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Decades of Living Aboard Three Albas

Serafin Varela of Madrid, Spain, had neither a boating background nor a bank account full of money when he started boating.  His first boat was a 420 Olympic class purchased with the profitfrom selling his motorcycle. He taught himself how to use it on the weekends by checking out a library book on “How to Sail,” then, moving up a notch, he bought a 28’ hull, Alba.   Deciding to circumnavigate, he moved up once again, buying AlbaII, a 10.30 meter aluminum hull, built and kept in Barcelona, Spain.

In 1983, while constructing the interior of AlbaII, Serafin met Marisa del Valle, who was not a sailor, and they married two years later.  They built AlbaII’s interior on weekends, which took about year and a half with just the basics – head, galley & settee. The two then sailed to the Canary Islands, transferring their jobs with the telephone company, where they spent three years living aboard.

Marisa tells me, “I come from Madrid and had never even been on a boat.  I love adventure so I decided that it would be fun to sail the world.  The only problem is that I get sea-sick when we first go out – then I get over it.  We worked on the weekends so that we could take long vacations; our first long holiday was sailing to Gambia, next to Senegal.

“Returning to the Canaries I had enough sailing experience to try cruising.  We saved our money and sailed across the Atlantic to Marie Galante, Guadeloupe and St. Martin, then directly on to Cuba.  We stayed over a year sailing around Cuba, and then took off to the Yucatan Peninsula, Honduras and Guatemala eventually circling back to Cuba.” 

The couple then sailed directly to Cartagena, Columbia, up to the San Blas Islands, on to Panama and through the Canal. 

“By this time we had completely refurbished the boat. We visited the Galapagos and Easter Islands where the magnetic compass just went crazy.  Heading for Patagonia, Chile, the wind vane broke, along with the Autohelm 2000, so we had to tiller steer for 1,000 miles.  It was very cold and our watches were two – three hours, which is really no fun.  As we always sail and never use our engine, we used only 20 liters from Panama to Chiloe, in the northern part of the Patagonia Archipelago, where we stopped for repairs. 

“We stayed a year and backpacked through Bolivia & Peru.  Adding a heater to the boat, we sailed all of the southern islands of Chile, which is really beautiful country. The Beagle, at the very tip of South America, is clean and blue with glaciers everywhere.  We sailed around the tip and up the coast of South America to Brazil and on to Grenada non-stop.  By this time it was 1992. 

From Grenada, Serafin and Marisa sailed all of the Venezuelan islands, and through the Panama Canal once again.  They spent eight years sailing the Pacific & Indian Oceans, thru the Suez and back to Spain to work. 

“During the next 13 years we worked and we had our son, Oscar, in 1998.  We sold AlbaII and bought another hull, Albatres, a Van de Stadt design built in Prague.  We left the mast off so we could motor the western canal systems of Europe up to Holland where we bought a mast.  We then sailed back to Barcelona and on to the Canary Islands where we worked.  From there, we sailed to the Caribbean and have been here ever since.

“Oscar is now nine so his schooling is very important.  As we now both have our pensions, which are in Euros, I would like for him to learn English so we are thinking of sailing to the United States for his schooling.” 

What an interesting and adventuresome couple – I loved speaking with them; no matter how you look at cruising, Serafin and Marisa are champions to the core.

Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 22 years.  She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.

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