I’m not a covetous person by nature — maybe because I feel I have been lucky, or blessed, in all the ways that matter. Every now and then, when the jackpot is enormous, I buy a couple of lottery tickets. But I’ve found that, mostly, the old cliché is true: The best things in life are free — or at least, not for sale.
Years ago, while writing a feature on McAllister tug’s New York harbor pilots, I realized there was one thing I couldn’t buy that filled me with a keen and cutting envy: watching those handsome and stout ships making way with some lucky McAllister woman’s name plastered across the bow. How insanely wonderful it must be, I thought, to have a boat named after you.
Of course, there are plenty of naming opportunities available to corporations and philanthropists willing to buy those privileges — think of stadiums, arenas, museum wings and college campus buildings. The New Jersey Turnpike is littered with rest stops named for people of historic or civic importance, though (no offense, New Jersey) that’s an honor I’d probably decline. Bridges, highways and streets are sometimes named or renamed for famous or locally significant people. And of course, offspring are sometimes endowed with a combination of names to honor beloved family or friends. So there are multiple ways we may find our names echoed, if we’re very lucky, as a tribute.
Still, I have always thought there must be nothing cooler than having a boat named after you. And now I know.
You may remember my beloved Bossanova, a 40-foot, 30-ton steel boat designed by Phil Bolger. I loved that rugged little ship from first sight, when she was the bleached out gray of an old battleship, baking in the harsh glare of midday sunshine over Lake Okeechobee. I made an offer on the spot, and together we traveled the whole Eastern Seaboard. She carried me through days of spectacular perfection when the seas were 1 to 2 feet and the sun danced across the ocean’s changing hues of indigo, cobalt, cornflower. On those days I’d sometimes hang over the bow and watch dolphins seeming to tease us to give chase. I’d listen to the throaty chug of the dry stack, turn my face to the warm heavens, breathe in the salty air, think nothing could be finer and thank my sturdy ship. On days when the sun was a dim memory, all but obliterated by low, bruised skies and seas that made us climb and fall, climb and fall, climb and fall, on passages that seemed Sisyphean, I gripped my ship’s wheel with white knuckles and thanked her with all my heart, knowing she’d get us safely to port.
“It is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.” — Marcel Proust
Yes, I loved Bossanova fiercely. I sold her with great sorrow two years ago to an experienced boater who promised her a full refit. We’ve kept in touch, and a few weeks ago he sent me an email letting me know the work was almost complete. He included a photo of the boat’s gorgeous new dinghy and a lovely, handmade nameboard. I gasped when I saw it because it reads: Mary South.
Some of you will understand why this nearly brought me to tears. This is not just any boat; this is my boat, the little ship that changed my life and which part of me has mourned ever since. To have my name on that mighty beauty as she plies the seas again — it’s about the greatest honor I can imagine. It’s an enormous gift I don’t deserve, but there’s also a certain poetry to it: We are together again.
I do see one con and one pro: I cannot buy back a boat that bears my name, and I suspect when I see her next month that’s exactly what I’ll want to do. On the other hand, I didn’t have to enter into a loveless marriage with an unwitting member of the McCallister clan.
Someone else may buy the boat, and it’s quite likely the new owner will want a different name. That would be very sad, but in the same way my memories of our journeys together are an indelible part of me, this wonderful ship will always have been, for at least a little time, the Mary South. Nothing could be finer.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue.