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Good luck, bad luck and the ‘perpetual cruise’

Boaters are a funny lot, present company included. We have our quirks, superstitions, secret handshakes and a nomenclature that sounds pretty damn funny to outsiders.

And then just when you think you’ve heard it all …

I was talking to a Florida marina manager the other day who had recently been contacted by a man with what can only be described as an unusual request regarding his late father. The man had inherited his father’s boat and was looking to move it from the GulfCoast to the east coast of Florida and sell it. Could the yard do some work on it and help broker it? No problem, the manager told him.

And just one more thing. The son said his father, who had been cremated, wanted his ashes mixed with bottom paint and then applied to the bottom of the hull. Could — or would — they take the job? The yard guy, who has been around, laughs telling the story. “My comment was, ‘Your dad wants to go on a perpetual cruise, right?’ ”

The manager told the son he could do the job, and then he told me he’d probably have to mix the paint himself and not tell his workers; if he did, he was afraid he might spook the two guys actually doing the painting.

Anglers are a funny bunch, too. I remember tarpon fishing one evening just outside Haulover Inlet in North Miami Beach with a highly regarded light-tackle guide named Bouncer Smith. A skilled angler and an entertaining storyteller, Smith has this one notable peculiarity: He goes bonkers if you happen to bring a banana on board as a snack. Smith believes bananas are bad luck — he’s hardly alone on this one — which for him translates into poor fishing. We complied with the banana ban, but as I recall we didn’t hook a tarpon that night. So much for the banana theory.

Naming a boat — especially renaming one — is rife with nautical voodoo. As most of us know, changing the name of a boat is supposed to be bad luck, unless, of course, you follow one of several name-changing ceremonies floating around. Mike Harris of Marco Island, Fla., decided not to take any chances when he purchased his first sailboat, a 2005 Beneteau 423, this past January. “The guy who had owned the boat had named it Tranquility, which is a great name,” says Harris, a 60-year-old retired business executive. “But, of course, we had to make it our own.”

Harris says he decided to name the boat Made Marian after his wife, Marian, and because, “I ‘made’ Marian let me buy the boat.” New to boating, Harris didn’t really have the heebie-jeebies about changing Tranquility’s name until he got to talking with a friend at his sailing club. Capt. Ray Yerich let Harris know about the potential for bad luck and told him he’d be happy to perform a denaming ceremony. Although he’s not superstitious, Harris agreed.

“It can’t hurt,” he says. “And it seemed like a fun thing to do.”

Part of Yerich’s ceremony involved writing the old name of the boat on a brick, then “casting it into the sea,” Harris says. The Beneteau was then christened Made Marian, and a party with about 20 friends began. “We sacrificed a bottle of cheap champagne,” Harris says. “We kept the good champagne for drinking.”

When it comes to boat renaming protocol, John Vigor literally wrote the book: “How to Rename Your Boat and 19 Other Useful Ceremonies, Superstitions, Prayers, Rituals and Curses” (Paradise Cay Publications). About 20 years ago, Vigor, a sailor and boating writer, essentially “made up” what has become known as “Vigor’s Interdenominational Boat Denaming Ceremony.” Type the name into your search engine, and you can easily find a copy of it on the Web.

“It’s fun,” says Vigor, 70, of Bellingham, Wash. “And there’s always grog around, and that’s always fun.”

Over the years, Vigor, who sails a Cape Dory 27, has probably gotten feedback and questions from 50 or more boaters regarding the naming business. A common one involves whether all references to the old name have to be removed. “What if the old name is on the dinghy’s oars?” someone asked. The former name, Vigor says, has to be removed from everything connected to the boat, from oars and fenders to charts and log books. And Vigor maintains you just can’t paint over it — the name literally has to be expunged. Sanding is preferred.

And if you perform the denaming incantation, remember the words have to be read out loud. “I always do it with my own boats,” says Vigor, a former South African newspaper reporter whose current boat is named Sangoma (Zulu for “natural healer”). “But I’m too embarrassed to do it in public, so I just go down below and mutter it to myself.”

Vigor is no fan of names that involve a double entendre. And, he notes, “There’s also a superstition about names that challenge the gods, like Wind Tamer or Wave Beater. I’d never name my boat that.”

Renaming ceremonies aside, Vigor himself isn’t tremendously superstitious. Rather, he subscribes to a philosophy he developed involving an “imaginary black box,” which Vigor describes as a bank account of sorts into which points for good seamanship are collected. Points go in for everything from checking the expiration date on your flares to keeping up with routine maintenance to maintaining a close weather eye. Then when you find yourself in a situation where all hell is breaking loose, points are withdrawn from the imaginary box, and you and your vessel emerge intact.

“In other words, it’s earned luck,” says Vigor, adding, “we don’t refer to luck by its name. Otherwise it’s unlucky.”