"What kinda book is that?" the old guy sharing the waiting room with me at the Mercury dealership asked.
I set aside the book, The Legend of Ron Añejo by Ed Teja, and pondered how I could possibly explain it. I suppose you could say it’s a novel (or novella, really—the book covers a scant 116 pages in trade paperback), but it’s a very episodical one. And it doesn’t fit any genre—there’s no mystery or horror, little romance, and not much suspense either. "Comic travel fiction" might be close, but why bother with labels at all when dealing with the unique?
"It’s about a couple of boat bums trying to sail a leaky ship around the Caribbean," I finally answered. And added: "It’s highly entertaining!"
And it is. Ed Teja never had to deal with the dilemma facing most writers—the imperative to "write from experience" while never having experienced anything interesting enough to write about. Teja, a musician and columnist for the Caribbean Compass, has lived what doctors and lawyers and accountants must daydream hazily about when lying on the couch on Sunday afternoons—a precarious, romantic, present-tense life surrounded by boats and warm skies and cheap rum. And now he’s distilled this material into the adventures of one Ron Añejo, a well-meaning, eternally optimistic jack-of-all-trades whose schemes always somehow fail—but fail in an entertaining, often spectacular way that is the stuff of legends. Early on, our narrator (he’s never named, so we’ll just refer to him as "Ed"), arrives on Kayakoo, one of the Windward islands, and meets Ron. Together they ply the seas aboard a leaky Danish fishing boat, the MeinGott, which sails under the obsolete East German flag. Most of the book is devoted to their attempt to earn a living from the boat—with tourism, hauling cargo, smuggling, and "Amazing Amazon charters", to name a few. Here’s an excerpt from one of their misadventures—returning from St. Voracious with beer smuggled in the hold of MeinGott, the boat runs aground on an unmarked reef. Ron calls the local coast guard to rescue them; then they realize that the coast guard will catch them smuggling and send them to jail. Ed is just able, by diving underwater and lifting the hull with a hydraulic jack, to get MeinGott off the reef when their rescuers arrive:
A stern looking black man in a crisp khaki uniform and bright orange life jacket stepped out into the cutter’s flying bridge and hailed us. "Captain, we are responding to a distress call." I was impressed by his precise British accent.
Ron put MeinGott in neutral and we both went over to stand at the rail. "Who is in distress?" he shouted back. "Can we be of assistance?"
"A boat was reported to be aground on a reef near here. A German boat, we believe. Have you seen anything at all?"
"No, sir. We just got here ourselves," Ron shouted back. "I hope to hell he hasn’t been tracking us on radar," he mumbled to me. Then, to the officer again, "We haven’t seen any boats at all."
The officer thought that over. "What is the name of your boat?"
Ron took a quick look and saw they couldn’t read the name painted on the stern from their position. "Millicent."
"What is your registration?"
"Panama!" he shouted; at the same instant, for some reason even I didn’t understand, probably just exhaustion and panic, I shouted "Sweden!"
As you can see, this isn’t exactly Joseph Conrad material, and those searching for the nautical lyricism of The Old Man and the Sea would be better choosing a different frigate than The Legend of Ron Añejo. It’s closer to Bob Hope’s Road to Utopia. Yet the book is curiously satisfying; for all that it is a light read it lends a realism to a place that exists mostly in our dreams or blurry vacation memories. And it did keep me entertained for a full two hours, while the Mercury dealer patched up my own, four-wheeled version of MeinGott.
- Joel Van Valin