August 12, 1997

The De-Naming Ceremony

I once met a man in Florida who told me he’d owned 24 different yachts and renamed every single one of them.
“Did it bring you bad luck?” I asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. “You don’t believe in those old superstitions, do you?’
“Well, yes,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I do. And so do a lot of other sailors who wouldn’t consciously do anything to annoy the ancient gods of wind and sea. Out there, you need all the help you can get.”
Actually, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not so much being superstitious as being careful. It’s part of good seamanship. That’s why I had to invent a ‘de-naming’ ceremony some years ago to ward off bad luck when I wanted to change the name of my new 31-ft sloop from ‘Our Way’ to ‘Freelance’.

I needed a formal ceremony to wipe the slate clean in preparation for the renaming. I searched in vain for one. But research showed that such a ceremony would consist of five parts: an invocation, an expression of gratitude, a supplication, a rededication and a libation.

So I sat down and wrote my own ceremony. It worked perfectly. ‘Freelance’ carried us thousands of deep-sea miles and enjoyed good luck all the way.

The ceremony should be read with flair on the foredeck before a gathering of distinguished guests. Or it can be mumbled down below by the skipper alone if he or she finds these things embarrassing.

The libation part, however, must be carried out at the bow, as was the original naming ceremony. And I would advise you to use nothing but the finest champagne and to pour it all on the boat. One thing the gods of the sea despise most is meanness, so don’t try to do this part on the cheap.

How much time should you leave between the de-naming ceremony and the new-naming ceremony? There’s no fixed limit. You can do the renaming right after the de-naming, if you want. But I’d prefer to see a gap of at least 24 hours to allow the demons time to clear out.
Oh, and one other thing – you have to remove all physical traces of the boat’s old name before the de-naming ceremony. There may be official papers with the old name on them, of course. If you can’t destroy them you should at least keep them well out of sight in a locker during the ceremony. But don’t neglect to wipe the name out in obvious place – bow, stern, dinghy, oars, logbook, lifering, charts and so on. Likewise, do not lace the new name anywhere on the boat before the de-naming ceremony is carried out. Hoo-boy, that would be tempting fate.

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