Living in a Sailing Community

Living in a Sailing Community in Rio Dulce, Guatemala – A Unique Workaway To Experience Alternative Living

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 2 boats anchored together on the lake
Josee and Friendship anchored beside one another in a tranquil lagoon.

The BIG Picture View

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.

The Project’s Evolving Vision

Daeli leading a community meeting across both boats.
Daeli leading a community meeting across both of the boats.

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. At the moment, attracting skilled laborers to assist with boat repair-needs is a high priority!

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!). It becomes a second home away from home! At the time of writing, the community is based in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Everything You Want to Know About the Project

The Sailboat Fleet

The community is currently supported by a fleet of 3 uniquely different sailboats:

Friendship logo of catamaran
  1. Friendship, a 40ft ‘Solaris Sunstream’: Comfortable, spacious catamaran with 5 double beds & 1 single.
  2. Josee, a 31ft ‘Brise de Mer’: Very light, sporty, aluminum monohaul with 1 double and 3 single beds.
  3. Moon, a 44ft ‘Caribbean Sailing Yacht (CSY)’: Heavy, cutter-rigged monohaul with 2 double and 5 single beds. (At the time of writing, Moon is under renovations!)

As participants, we got the opportunity to sail on 3 types of boats, each of which involves learning different sailing techniques.

Josee and Moon boats together
Here’s Josee (left) and Moon (right). At the time of writing, Moon does not have a mast!

Eco-Conscious Community

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.

Hanging out on frienship catamaran
A typical day out on Lake Izabel, relaxing after a morning of work!

As such, in effort to be eco-conscious, we:

  • Create all the energy we consume through the use of solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Use little-to-no fuel, as we only have 1 small outboard shared among all 3 boats, which is primarily reserved for safety purposes. Rather, we only sail our boats, and we paddle on our dinghy and kayaks.
  • Don’t use the poisonous paint layer on the boat hulls to prevent algae build-up. Rather, we maintain the hulls by scrubbing off the algae with a mask, a snorkel, and a brush!
  • Collect all rain water, which is used for cooking.
  • Use only natural soaps for washing.
  • Consume limited non-biodegrade or unnatural foods and food packaging. Our consumption of plastic and glass are minimal, and we attempt to reuse any that we do consume.
  • Reuse and recycle parts & materials from other boats for repairing, renovating, and improving our boat fleet.
Shameless morning selfie with Josee and Friendship ❤️
Shameless morning selfie with Josee and Friendship ❤️

Affordable Boat-Living

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:

  • There’s no working bathroom on the boats. Rather, nature’s waters are your toilet, shower, and laundry machine. We do all our toilet “dooties” in the rivers and seas, leaving a trail of food 💩 for the fishes 🐠! To quell your fears, we tie up a sheet off the back of the boat to provide some privacy. Plus, it’s simply easier and more pleasantly smelling to do our business outside, instead of sharing 1 tiny bathroom among 15 people!
Taking a shower on friendship
Here’s our make-shift bathroom off the back steps of Friendship.
You can see me squatting down there having a shower out in the open skies and with stunning views.
I often forget to make use of the privacy sheet hanging on the left.
Pooping off the catamaran deck
When you gotta go, you gotta go! Other toilet options are off the side of the boat. When you don’t need have easy access to the water, simply fill up a large bucket of water to use for wiping 💩
  • There’s no refrigerator and limited stove burners, yet all 15 of us eat sufficiently, healthy and deliciously well! We eat as much fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains as possible, with limited use of canned foods and foods with preservatives. If you’re lucky, there will be a chef on-board while you’re there, but either way, the home-cooked meals are always astonishingly delicious.
A scrumptious and filling breakfast of granola and fresh cut fruits. We make our granola made from scratch with toasted oats, homemade cacao nibs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, raisins, power foods, plus up to 15 other ingredients!
A scrumptious and filling breakfast of granola and fresh cut fruits. We make our granola made from scratch with toasted oats, homemade cacao nibs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, raisins, power foods, plus up to 15 other ingredients!
  • There’s few mirrors on-board. The importance of physical appearance is reduced to nothing.
  • There’s no WiFi, and often there’s only limited cellular data connectivity. You can purchase an inexpensive local SIM card before hopping onto the boat, but signal connection is typically weak or non-existent.
  • There’s no running water on the boats, but the kitchen sink has a water pump that pumps up water from the lake/ sea, which we use to wash our dishes. We have a limited supply of potable water on the boats, which we continuously replenish in the villages we anchor nearby.
  • We anchor the boats at anchorages en route (i.e., rather than docking at marinas), which means that we never hook up Tom water or power sources, and that each time we want to go to land, we must put the dinghy or kayaks in the water and paddle over to land.

