yet fluent in English and Spanish as well. With their open and accepting nature, Daeli and Dja welcome and arrange for anyone who desires to contribute to the sailing community. They will find a way to make space on the boat for any newcomers, coordinate to meet up with them at a convenient place & time, and be there to pick them up with the dinghy (even in the pouring rain!). They make you feel welcomed right from the start.
Extremely dedicated to the project, Daeli & Dja pour continuous energy and love into the community. Despite everything they do at the high level, they still contribute to the smaller tasks of cooking (ask for Daeli’s granola and Dja’s banana bread!) and doing the dishes.
Daeli & Dja’s Lifestyle Approach
Their approach towards life is to live day-by-day, and even more so, hour-by-hour; a true ‘go with the flow’ lifestyle. If you’re coming from the “go, go, go” lifestyle, it may take time to adapt to this approach. Oftentimes, you don’t even know what you’ll be doing within the next hour. Plans change by the minute! It’s an interesting exercise of letting go of the “need to know” & the “need to control” everything, and a valuable practice adopt into your own life.
Sailing Lessons from Daeli
Daeli, a self-taught sailor, gives sailing lessons. He teaches with a very hands-on approach: You learn by doing & you learn from your mistakes. This teaching style differs heavily from the traditional text-book approach you may be accustomed to from school… And I can attest that it works!
When sailing, the captain & crew need to be constantly alert and quick to respond. As such, Daeli is often very direct when giving instruction. Don’t take things personally when you receive constructive criticism around sailing matters… As Daeli always says, “you learn from your mistakes”. Simply accept any criticisms and move forward in learning how to sail!
If you’re objective is to learn how to sail, you’ll be able to sail a boat on your own after just 2 weeks!
Currently the boats are based in Rio Dulce, Guatemala, and sailing throughout the surrounding lake areas.What we do each day is dependent on weather windows (i.e., wind conditions), what the community is interested in doing (i.e., more sailing & lessons, more excursions, or an afternoon of resting & swimming), the needs of the community (i.e., a grocery shopping run, water run), and whether there are any new participants to pick up from a nearby location. However, one thing is for certain – days are long, active, and filled with adventure & work.
Therefore, although each day varies significantly from one to the next, here’s a general idea as to what a day could look like:
With Daeli’s heart for off-the-beaten-track adventures, he has the most wondrous, yet hidden, gems to take you to. Some of the excursions we explored with Daeli and Dja included swimming through canyons, kayaking up rivers to local Mayan villages, swimming & climbing through unknown caves, hitchhiking, and swimming in natural hot spring waterfalls.
You’re exposed to heaps of fascinating things when you live in this project, all of which act as motivators to join the project.
Sailing lessons from a self-taught sailor, Daeli.
Cooking (particularly, for a large group with limited kitchen space and 1 burner!), kayaking (i.e., learning to kayak with skill), maintaining & repairing boats, macrame jewelry-making, climbing, swimming, yoga, etc.
Primarily Spanish, English, French, and some Italian. If you’re a beginner in any of these languages, this is the perfect safe space to practice your conversation skills.
You’re sharing the limited boundaries of boat with a considerable number of others, all working towards similar goals. (Described further below)
Although the boat is typically anchored around Rio Dulce & Lake Izabel, Guatemala, where the waters are quiet & calm, there are certain windy days where the boats will be wavy, particularly if the boats head out to sea. So, if you’re seasick, this may not be the best idea for you!
If you’re interested in living in the sailing community, you can reach out to Daeli through one of the following:
The boats are typically anchored in regions which have limited availability of imported seeds, superfoods, nuts, coffee, teas, cheeses, etc. So, if you want to get instant popularity and a standing ovation as soon as you arrive… then, be sure to ask Daeli if there’s anything you can bring from wherever you’ll be traveling from (don’t worry, you’ll be reimbursed!).
In a future post, I’ll share the basic of sailing with you. If you’re considering joining the sailing community, understanding the foundations of sailing and familiarizing yourself with basic terminology will do wonders for you!