The Bluewater Sailboat Alajuela 38 is a descendant of William Atkin’s original Ingrid 38 Ketch, continuing a heritage of conventional double-enders that began a century earlier with Colin Archer’s lifeboat designs. Not long after the Westsail 32, which inspired a cruising boat boom that lasted more than a decade, and visions of sailing to far-off lands, the yacht went into production. The Alajuela 38 has developed a cult following over the years, with owners drawn to her stunning sweeping lines, immaculate engineering, and unexpectedly strong performance.
Many people think of the Alajuela 38 as a more sophisticated version of the Westsail 32, which has a similar design, but as renowned sailing author John Kretschmer puts it,
“It is a different beast even though it is a double-ender. It is slim and graceful rather than strong and combative. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely adore the Westsail 32, but the Alajuela will outperform it in terms of sailing.”
The project was initiated by Mike Riding and Rod Jermain, two professionals in the Southern California boating industry who wanted to construct a boat for their own use. The first plan called for the construction of eight boats, the sale of six, the retention of two, and departure. This boat’s unique name comes from the fact that Riding intended to travel with his sweetheart, whom he had met in the Costa Rican town of Alajuela.
Despite the project’s modest beginnings, it took three years to construct the plug to remove a set of moulds, and another nearly two years to complete tooling for the deck. Along the way, Riding’s brother helped with some of the paperwork and Alajuela Yachts was incorporated as a company to qualify for trade discounts.
As Riding and Jermain worked on their project, “the cruising life” began to gain popularity thanks to a Time Magazine lifestyle article that featured a double-page photograph of a Westsail 32 anchored in a tropical paradise. Alajuela Yachts discovered themselves in a tide of great demand as the cruising yacht boom years got underway. As a result, more buildings than the eight were constructed by the startup company.
Thirty hulls had been finished by 1978, but the economy was weakening and the founders were forced to sell to a group of investors due to personal circumstances, including the birth of Jermain’s first child and the terrible death of Riding’s wife in a light aircraft accident. Jermain was supposed to stay on for at least a year to oversee production as well as bring in a new 33-footer named the Alajuela 33 as part of the buyout agreement.
Don Chapman, the sales manager for Alajuela, was another employee who stayed. Chapman later created the Ray Richards-designed Alajuela 48.
A total of 81 Alajuela 38s were produced, according to our calculations. Although there is conflicting information, it has been speculated that the moulds made their way to Taiwan, where other boats were built with the Bently 38 brand.
The Bluewater Sailboat Alajuela gained recognition for its superior engineering and construction standards. The hand-laid fibreglass hull is moulded in one piece and ranges in thickness from 3/4 inch near the bilges to 1/2 inch at the topsides. There are no liners inside the hull; everything is made of wood that has been adhered to the hull, making it sturdy while also allowing access to every crevice. The hull-to-deck junction on the deck is still one of the best in the business and is reinforced with plywood. The stunning bronze fixtures, which were made in Alajuela, deserve special mention.
The Mark II version of the boat was designed to address the challenges of locating high-quality wood for bowsprits and combings. Boats came in Mark I and Mark II varieties. The boats were additionally offered as hull and deck kits for the owners to complete.
Even though traditionalists favour the Mark I, the Mark II has a three-inch higher cabin. Other modifications include the addition of an aft propane locker, fibreglass cockpit combings, and aluminium watertight doors. The lengthy wooden bowsprit was changed to a more compact aluminium “wishbone” form. This was followed by minor adjustments** to the sail design that enabled a neutral helm throughout a wider range of sail sizes, including with some of the bigger headsails that boat owners were utilizing
The J measurement was lowered by 12 inches, and the bowsprit was cut shorter, which caused the whole centre of the effort to be moved slightly aft to lessen the likelihood of lee-helm while using heavy headsails.
Of course, comparing her to Ingrid 38, from which her lines were taken, would be preferable. Although both hulls appear to be practically identical at first glance, especially above the waterline, the underbody has improved slightly.
The Alajuela performs better overall thanks to a sharper entry that helps her in light winds and a flatter run aft. Ingrid’s propensity to bury her bow was combated by adding greater buoyancy forward above the waterline.
The Alajuela 38 has a sizable performance advantage because the rig carries 8% extra canvas, which brings her close to the sail area to displacement ratios seen in performance cruisers like the Valiant 40. This was demonstrated by the Alajuela 38 Wathena’s second-place finish in the notoriously light and unreliable 1976 Newport to Ensenada race. Compared to cruising boats of comparable size and displacement, Wathena came in far first.
Due to their sturdy construction and sound engineering, factory-built boats have aged remarkably well. Most issues are typically simple to resolve. These sailboats are frequently picked up when they do appear on the market. Owner-finished boats typically sell for less money.
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