Imagine this:

Paddling on the dinghy to land
Paddling on the dinghy from the boat to reach land, as we avoid using the engine.

The grocery shopping process involves paddling the kayaks/ dinghy from your anchorage to a dock, replenishing your 5-gallon water jerrycans & buying the foods/ materials from a variety of shops in town, and then reconvening with all your purchases back at the dock, and paddling everything back to the boats.

All of this to show the sheer amount of time and energy that living on a boat requires even for the most basic of living necessities such as food. You generate a true appreciation for the food & materials you have on your boat!

  • When it’s rainy, you may be in a race against the rain to close up all the windows, bring in all the cushions, and put the buckets & bowls in their proper places to fight off the leaks in the windows.
Buckets to catch rain drops
When the rain comes in, we set up all these colorful plastic bowls underneath all the leaks! During my stay at the community, we successfully fixed many of the leaking points!
Bucket for a leak on my lap
There’s a bucket sitting on my lap to catch water leaking right from above my seat!
  • With up to 15 people living in the limited confines of the boat fleet, we are always making space so that everyone is comfortable in the sleeping arrangements and has a place to keep their personal belongings. The community puts continuous attention on ensuring all participants feel comfortable given the circumstances, with no man, woman, or couple left behind!
Inside josee’s companionway
Here’s an inside look at Josee, the 31 ft monohaul. One of the beds is hidden in the corner behind the cameraman.
  • At times you’ll battle a cockroach or two that snuck their way on board from the mangroves. But, we do extremely well anchoring far enough from land to keep away from mosquitoes and other insect intruders! All in a day’s life of being in nature.

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.

Motoring the boats through a windless channel to reach the lagoon
Motoring Josee and Friendship together up through a windless channel, in order to reach a hidden lagoon!

Working as We’re Sailing

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 too.

Working on fixing windows
Working away to fix the windows on Friendship.

As we sail along, we work approximately 2-3 hours on the boats each day during the hours we are at anchor and when there’s minimal wind to allow for sailing. Boat work broadly includes general maintenance, painting, varnishing, carptenting, 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.

Who runs the project?

Daeli showing off his dreadlocks on Freindship boat
Daeli showing off his badass dreadlocks, captaining on Friendship.

Daeli, along with Dja, his right-hand woman, and Diesel, their cuddle-loving guard dog!

They’re from France, yet fluent in English and Spanish as well. With their open and accepting nature, Daeli and Dja are dedicated to welcoming & arranging 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.

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!)

Extremely committed 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.

Dja and Diesel

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

Sailing lessons on the whiteboard
Going to the whiteboard for theoretical sailing lessons sailboat ⛵️📖 .

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!

A Recent Addition to the Team

Rafa recently came aboard the sailing community to run the project alongside Daeli and Dja. As a Frenchman with a relaxed demeanor, yet insurmountable energy, Rafa fit rights in and is an integral part of the team. His open-minded nature makes it seamless for anyone to get along with him.

The cherry on top: Rafa is a chef by trade and finds joy in cooking for the community (particularly, his Italian cuisine specialties). It’s always a wonderful treat when you have a chef onboard!

Rafa playing the guitar in jam session
Rafa leading a sweet sunset jam session on his guitar.

What it’s Like to Live at the Project

A Day in the Life of the Sailing Community

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 both adventure & work.

