|Yarns and Characters
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
A Man Called Buck
From a distance, he appeared smallish and frail. But up close, I could see that he was lean and wiry. His taut skin was like leather, caused by years spent under the blazing sun. He was a little stooped over, perhaps from bending to enter the salon of his little yacht, Wind Gift. Its wooden hull appeared to be less than thirty feet long; I doubt that he could stand up straight inside.
Gunter and I first met Buck as we were leaving Barillas Marina in El Salvador for Guatemala. Four yachts navigated the winding six-mile stretch of river at the same time, following two men in a panga from the marina who would lead us past the shoals at the river’s mouth and out to sea. Wind Gift followed behind the stern of Pacific Bliss, her sails full, her little outboard engine chugging along. I turned to snap a photo. From the river’s mouth, three yachts headed north for Guatemala. Makoko and Pacific Bliss soon left Wind Gift far behind, until her sails were just a faint white speck against the deep blue sea.
The day after we arrived in the steamy, industrial navy yard of Puerto Quetzal, we hired a car and driver and headed for the cooler highlands with our friends from our buddy boat Makoko. We returned three days later to find little Wind Gift anchored snugly in the harbor next to our larger yachts. The next day, we were invited to sundowners and a light dinner on Makoko. We planned to share our waypoints to Puerto Madero, our port of entry into Mexico. I asked our hostess, Claudie, whether we could invite Buck as well, since Wind Gift was the only other cruising yacht in the harbor. She consented, and that afternoon, on our way back from a provisioning run, we dinghied over to Wind Gift.
“I don’t usually like to leave my boat after dark,” said Buck in response to our invitation.
“But it’s only a stone’s throw away,” said Gunter. “You will be able to see Wind Gift from the cockpit of Makoko. We’ll pick you up about 5:30.” Buck agreed to the plan—a little reluctantly, I thought.
Later, we stopped to pick him up, tethered Petit Bliss to the high transom of Makoko, and climbed into their 53’ Amel Super Maramu ketch. The cockpit table had been put in place, and Buck was asked to walk on the seats to sit in the corner, at the backside of the table next to the mizzen mast. I sat next to him and the others squeezed around the table. Claudie, wonderfully dressed in an attractive full-length sheath, her hair and make-up perfect, asked Buck in English, with her cute French accent, what he would like to drink.
“Just water,” Buck replied.
“With gas or without?” She asked, setting out a tray of cheeses, pates and crackers.
“Just plain water,” he replied.
“Ice or no ice?” She was bringing out the French red and the perfectly chilled white.
“No ice, just a glass of water.”
“Can’t she understand me?” he whispered to me, his frustration building.
“Would you like a little lime in it?”
Overwhelmed, Buck stood on the cockpit seat and looked back toward Wind Gift, lazily sloshing in the waves behind.
“I don’t know why people can’t understand me. Don’t I talk plain English?” he remarked. “I’m jumping. I will swim back to my vessel.”
“What did I do wrong?” Claudie burst out, dismay clouding her gracious smile.
“No, Buck. Don’t jump!” Gunter shouted as Buck began to climb up out of the center cockpit on to the stern deck. Obviously impatient, he hadn’t waited for everyone to stand up and let him squeeze past them around the crowded table. The close quarters and social niceties were evidently too much for a simple single-handler.
Gunter rushed to the deck and persuaded Buck to let him take him back to his boat in Petit Bliss. Had he not stopped him right then, we were all convinced that Buck would have jumped, clothes and all!
We didn’t encounter Buck again until Pacific Bliss and Wind Gift were anchored not far from each other in the Huatulco, Mexico.
“There’s Wind Gift!” I exclaimed. “I want to give Buck the photo of his boat I printed out." We dinghied over and I held on to the side of his boat. Buck welcomed us as if the incident on board the French boat had never happened. He thanked me for the photo of Wind Gift under sail and cheerfully handed Gunter a supply of well-used and mildewed books.
“Where are you going from here?” Gunter asked.
“I’m leaving Wind Gift here and traveling inland for awhile,” he said. “I want to see some of Mexico’s interior. I never have.”
“Where will you keep your boat during the hurricane season? There’s no shipyard here.”
“I’ll figure it out.”
A mere two days later, Buck had secured a place for Wind Gift “on the hard” in a young man’s yard--in exchange for giving him sailing lessons. Although we’ve emailed him, and left messages via his website: www.windgift.com we never heard from Buck again.