Name Changer

Having decided to repaint my Pearson Ensign, I decided to change the name as well. Only one problem: Everyone knows it's horrible luck to change the name of a boat!
As I sailed past his mooring, my mate Brian Megley took the very first photo of Saunter and me, with her new handle, soon after I’d performed the renaming ritual. Brian Megley

For reasons that are mostly unclear, even to me, I’ve always wanted to name a boat Saunter. The problem is, I’d never actually owned a laid-back vessel that did anything of the sort (twitchy J/24s and J/30s most assuredly do not “saunter”). That is, until very recently.

Actually, I’m being a bit disingenuous, because the word popped onto my radar screen and refused to leave many years ago after reading the following quote from noted author, naturalist and outdoorsman John Muir:

“I don’t like the word [hike]…. People ought to saunter in the mountains, not ‘hike’! Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages, people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre’…‘To the Holy Land.’ And so, they became known as ‘sainte-terre-ers’ or ‘saunterers.’ Now, these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.” 

Bingo, Johnny. The sea is my reverent place, though I would quibble here a bit. Trust me, one does not “saunter” through the wild Southern Ocean or the chilly Northwest Passage; one “hauls ass” as quickly as possible. But here in my mellow home waters of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, with some good friends and a couple of cold ones on a hot summer’s day? Time to saunter, baby. 


My opportunity to name a boat Saunter finally arrived with my purchase, this past summer, of a sedate and stately Pearson Ensign, a 23-foot daysailer built back in the day, right up the bay, in nearby Bristol. Red Dawn—the name on the transom when I purchased her—had a couple of knotty problems. The red gelcoat, which I’m sure was once gleaming, had faded to a rather sad pink in the many intervening decades since she was built. And, she was…red. Nothing against red boats, folks, I just don’t want one myself. The devil wears red, right?

Having made the decision to paint her blue, I decided to go all in and make the name change as well. I mean, Red Dawn would no longer work. There was only one problem, and it was not insignificant. I am a superstitious lad. And everyone knows it’s horrible luck to change the name of a boat!

Well, not everyone. Enter marine writer John Vigor, the author of just the book I was looking for: How to Rename Your Boat


Armed with said tome, a pair of self-adhesive vinyl letterings ( and some chilled beverages, early this past summer I rowed out to the Ensign, prepared to conduct Vigor’s step-by-step ceremony. It begins rather eloquently: “In the name of all who sailed aboard this ship in the past, and in the name of all who may sail aboard her in the future, we invoke the ancient gods of the wind and sea to favor us with their blessings today.”

The entire renaming ritual is blessedly quick and consists of five parts: an invocation, an expression of gratitude, a supplication, a rededication and a libation. These must be spoken aloud. I confess that I spun around a few times, there on my mooring, to make sure nobody was looking. Not unreasonably, to some local observers, I have garnered a rather sketchy reputation, and making speeches by myself, to myself, in the middle of Brenton Cove on a quiet morning, seemed like a good idea to keep as private as possible. 

There are actually two ­separate parts to the whole deal: the casting off of the old (the renaming) and the welcoming in of the new (the christening). Vigor says that you can do them both straightaway, back to back. Which I did.


It was easy and felt good to apply the new letters, row a few strokes off, and admire the entire new look. I hopped back aboard, hoisted the main, and proceeded to saunter away what was left of the pretty morning. I can guarantee that it won’t be the last time. 

Herb McCormick is CW’s executive editor.