There is a venerable maritime superstition
that warns against changing a boat's name. Once a boat has been christened she has taken on a life of her own and must be treated with the same respect afforded a person. This admonition is widely known to sailors
and is referenced in popular literature at least as far back as 1881:
He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the
rest, at Corso Castle. That was Roberts’ men, that
was, and comed of changing names to their ships,
Royal Fortune, and so on. Now what a ship was
christened, so let her stay, I say.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
She was a forty-two foot steel-hulled houseboat
called "The Sandbucket." At least fifty years old, she'd been tied to the same slip since my childhood. The Sandbucket had a reputation as the marina party barge when I was a kid and I drank my first beer on that very boat at the age of twelve.
The son of the original owners inherited her and subjected her to all manner of debauchery before a financial crash compelled him to sell her to Ben. Ben and his wife were English professors and they needed a boat that was big enough to live on during the summer. The Sandbucket could sleep twelve and the galley was as well equipped as any residential kitchen.
Ben was a Joyce scholar and literary critic who resembled a cross between Mr. Magoo and Groucho Marx. Everyone on the dock referred to him as simply "The Professor" and wouldn't think of having a cocktail party without him. He was my mentor and I loved him like a father.
When the time came for him to give up boating he offered us the Sandbucket as a wedding present. The marina was a condominium arrangement by which the docks were bought and sold as real estate and her slip was worth considerably more than she was. If we agreed to buy the slip from him, he'd toss in the Sandbucket for free. I didn't have the means to buy the slip but felt I was destined to take the helm of this boat I had known since childhood.
Try to borrow fifty thousand dollars using eleven boards as collateral and you will learn the limits of a banker's sense of humor. By leveraging a new mortgage on our house we were just able to swing it. I convinced Mary that the slip was an investment and that in lieu of an actual wedding present I would name the boat for her.
The Sandbucket sat in dry dock for the rest of the winter while we sweated out the arrangements for the purchase of the slip. As the meetings with dour bankers grew more intense so did our anxiety. Every day brought to light a new expense or responsibility that we hadn't considered. The property tax alone was over one thousand dollars per year, not to mention insurance and marina fees. The boat was giving us a headache and we didn't even own her yet.
As spring approached we were confident that we could finance the slip so the day before our wedding we gathered with a small group of friends to re-christen the boat in dry dock. Mary shattered a bottle of cheap champagne against her hull and the Sandbucket became the Maria Angelene.
The Maria Angelene fell to the bottom of the St.Croix River like an anchor, minutes after they lowered her into the water. The insurance company said the hull had rusted through due to years of neglect and they would pay nothing for the loss. Ben had to hire a crane to salvage
her from the bottom and then had to pay someone else a small fortune to drag her carcass off to the boneyard.
We never told him that through my ignorance of maritime tradition I had changed her name and doomed her to the deep. While we felt bad for Ben and the Sandbucket we were joyously free of our burden. The casual observer might see it as a bad omen for our marriage but if it's possible to wish a boat to the bottom we had done it.
The papers were all but signed in blood at the bank when Ben called to tell Mary that her boat sunk.
She had the presence of mind to tell the semantics professor that she didn't own a boat.