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Tiller Tales Reviews
"I found John Buchanan's Tiller Tales to be sumptuous and excitingly different from the run of the mill cruising tales, thank you John for sharing your experience."
by John Buchanan
Tiller Tales is a unique and amusing look at life through the eyes of a seasoned single-handed sailor. Over 15 years of sailing on his yacht Nereis has given John an interesting perspective on the world.
Tiller Tales is a compilation of 22 short stories that will make you laugh & think.
The following records some of the experiences, people and animals I’ve met and what they’ve taught me through more than fifteen-years exploring in a small sailboat. There’s a lot of good old-fashioned sailing stuff, history, a little boat maintenance, some seamanship, world politics, philosophy, laughter, fear, awe, occasional whimsy, a journey into third world reality, notions on morality and especially what it’s like to be alone on a wide blue empty sea, the exhilaration, waves, winds, travails, sights and scenes. Well you know.
Some of these materials have appeared previously in abbreviated form, as magazine editors tend to strike what they consider irrelevant. Here are the whole stories, not 1200-words squeezed in to keep ads from sticking together. “I came, I saw, I conquered,” having the required beginning, middle and end would make any magazine editor proud but the how, why and where are left to the imagination. And while those six little words are uniquely timeless they can never provide a good half-hour read, smile or chuckle. Come aboard and discover the hows and whys of a whole bunch of wheres through the eyes of creatures you may never have considered.
Many of the tales have been individually dedicated to people and others who’ve inspired them but my mentors are still the crew of the racing sloop HIGH Q, perhaps all deceased but who continue to inspire just as they did when I was a boy whose constant stream of questions were always tolerated and also to Grandsons Finn and Paul and you yet to be named who will continue the tradition. I’m saving NEREIS for you guys don’t be late. You may have to travel to some exotic backwater to take over but the journey is the most of it. Always remember land is just something you step on to climb aboard. Charts of the Pacific are aft of the quarter birth and maybe you can finally solve that pesky leak over the bunk. Love you all, Dad and Granddad.
A RIO DULCE STREET
(From RIO DULCE DICHOTOMY.)
Opposite Hacienda Tijax on the edge of the town that Captain Freya Rauscher calls Frontiers but is known only as Rio Dulce by every Guatemalan I’ve met (See FREYA WHERE IS FRONTERES?) is Bruno’s Marina, restaurant and dinghy dock, managed by Steve and Monica, helpful to the bone. They also operate Atitrans, a travel agency notably womanned by Helen, a Belize native who’s brave, clean, reverent and does a good deed every day. Really. Most people going to shop in the many small tiendas and open-air markets in town lock-up their inflatables and lanchas at Bruno’s, large chains and larger locks are used by the initiated.
As you walk out of this facility under coconut palms sheltering the occasional brightly plumaged parrot you ascend variously shaped concrete steps to the north end of the Rio Dulce Bridge and experience traffic of almost another dimension as practiced by drivers of semis transporting what-all, cattle trucks packed stem to stern with diarrhea-prone long-horned cattle moaning out their moos in apparent distress (walk alongside with caution), large commercial buses (some heavily curtained protecting air conditioned interiors featuring food-dispensing stewardesses, complete with TVs blaring out Spanish Language action films, and some packed to excess having none of these amenities with windows agape), tri-wheeled motorcycle cabs (seat two or perhaps three if fares are friendly), bicycles (seat two or even four if family members), all manner of small cars, some huge unwieldy SUVs (could seat many but usually containing only a driver behind heavily-tinted-tightly-sealed windows bathed in super-cooled air), motorcycles and scooters frequently piloted by non-helmeted-berserkers, armed-cowboy-booted men on horseback or afoot clomping along with jingling confidence, small exquisitely-postured women balancing huge baskets or sacks of flour on their heads, boys wielding hand-trucks loaded to the strain point, nine-seat vans frequently carrying twenty-odd people called chicken buses (often with its ticket-taker clinging outside on the partially open sliding door), young men with perhaps a dozen live chickens with feet tied one to another swaying morosely on a cord draped around their neck, open-bed-four-wheel-drive trucks with double-rear-wheels often crammed with human and animal passengers (very large pigs a common cargo), and teeming with pedestrians speaking various languages vying for space between., all on a narrow-road perhaps suitable only for donkey-carts.
Always look over your shoulder, as Gringos seem to have a bulls-eye stenciled on their back for some intrepid drivers with malice in mind.
NOTIONS ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
(From RIO DULCE DICHOTOMY.)
Now let’s discuss those who live on and around the Rio Dulce basin. Firstly there are indigenous people, descendants of the Maya who thrive on the edge both literally and figuratively. They’re physically tiny people, their toddlers doll-size and when visiting the small village on the north side of the Rio Dulce Bridge walk about with wide eyes gazing at what I imagine seems a strange world. Women wear intricately patterned brightly colored ankle-length dresses with what appear to be wool vests. Children hold tightly to parents’ hands and are always mute with what I suspect to be awe.
They live away from main centers without electricity or running water, many on steep forested slopes of surrounding mountains or in isolated river settlements fishing and growing foodstuffs as they’ve done for millennia, clinging to old customs that will make them the last group of humans to survive the worldwide catastrophe that in recent times seems eminent, or not, depending on your political viewpoint. I imagine that bands of militant entities (take your pick there’re so many forms and varieties) following the elimination of almost all people and infrastructure will view the success of these simple folk and exterminate them too, either to steal their lifestyle or merely because that’s what such people do. Earthly humanity will end when assassins starve, as living off the land without supplementary canned goods is a gift owned solely by these descendants of the ancients, leaving legions of cockroaches to scurry about very empty licked-clean bean cans, not with a bang but with an incessant rustling of busy legs as they forage among the bones of what once was. Sounds like a movie plot doesn’t it.
I’m troubled with the missionary movement and those who would try to fulfill the requirements for entry into the Kingdom of Heaven by persuading these folks to abandon age-old beliefs and take on those held by the missionary du jour. I don’t think God cares how you run your life as long as you live it morally. Along with mandating learning various scripture and of course the required songs, they attempt to improve the lives of these people by teaching reliance on contemporary foodstuffs and all we uninitiated in making a living from jungle demand. The worst thing government or organized religion can do to improve the lives of others is to show up. 1
Sadly these peoples’ traditions are in danger of extinction. Their proximity to beings that rely on the corporate infrastructure for their very existence will exert influence through arrogant-ignorance, by accident or design and will eventually drag them down into their fold. There’s no escaping this as cultures interacting in adjacent space and time always meld into the dominant group. If this isn’t a generally accepted anthropological axiom it should be.
They know how to live without help from others extracting a fulfilling living from nature. When all else fails they will be the dominant life form on earth. We need their lore for our own survival or negating this concept merely because it’s unique. Who wants to live in a world with a fast-food-semi-restaurant on every corner? When all is the same what will tourists visit? Contemporary people please leave them alone. Please. If in doubt reread David Black’s quote. Now read it again. If you’re a government employee, memorize it.
SOME WHIMSY FROM SHANGRI-LA
I only saw one mosquito the five days I stayed there. I was reading in the boat’s cabin and heard a slight buzz, a very musical one I want you to know. It wasn’t harsh or whiny but almost pleasant, hauntingly lyrical. I looked over my shoulder and there was one lone mosquito hovering in the air.
Now this is what you may not believe but I assure you its gospel. This mosquito was gigantic and had not a blemish on it. It was the most beautiful mosquito you’ve ever seen, you’d want to attach a leash and take it home as a pet, tell your grandchildren about it, write a children’s story with it as the protagonist:
“THE ADVENTURES OF MAURICE
AND HOW HE SAVED THE POND FROM DESTRUCTION”
AND, AND it had Mickey Mouse ears on. Yes it did! I swear to you this is true. I wouldn’t lie about something like that. The mosquito never even attempted to bite me. It just sort-of displayed itself in all its finery turning gracefully in the air, antenna fluttering, slowly, prettily in the breeze in syncopation with the rhythmic beat of its’ wings. You see they were huge, well huge in proportion to its body and moved in languid fashion. They were so thin you could see through them, veined in a particularly interesting way. I’d describe the pattern but I think it’s a copyrighted design. This was indeed a very special beast. I wish you’d seen it. I felt privileged to be in that place at that time.
Now this is the really strange part. The buzz wasn’t produced by those slowly moving wings as those of its smaller cousins are as they beat frantically to maintain flight speed but it had a tiny musical instrument, a cross between a trombone and tenor sax, held with four of its six hands upon which it played a musical accompaniment. It was a virtuoso performance and I reacted with a spontaneous burst of applause. If you had been there you probably would have done likewise. It was truly amazing.
After a time it gave a little bow which is not easy to do while flying. I never realized that until I saw the awkwardness of it all. Then it winked one of its compound eyes, the left one as I recall and flew on presumably to entertain others. I told you this place was unique.
EXCERPT FROM MOON OVER NAPLES
The sun just set as we approached the lights of Naples loafing along about four-miles offshore. There are numerous ten to fifteen story buildings easily visible but one stood out appearing as a brilliant orange rectangle, I thought they had arranged particularly bright lights around it but as I gazed.
IT BEGAN TO MOVE
I immediately thought of Gene, as apparently this was a genuine flying saucer. Now I too had seen one and could be counted among those lucky few. The rectangular glow, a deep orange-red color began to change, its sharp corners rounding. My goodness this was a treat. I would have an even better story as the flying saucer continued slowly, imperceptibly slowly, to ascend and mutate appearing to almost boil, bulging out.
I could subliminally hear the deep resonance of its engines. In a few minutes it rose above the skyline. I worried that the hapless citizens of Naples might be in for some problems with that thing hovering over them. As it moved it continued changing, becoming oval in shape and its red-orange color began to pale. Were the space-aliens manipulating some kind of force field or ray gun thing? Would they attack? These creatures were so clever they were changing their flying saucer into something else.
“I wonder if space-aliens call their space craft flying saucers.”
“Probably not. Why do you always interrupt at the most exciting times? Huh? Give me a break. OK”
Anyway back to the space ship. Those wily aliens changed their flying saucer.
THEY CHANGED IT INTO THE MOON!
Yes! As God is my witness it became the Moon. Believe it or not creatures who have the ability to transform their craft into the Moon or a reasonable facsimile of it have invaded us. What a great disguise. Just think of the implications. All this time we’ve thought it was this innocuous light-giving thing and it’s really a NEST OF SPACE-CREATURES. Who knows what they’re contemplating.
HOURS LATER JUST PRIOR TO LANDFALL
Then the wind rose from ten-knots to thirty in as little time as it took to write this sentence. NOT good! I consistently have three of the five hatch-boards in place at sea the top one fastened so it can’t float off if the unthinkable occurs but the unthinkable seemed to be happening. I extended almost my entire body through the hatch for the remaining boards in the quarter birth and heard a furious hissing and suddenly couldn’t move. I couldn’t MOVE! My goodness was I immobilized by some force-field type device or futuristic ray-gun thing now that I’m privy to aliens’ secrets. This was NOT a good time to make contact with unearthly beings despite the notoriety it might bring. Fame? ………... Possible fortune? ………...…. TALK SHOWS! . .………….…..…….
My goodness the mind boggles with its possibilities but I digress.
“All you do is digress. You digress more than any other human being on Earth. Wait! With all this stuff about aliens maybe you’re NOT human, maybe you’ve been touched! Were you probed? Changed somehow? Help! Save us from the alien!”
“Give me a break; will you please just give me a break? It’s just literary license.”
“Oh. Sorry but what’s literary license?”
“I have no idea! Just leave me alone! Ok?”
I seemed to be stuck head-down-rear-up, immobilized! Wrenching free I found I’d inadvertently caught the life-vest’s ripcord on the hatch and it inflated ………… or maybe an alien pulled it. Who knows?
EXCERPT FROM A FULLY EQUIPPED
SAILBOAT FOR SALE
It was the morning of the third day I think, fatigue makes you forget. It’s something conscientious single-handers live with. I had been hove-to half the night with storm jib and single reefed main. NEREIS was still laboring in the morning and I put in a second reef leaving the jib up. I re-hove to, went below, put all five-hatch boards in place, tied the hatch down and took off my soaked clothes. While drying off with a towel looking out the starboard window I marveled at how peaceful it all seemed below, dry, quiet, my bunk calling seductively. Sailing a boat you have confidence in lends a great sense of safety in extreme conditions, even in violent motion there’s a strange peace and a seeming quiet compared to what it’s like on deck. Perhaps an atavistic response similar to early man’s seeking enclosure in caves.
The Gulf Stream during the summer thunderstorm season is a beautifully serene, vast, chaotic, and eerie place. Its storm-driven waves never seem to have specific direction jumbling together in great lumps. Small hills 20 feet high rise up, some close, some far, some right under you! It’s hard to reconstruct exactly what happened next but I think at least two lumps, two 20-foot hills coalesced and erupted in front of my eyes or maybe it was something else. Who knows? After all this was the Bermuda Triangle.
There was no violent motion, jerk or slam. It was as if God had gently touched a finger to the masthead and slowly tilted the boat over to starboard. A wall of water, very deep offshore water rose over the deck and began moving ever so slowly, creeping up the window as you might expect in a submarine during a leisurely descent. We weren’t going down however but over. Soon I could see STRAIGHT DOWN! I was standing at the sink actually laying on it looking out the window. Down, down, down into the depths of the ocean. Then conditions really deteriorated.
© John Buchanan, 2006
1 THIS IS A QUOTE FROM DAVID BLACK ON THE WOOD-MASTED SLOOP ASTARTA WITH WHOM I SHARED A DOCK IN LA BACIDILLA.