Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Name Game

Unfortunate boat names, indeed.
Of course, we had no intention of actually naming the boat MacGyver, and finding a good name for the boat turned out to be almost as difficult as finding the right boat.  As with most things, it was easier to define what we didn’t like: eliminate all arrogance (Excelsior), vulgarity (Passing Wind), or names suggesting that the owner is a pathetic hen-pecked wimp who needs his wife’s permission to go sailing now and again (Mary Ann).  This left Greek gods, Celtic sea mythology, and seabirds.  We also toyed around with Breton names, quite popular here in Brittany, but since no one in my husband’s family spoke Breton, this felt a little bit silly.

We decided to wait and have some “face time” with the boat before choosing a name.  I had narrowed the list to 3 or 4 potential winners, but soon stumbled onto another problem, a typically French one.  Sex.  Or rather, gender.  For the thirteen years I’ve been living in France, the French have never ceased to torture me with their mind-boggling insistence on attributing a gender to inanimate objects.  In English, there is only one non-living thing that has a gender, and that’s a boat, and it’s feminine.  In keeping with their millennial-long passion for pissing off the English (and by cultural association, all English speakers), the French couldn’t just step aside and let us have this ONE thing.  No, French boats are masculine.  That doesn’t mean that French boats never have female names, but when I speak of a boat named “Marilyn” and using the pronoun “he”, I have the uneasy feeling of  being transported into a Pedro Almodovar film.  So my list was narrowed down even further.

For awhile, we thought we would have to keep the boat’s current name in order to a) avoid the well-known wrath that the gods of the seas reserve for those who dare to change the name of a boat, and b) to be able to keep the owner’s mooring in the Auray River for the rest of the year, saving us innumerable headaches and almost $1000.  We grew accustomed to Zephyr, one of the Greek wind gods, who represents the west wind and is the bearer of light spring and early summer breezes. One of our sailor friends scoffed, saying that this hardly evoked the sort of swashbuckling adventures we intended.  But after further study, I decided that any wind god capable of killing a boy by hurling a discus at his head or carrying Cupid and Psyche to their love-cave is good enough for me. 

Joshua Slocum's SPRAY.
Joshua Slocum with silly hat.
But a phone call from the harbour master one week before Zephyr’s sea test informed us that we could, in fact, stay at the mooring for the rest of the year even though the boat’s ownership would change hands, and we were thus free to name the boat whatever we wanted.  For days, we ran  around the house shouting out possible names three times as if we were making a call to the harbour master or coast guard, just to see how it sounded.  We finally decided on Spray, in honour of Joshua Slocum’s boat, which he sailed single-handed around the world between 1895 and 1898.  I had spent 6 years living in New England, not far from where Slocum left for his circumnavigation, and the story of his voyage, “Sailing Alone Around the World”, was and still is an inspiration.  The name Spray also had the advantage of being short, easily pronounceable in both languages, and was, thankfully, gender-neutral.  

But we aren’t out of the proverbial woods yet.  We were told that in addition to the unavoidable French administrative hurdles involved in changing the name of a boat, there are also strict rituals to be observed in order to avoid the aforementioned wrath of Neptune. The nature of these ancient and compulsory rites, however, varies wildly depending on who we ask, and so I set myself the task of carrying out a thorough investigation.