I was once diverted, by the ill winds of flu and chance, to sail into the country of Colombia at a port called Buenaventura which, in spite of its salubrious name, is the nethermost orifice of the universe.

Upon entering Buenaventura I was beset by a small, elderly and entirely disreputable looking ragamuffin who called himself Willie. He claimed to be an American citizen whose papers had mysteriously disappeared. Willie offered all sorts of services (it being Colombia the menu was large) in exchange for what he claimed was a modest fee. I felt sure he was hustling me and could not produce half of what he promised, so I turned him coldly away. Besides, he was altogether too ratty looking to represent me to the authorities.

As befitting a proper skipper of a proper yacht, I sought out the official route and made my way to a glorious luminary, the door of whose office proclaimed him 'Captain of the Port'. His office was draped with Columbian flags and speckled with noble photographs of everyone in Columbia who was at least one step above him in the heirarchy. He was taking no chances. I was courteously received. I explained that I had diverted into Buenaventura due to an illness aboard. I needed a physician and would be on my way in a day or two.

There was much sympathy expressed for his 'Norte Americano hermano.' A physician was summoned and I was told that I would be put into the hands of the Captain's best agent, a man who could "make all things possible for me". As I departed I grew an inch or two in my own self esteem.

I too soon discovered the Captain of the Port had only recently purchased his warrant and was intent on recouping his entire investment from the first Yankee sailboat to fall into his grasp. Namely, me.

When the recommended agent (the brother of the Captain's sister as it turned out) visited my boat the next day he apologetically informed me that there would be a "few minor, unavoidable charges too insignificant to discuss" and which certainly would be no financial burden for so splendid a vessel as mine.

I smelled a rat.

Before the agent departed my boat I pressed him for the exact extent of the "insignificant" charges. He urged me to wait till I was ready to leave so that he could best arrange matters. The rat got smellier and when I insisted he guessed that it would be, "Oh...Uhm...not really much more than, all told mind you, not much more than $2000 a day".

The tale of my escape from the mulcting clutches of the Captain of the Port will be told elsewhere but when later I complained to Willie he drew himself up to his full, bedraggled, five feet and said, "Senor, a thousand pardons, but you are uno santo innocente . I required only a little of your money, those bastards wanted it all!"

For the rest of my stay in Buenaventura I hired Willie to be my guide, mentor, and deck guard. His ancient and shaky physique, even if he were healthy (he was not) and even if he were strong (he could hardly haul himself on deck,) was no match for the hulking cutthroats who hovered about the fringes on my vessel. However I felt that I had done poor Willie an injustice. I owed him the job. He could use the money and, as he explained, he could use the oportunismo that went along with his position as amanuensis to the American yacht.

I had been warned by friends that if I did not submit to the cozenage and peculation of the 'official' pirates I would be descended upon nightly and stripped clean by harbor thieves in the pay of officialdom. Since there was no way that I could afford to play the Captain Of The Port's extortionist game, I hopelessly hired Willie and resigned myself to pillage by the harbor thugs who were hourly edging closer.

Within moments after Willie came aboard the tightening circle of light-fingered gentry receded like a fast ebbing tide and, by the next day, the hovering had ceased entirely. Indeed, small boats in the harbor went to extreme measures to detour around us at a great distance and at the cost of much additional labor on their part. I watched Willie closely for some hint of his magic. All he seemed to do was lie about on deck, coughing a bit, as was his want, and looking smug.

We had to stay a week in that terrible place but we were as safe as in our mother's arms. No one bothered us. No one approached us. No one, and this is incredible, even tried to beg from us. We were surrounded by Willie's mysterious force field.

When the time came to leave I grossly overpaid Willie and asked what he had done to intimidate the entire harbor. Willie, being no fool, smiled slyly, refused to divulge his secret and suggested that I advise all my American friends to seek him out for protection. I swore I would.

We cleared both customs and the police, with unseemely haste on their part. It was evident that they wanted us the Hell out of their harbor. We waved goodbye to Willie and sailed out.

About a mile off the coast, still in Columbian waters, the entire Columbian navy, or so it seemed, descended upon us and, with guns trained, ordered us to stop for a search. We thought it was a belated look-see for cocaine and since we were as clean of drugs as Nancy Reagan's medicine chest, we welcomed them aboard...not that we had much choice.

The search was thorough. Twenty armed Columbian Marines herded us onto the foredeck and, with exaggerated care, trepidatiously as it seemed, left no possible hiding place unplumbed. Four hours later they trooped back to their ships, obviously relieved that their search had turned up nothing.

The whole episode was an unfathomable puzzle for me until, as the last Columbian sailor climbed aboard his boat, I heard him report to his officer, "Willie esta loco. Los Americanos no tiene una bomba atomica".

God Bless Willie and never underestimate the threat of nuclear Armegeddon.