Although each day varies significantly from one to the next, here’s a general idea as to what a day could look like:

  • Wake up with the sunrise in your own time for a quiet morning.
Sleeping on the deck of friendship
My bed on the deck of Friendship! Oh, the nights of sleeping under the brightly lit stars ✨ .
  • Enjoy coffee and tea as a few of us prepare breakfast.
  • From 8am – 10am, we eat a communal breakfast as we discuss the plans for the day ahead.
  • We’ll spend 2-3 hours working through various boat projects and prepare lunch.
  • At around 1pm we’ll eat a communal lunch and clean up together.
Healthy meals cooked on boat
Healthy, hearty, and deliciously scrumptious communal meal cooked by the resident chef👩‍🍳 (and all the cooking helpers!). You can always count on heaps of fresh veggies on your plate 🌽🍅
  • If there’s good wind, we’ll clear the boats in preparation for a few hours of sailing lessons, or to sail off to anchor in a new peaceful & remote spot. If the weather isn’t accommodative for sailing, we’ll plan excursions and adventures on land.
  • In the evenings, we’ll watch the sunset as a delicious, hearty communal dinner is prepared.
Kayaking during sunset
An easy, calming kayak session during the silence of sunset to end off a sunny, productive day.
  • We eat together under the stars, and then enjoy nights filled with music, jamming, herbal teas, and night-gazing.
  • If you’re up for it, there’s always room to sleep under the stars and continue your star-gazing throughout the night.
Full moon
The full moon 🌚 shining over Rio Dulce’s calm evening waters ✨

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.

Hiking to Livingston’s for a camping trip on Livingston’s Caribbean beaches
Hiking over river passes, through villages, and across plantations to reach Livingston for a few nights of camping on the Caribbean beaches.
Kayaking up a sheltered river
On an excursion kayaking up a river within the mangroves, en route to a local village.

Opportunity to Learn Many New Things

You’re exposed to heaps of fascinating things when you live in this project, all of which act as motivators to join the project.

1) Learning How to Sail

Sailing lessons from a self-taught sailor, Daeli.

As this project travels only using the sails, you will learn how to sail significantly better than you would if there was an engine onboard. For instance, since there’s no engine to fallback on, you will practice more light wind sailing techniques, and you will learn how to utilize the wind for maximum speed.

Leaning how to steer with the tiller
Practice time! Learning how to steer with the boat’s tiller.
2) New Skills

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.

3) New Languages

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.

4) Living in Community

At the project, you’re sharing the limited boundaries of boat with a considerable number of others, all working towards similar goals in an organized fashion. This makes for a great opportunity to directly experience what it’s like to live within a community, both the wondrous benefits and the potentially discomforting challenges it may create.

See how community life resonates with you!

Sunset hour on josee
Sunset chill out session on Josee 🌅
A Little Bit on What it’s Like to Live in this Community
  • Participants contribute their unique skills to improve the boats and the community as a whole (i.e., construction work, architecture, cooking, repairmen, art, sailing, etc.).
  • Since daily tasks are not assigned to participants, community members continuously offer a helping hand to contribute to the tasks that must be completed throughout the day (i.e., prepping meals, cooking, serving meals, washing dishes, preparing the boat for sailing, closing windows when the rain starts). This includes even contributing during those times when you’re exhausted at the end of a long day of work & adventure!
  • Other than your personal baggage, mostly everything on the boat is shared among the community.
  • Although there’s little-to-no privacy on the boats, everyone is respectful of your needs. If you need some alone-time for a few hours, you’re always welcome to paddle over to land using one of the kayaks onboard!
Kayaking over from Josee a monohaul to Friendship a catamaran
Kayaking back to the sailing community headquarters following a few hours of desired alone time on land.

Beware: Do you Get Seasick?

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!

Contacting the Sailing Community

If you’re interested in living in the sailing community, you can reach out to Daeli through one of the following:

  1. Messaging Daeli on his Facebook
  2. Joining & posting on the sailing community’s Facebook group “Josee Friendship & crews”
  3. Contacting Daeli through the Workaway page

Final Tip!

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!).

Photo of the whole community from the mast
What a beautiful community of faces, with an angle from the mast.

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!

1 Comment

  • Reply
    March 8, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    Sounds like an amazing adventure 🙂

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