The Currambene Creek is often referred to as a river because of its sandy bottom and wide bends that lead out to Jervis Bay. Each time I journey through its channels on my kayak or walk along its shores, I am greeted by nature’s astounding brilliance. At this very moment, I am looking through the burrawangs, watching the tide flow. An egret is picking its way along the tidal zone on the opposite bank. When the air coils, yacht halyards clang like wind chimes.
Traversing this waterway has brought an interesting distraction; the reading of boat names. Not only the names of vessels which are moored along the Currumbene’s channel but those that go past our house on the back of trailers, towards the boat ramp. Many of these are humorous. There is one in particular that does a great job of drawing your attention with its bright green one hundred dollar bills splashed across its hull. It is aptly named, ‘In Debt’! Others that have brought a smile to my face are: ‘Weekend Detention’, ‘No Excuses’, ‘Sassea’ and ‘Angler Management’. Lists of humorous names can be found on the Internet such as: ‘Beeracuda’, ‘Devocean’, ‘Nauti-by-Nature’, ‘Seas the Moment’, ‘A Wave From it All’, ‘Sail La Vie’ and ‘Marlin Monroe’.
The naming of boats began thousands of years ago and was based on superstition and fear of the unknown. By naming a boat after one of the great gods it was thought that protection would be given. The ancient Greek sailors would also pray to the sea god Poseidon for a safe journey.
The Romans ships often carried two ornate and decorative wooden carvings. On the prow (the forward-most part of a ship’s bow that cuts through the water) was a figurine or figurehead that represented the ship’s name such as a lady, a swan or an eagle. On the back of the ship was the tutela. This was the god or talisman that provided protection. The Vikings were also fond of using figureheads on their boats but these were menacing looking dragons that were also believed to give protection. Christians named their boats after saints so that the sailors were kept safe at sea.
We have all heard of the famously named ‘Titanic’. The largest moveable manmade object on earth was a show of confidence. In the battle for steamship supremacy, the world was told that it was unsinkable. It came to a crushing end when it hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, over a century ago. The word, titan, comes from Greek mythology. The Titans were a race of giant gods who ruled the Earth until they were overthrown by Zeus and the other gods. The Titanic symbolised strength and power but perhaps the human hubris (self confidence and extreme pride) offended the ancient Greek gods who often punished those with such a trait.
And so, it is considered bad luck to change the name of a boat because legend has it that the gods of the sea, Poseidon and Neptune, personally know each and every vessel’s name as it is recorded in the ‘Ledger of the Deep’. A renaming ceremony can involve the invoking of Poseidon to de-name and rename the boat, the hiring of a celebrant and the drinking of lots of alcohol, preferably good champagne! A very good example of a boat renaming ceremony can be found at this website:
Boats have traditionally been ‘christened’ with the use of alcohol. This again harks back to ancient times when wine was poured over the vessel as an offering to the gods.
Another tradition is to give boats a female name. Even if a boat has a masculine name, it is usually referred to as a ‘she’. Some theories suggest that many boats were named after goddesses. Others say that sailors found comfort in a female name as they depended on the boat for life just as a child may depend on its mother. The sailors were cradled and protected by the ship. Or perhaps it goes back to the captain’s love for his ship. Contemporary explanations are not so kind. For example: It takes a lot of paint to keep her looking good; It’s not her initial expense, it is her upkeep or When coming into town, she always heads for the buoys.
So the next time you are travelling on or near a waterway, keep an eye out for the names of the boats rocking on the current and remember Poseidon may just be lurking beneath the surface, keeping an eye on them too!