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A recent study found that 60 percent of couples fight over their boat name. Just kidding. I made that up. There was no study, and there were no documented fights, but, come on. Don’t you think there would be? I mean, just look around: Making Luff, Breaking Wind, Tina Tuna … These are actual boat names, chosen by actual people, splashed with paint onto the transoms of really unlucky boats. I sheet you knot: some people go out of their way to ruin a good boat with a bad name.
Some boat names are nouns, others are puns, and many of us wonder why. Why name a boat Bow Movement? Why name a yacht Mistress? Am I Feelin’ Nauti? Not really. If you ask me, an erotic boat name is about as necessary as a dashboard stuffed-animal display or a tattoo of a doughnut.
Yes, you can do it, but should you?
There’s no law requiring that you name your boat. For that matter, you don’t have to name your kids either, though life will be easier if you do. Still, you shouldn’t confuse the two. Take “Banana” for instance. Great name for a boat; bad name for a kid. Or “Felony.” Bad name for a kid; great name for a superyacht.
Of course, this is all just my opinion. Truth is, I’ve never named a boat. When I bought Delilah, she was already Delilah. The week I launched her, a friendly dock mate gave me some good advice: “Wait a year before you make any major changes,” he said. “See what you like and don’t like about your new boat.”
Well, it’s been two years now. The only changes I’ve made are changes to my hair. And so, as we ring in a new year, I find myself staring at Delilah’s transom, wondering: Should I rename my boat?
For the record, I hate decision-making. For me, dinner menus are tough. Shopping for blue jeans is tougher. The thought of choosing a new boat name makes me sweaty at best, so I took my question to an expert.
Sally Curran left England in her twenties, moved to Los Angeles, and has spent 30 years painting boat lettering and applying marine decals at Sally’s Seasigns in Marina Del Rey, California. Most people would struggle to squeeze three decades of marine trauma into a single conversation, but Sally’s a pro who’s seen it all—bad names, kitschy puns, weird stuff, and, every so often, a solid name.
“Most times, new boat owners have a few ideas swimming around in their heads,” she says as we sit in her office. “I tell people that simple is better, that the Coast Guard should be able to read your boat name from a distance, and that you shouldn’t be embarrassed to say it over VHF if you’re in trouble or needing a rescue.”
“Do they take your advice?” I ask.
Sally sighs. “I knew a surgeon who named his boat Yo Mama,” she says.
Sally advises against political statements. She also advises against naming your boat after a husband or wife. “I’ve removed one woman’s name and put another woman’s on,” she tells me. “So, yeah, divorce is another consideration.”
Sally studied graphic design. Starting out, she hand-painted boat names. Nowadays, she mostly uses vinyl lettering—which gives me some hope, because it means names like Ship Faced can simply be peeled off, as if they were never there.
Sally doesn’t just know the crazy names; she knows the characters who create them. Wandering the marina together, she points out examples, both good and bad, of how lettering can be designed, applied and displayed. She tells me about the “forgetful types” who want their name on the front, back and side of the boat; and the “free spirits” who’ve had life experiences and want to tell the whole story on the transom. She says: “I’m, like, okay, fine, but do you really need the whole sentence?”
Some clients want a seascape by their boat name, a picture of a frolicking dolphin or a breaching whale. Sally and I agree that this is unnecessary, though not nearly as problematic as the last group. “Oh gawd,” she says. “In every marina there’s some guy who wants to name his boat Seamen.”
“Some people can’t be helped,” I tell her. “But you can help me.”
I tell Sally about Delilah, my Cape Dory 25, and the meaning of the name. As the story goes, the boat’s previous owner, Wade, had adopted a dog around the time he got the boat. The dog absolutely loved the water, Wade had explained over text as I trailered the boat home from Washington to Southern California. It was her favorite thing in the world.
I share this story with Sally. I tell her I love it. I can tell she appreciates it too. And so, after our conversation, I reach back out to Wade and ask if he’ll tell me a little more about Delilah (the dog) and Delilah (the boat). In a thoughtful email, Wade tells me how Delilah had been a shelter dog, adopted at age 10; how she’d laid in the driveway and watched as he sanded, painted, and restored the Cape Dory over for more than two years. The boat was called Viveka then. Wade wanted to change the name, thought about it for a long time, and Delilah was the only name that seemed obvious. “I had the decal waiting to be put on when Delilah suddenly had to be put down,” he wrote in his email. “She was nearly 13, then was fine one day and incredibly sick the next. The vet said she was riddled with cancer.”
The morning after she was put down, Wade went outside and put the lettering on Delilah’s transom. “Admittedly, not an easy job to do through tears,” he wrote.
Boat names can make you laugh, make you think, or make you cry. Sure, some might make you cringe. But, the good news is that everyone gets to choose their own boat name. As for me, I’m holding onto the story of this little green boat and the dog who loved the water. I’m letting Delilah stay Delilah. I’m keeping the name.
Click here to read more from The Noob Files
David Blake Fischer is a “noob” sailor living in Southern California whose work has appeared in McSweeney’s, BuzzFeed, the Moth, and Good Old Boat. He hasn’t crossed oceans. In fact, he’s only recently crossed the Santa Monica Bay. Follow him as he fumbles out the channel, backwinds his jib and sometimes drags his fenders on Delilah, his Cape Dory 25. Find him on Instagram @sailingdelilah.