Abel José Ramirez, Junior, and his father have been repairing boats in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, for a long time. Before they got their start, Abel Senior’s father built boats down in Livingston, learning the trade by reading and studying books. Their boatyard’s name, Astillero Magdalena, comes from one of the four boats he built, a wooden tug called Magdalena. Tally it up and the boat building and repair business has been in the family’s blood for 30 years.
Abel Senior first ran a tugboat across Lake Izabal’s chop. He picked up and delivered loads of crushed minerals to Mariscos, once a thriving port, for delivery down the river to Puerto Barrios. Back then boat repairs required a three or four-month waiting period. A name went on a list and one returned months later to begin the repairs which could take considerable time. Abel Senior thought a business opportunity laid there. He built his boat yard on the shores of the Rio Dulce by devising train rails for hauling boats out of the water. Even today a 42-foot catamaran with a 22-foot beam can be carried out of the water onto dry land for repairs.
It’s easy to spot Abel Senior, 70, with his thick head of white hair as he walks around the boat yard and keeps his blue eyes sharply surveying the clients’ boats in various stages of progress. Some of the employees have worked at Magdalena, which everyone simply calls Abel’s, for 20 years. Fiberglass, bottom paint and primer, gelcoat, engine repairs and waxing cover their popular services.
Abel Junior, 31, whose brown hair is starting to show some of his father’s silver lines, is looking ahead to offering more services. In a few months, Abel’s will offer propeller balancing using machinery imported from Michigan. Currently propellers must be shipped to Miami at a cost of $300-$600 each way on top of the cost of repairs. The prop shop will sit at the rear of the yard which Abel Junior plans to continue to grow, expanding the business launched by his grandfather.