Don’t Poke Poseidon: The Ritual of Naming Your Boat And Staying Afloat
By: Scott Way
Just bought a boat? Before you jinx your new ride to a lifetime of rogue waves and wet helmsmen, make sure you know how to name it. If you don’t, you risk releasing the Kraken.
Naming a new boat is one thing, but ask any boater about re-naming a used vessel and they’ll shoot you a suspicious glance. There’s a lot of history and tradition involved with renaming a boat, and they’ll want to make sure you’re not trying to pull a fast one on the ‘ole skipper. Even if you’re not superstitious, but just a little stitious, you’ll find its wise to consult a deity or two before putting Tremclad over the flaking S.S. Minnow lettering. Poseidon, the Greek ‘God of the Sea’ and overseer of off-shore vessels was reputed to be a pretty temperamental guy. He kept a ‘Ledger of the Deep,’ a list of every vessel travelling the seven seas. If your vessel wasn’t on the list, keep your PFD handy because he didn’t have much patience for rule breakers. Apparently, he was a bureaucrat. It’s worth following the folklore when renaming your boat, if for no other reason than it’s a seafaring tradition full of fun.
The first step is coming up with a name. Boat naming relies on a few key principles, but the options are limitless. Walk around a marina for inspiration and you’ll see slips full of dad-joke puns and amusing references to time (and money) spent. There are a few common themes, so keep them in mind or risk becoming the scourge of your marina. Be original – avoid rehashing old classics like the Black Pearl unless you’re the dreadlocked captain of a brigantine with a penchant for rum. Add some humour – puns are always encouraged, so exploit the different possible meanings of a word with some nautical ingenuity. Classics like ‘Pier Pressure’ and ‘Seas The Day’ will kickstart your inspiration. Making a reference to your job, a family member, or your profession can also get a chuckle at the dock. You’ll see your share of ‘Reel Busy’ on fishing boats, ‘Rudder Chaos’ on a sailboat, or ‘Tied The Knot’ on a family cruiser.
Once you’ve decided on a name you can now begin… the purge. If that sounds daunting, it kind of is. If you want to rename a pre-owned vessel, this is where things get ritualistic. Renaming a boat consists of six parts: 1) removing every trace of the old name, 2) performing a purging ceremony, 3) performing a renaming ceremony, 4) making a sacrifice, 5) appeasing the four wind gods, and 6) toasting to the new name.
Step one seems simple enough, but don’t miss a warranty sticker on the underside of a hatch or the floating keychain with the spare key in the galley junk drawer. Any reference to the original boat means it’s destined for 20,000 leagues under the sea. You’ll also have to whiteout any mention of the old name in cruising journals, maintenance logs, receipts, or related paperwork. Be thorough here, it’s a good excuse to reorganize your vessel into ship shape.
Renaming a boat is a joyous affair as it means you’ve probably just made a purchase, so that’s cause enough for celebration. But before you get underway with friends and family there are a few dates you’ll want to avoid, so grab your calendar. Thursday is a derivate of the Old English ‘Thor’s Day,’ the Norse god of thunder and storms. It’s best not to entice a hurricane during your maiden voyage, so skip Thor’s Day if possible. Friday isn’t a wise choice either; it was the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even the Coast Guard won’t christen a boat on Friday, they’ll postpone until Saturday. If Saturday doesn’t work with your schedule, the old adage goes ‘Sunday sail, never fail. Friday sail, ill luck and gale.’
Another date to avoid is the first Monday in April. That’s the biblical date when Cain slew Abel, and there’s a lot to unpack there. If you don’t know the Bible story, Cain was punished by God for killing his brother Abel, condemning him to a lifetime of wandering. There are already enough reasons to dislike Mondays, but add that to the list. The first Monday could also be April Fool’s Day, so you’re asking for shenanigans if you attempt a christening on April 1st. Your friends might switch up the boat name without you knowing, unveiling your new fishing boat as ‘The Codfather’ or ‘Unsinkable II.’
After considering the above, you’ve presumably set your ceremony for Saturday or Sunday in an effort to appease Poseidon, Thor, and your friends who work regular jobs. The ceremony itself involves some offerings to our ill-natured supervisor Poseidon, so you’ll want to write these down. You’ll need the following:
Branch of green leaves
Champagne (inside safety bag)
A poem to recite
Friends & family
Gather everyone at your boat with the aforementioned amenities and prepare to get poetic. Like saying grace at Christmas dinner, you don’t want to flub the words. Place the branch of green leaves on the bow. Green leaves symbolize safe returns and should stay on the bow for the ceremony and the maiden voyage. The most common verse to recite is an ode to Poseidon, and it goes as follows:
“Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, I implore you in your graciousness to expunge for all time from your records and recollection the name (mention the old boat name), which has ceased to be an entity in your kingdom. As proof thereof, we submit this ingot bearing her name, to be corrupted through your powers and forever be purged from the sea. In grateful acknowledgement of your munificence and dispensation, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.”
If that seems excessive, you can recite any poem as an offering to the sea (even a rendition of ‘Roses are red, Violets are blue, I like boating, So this cruise is for you’ qualifies). Then it’s time to pop some bubbly. It’s customary to break a champagne bottle against the bow, so make sure you can reach it. Break the bottle against a cleat or the anchor so you don’t damage anything, and bask in the applause that follows (Hot Tip- you can even buy ceremonial bottles for this part). If the bottle is still usable, pour half the champagne into the water from west to east, and dispense the remaining among friends and family. Make sure you’ve got a full flute, you’ll need it in a second (if the bottle is unusable switch to red wine for the next step).
Now it’s time to begin the renaming ceremony. Repeat the following:
“Oh mighty and great ruler of the seas and oceans, to whom all ships and we who venture upon your vast domain are required to pay homage, I implore you in your graciousness to take unto your records and recollection this worthy vessel hereafter and for all time known as (your new boat name), guarding her with your mighty arm and trident and ensuring her of safe and rapid passage throughout her journeys within your realm.
In appreciation of your munificence, dispensation, and in honor of your greatness, we offer these libations to your majesty and your court.”
Your new name is now in existence. The last thing before starting the engine is appeasing the four wind gods. This is another reference to Greek mythology as you’ll be addressing Boreas (north wind), Notus (south wind), Zephyrus (west wind), and Eurus (east wind). The aim here is not only to be delightfully redundant, but also to ask for calm seas on your travels. If you’ve got friends and family with you, it might help to divvy up the verses to get everyone involved. Let’s get poetic (and repetitive).
Face north, throw some champagne out of your flute in that direction and say:
“Great Boreas, exalted ruler of the North Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your frigid breath.”
Now face west, repeating the champagne pour and toss while saying:
“Great Zephyrus, exalted ruler of the West Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your wild breath.”
Face east, repeating the champagne toss while saying:
“Great Eurus, exalted ruler of the East Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your mighty breath.”
Finally, face south, pouring the champagne and tossing it while reciting, you guessed it:
“Great Notus, exalted ruler of the South Wind, grant us permission to use your mighty powers in the pursuit of our lawful endeavors, ever sparing us the overwhelming scourge of your scalding breath.”
Now that the speeches are out of the way, it’s time for the maiden voyage. Sharing of red wine is customary at the conclusion of the ceremony, but it may be best to save it until you return. You can now uncover the new boat name on the hull and board your passengers. Fire up the engine and take your place at the helm. If you’ve followed the above instructions you’re officially on the Ledger of the Deep, so you can look forward to a lifetime of adventure with calm seas, good weather, and great memories. All ahead full.