Naming a Boat

If I see one more boat named Namaste, I’ll take up smoking just so I can burn my eyes out with red hot cigarette embers. Dear and kind spiritual reader, let me withdraw my harsh previous statement. I went off the deep end. I would only burn out one of my eyes. If I blinded myself my wife would be so irritated. She would be responsible for all the driving and the household cleaning (She would argue that I don’t use my eyes anyway when cleaning). I can’t be against a greeting, especially if that greeting can also imply that one is well. It seems that hating the name on a boat is an over-reaction, but, for the record I also wouldn’t like the name, “Hi, I’m ok” on the back of a boat.

When I was young my dad told us how we could get from our little lake in northern Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico via creeks, some minor portaging, rivers and finally to the Mississippi River. I was always fascinated by that and knew that one day, at a minimum, I would take a trip down the Mississippi River. To do that, I would need a boat. Having a boat like that kind that would take you down the Mississippi River usually meant it would have a name. I say usually because canoes still work and are not often named.

The best name of a boat I’ve ever seen was unfortunately not mine. I’ve seen many poorly named boats – all in the name of clever and creative, usually missing the mark. But the best name of a boat was a small pontoon boat that had seen better times. We walked by it to get to our slip when we owned a houseboat and kept it for a year on the St. Croix River. I never saw the pontoon leave its perch. It only swayed content between the tires framing it into its slip. The horribly beautiful little boat’s name was “Sorosis of the River”. I have very seldom given up hope on the clever challenge, but in the boat naming arena I’ve decided to waste no more creative energy trying to come up with the best boat name. That name has been devised, and it was not mine and it is not Namaste.

Maybe I didn’t like the name Namaste for a boat because most of the boats I owned were held together by mucus spit and Elmer’s glue and very far from well. There was rarely a peacefulness or oneness with the water and boat. All moments on my boats were exhilarating guessing games of what would go wrong next.

Whiskey Richard was the first boat that I owned. I invested in the boat with two friends, Curt Peter and Paul Brownell. The Whiskey Richard was made of plywood wrapped in blue marine carpet, old foam pontoons and a steering mechanism that steered in the wrong direction.

When we all moved away from Madison, WI we moved it into a storage field and put down Curt’s address, Paul’s phone number and my name. I never was the sharpest knife in the drawer. We paid for one year of rental and just assumed the future would never come. I think subconsciously I wanted it to come back and haunt me.

Curt moved to California, Paul moved to Washington D.C. and two years later I was living in Minneapolis. I came home one day and the little red light was flashing on my answering machine. Most of us remember those little devices back when all communications concerning one’s personal life streamed through the home. Occasionally, a call would be made from work if you had to contact a dentist or some other 9-5 kind of establishment. But generally all personal calls were routed through the place where your bed was stationed.

We also remember the excitement of seeing that flashing red light – usually with a corresponding number – to enable you to gauge current popularity. Fridays and Saturdays might be busier, with Sundays allocated for parents and other family members.

On that day approximately two years after leaving Madison and setting up shop (if a shop is an entity that operates with no real goals or direction) I came home from work on a Tuesday and saw one flashing message. Always looking for a diversion, I hit the play button.

The voice that came through the small speaker sounded like a woman in her mid 60s. She had a voice that indicated she may have started smoking at her junior prom in 1947 and maybe only stopped smoking long enough to birth three children and bury her husband (who had started smoking at his junior prom in 1942).

The voice that sounded scratchier than a record on a jukebox in a Northern Wisconsin tavern said, “Jason Spafford? I’ve been looking for you for over a year. I have your boat and need payment. Give me a call when you get this message.”

I had too much respect for her tracking capabilities in the age of pre-internet to not call her back immediately the following day. Overnight I gave some thought to the best way to handle this and then decided to go with the approach that was just ok.

When I got Craggle Throat on the phone I apologized for the absence of monetary fortitude and commenced to strike a deal. I would give up the title to Whiskey Richard in return for the lack of money paid to the storage company. Since I had no title for the boat I asked a friend to write up a title using calligraphy. As part of my official scroll I asked that at the appropriate time, and if funds were available, to please retire the vessel named Whiskey Richard to a maritime museum in Maine.

Thus ended the tale of Whiskey Richard. In only a few short years my wife Cynthia and I would be retiring from our jobs, selling most of our belongings, and taking a trip down the Mississippi River in a houseboat. Searching for that houseboat would prove to be a two year adventure, where we came across some very interesting names.

When we found the perfect houseboat for us, it did not come equipped with the perfect name. The 1969, 32′ fiberglass, v-hulled houseboat came with the name “Just Cruisin'”. Albeit the name was in a “fun” font, it would need to be renamed. The owners had it for about 10 years and had taken good care of it – except for the unfortunate name. There was a round old fashioned life saver under the hull that went by another name. We were informed that the gay couple who owned it before the “cruisers” had the boat going under the moniker of “Queen Mary”. This was good for some pictures with the life saver around my mom’s neck. For the record, her name is not Mary.

While we waited for the vinyl letters for the new name, I strategically pulled off and reapplied letters of the Just Cruisin’ name so that it read “Just u sin”. This seemed appropriately judgmental. Once the real name came I was almost set on keeping the Frankenstein-like nomenclature.

Good and kind and forever nonjudgmental reader you will see that all my name snootiness is not well founded when you hear my name. It seems like there could have been a better name. Well, there was, but “Sorosis of the River” was already taken. The name I elected was “Rough Cut”. I had just completed an independent feature film with my brother and part of the plan for our Mississippi trip was to screen the film along the banks of the Mississippi. Rough Cut was the term referring to the first cut of a film. In that big Namaste kind of way it also represented our young lives taking shape and blah, blah, blah.

If I had given “Just Cruisin'” the opportunity to elaborate, they may have come up with an equally pithy explanation. I totally slipped into a creative coma when naming the dingy that hung off the back of Rough Cut. That was named Rough Cut ll. Yes, like a lower budget sequel we would never end up seeing our money back out of that damn dingy.

We would have one more houseboat after Rough Cut. When I say we I mean me. This last houseboat was a mistake that Cynthia was not part of. I never gave it a name and Cynthia had many names for it which I cannot repeat here, as some day our children may find that all other forms of entertainment have escaped them and possibly resort to reading this.

This second houseboat was to be a project and a project it was. I ended up gutting it and starting to rebuild the entire interior. I also found that some of the steel hull had some serious rust. One weekend I planned to borrow a friend’s welder and do some patching of the hull.

I left early in the morning and headed to the boat storage where the boat was dry docked. It seemed like it was shaping up to be a very hot day in July. I arrived at the boat and went to work. At about noon I heard my 1999 cell phone ring. I came out from under the boat. I had a long sleeve flannel shirt buttoned up to my neck, thick jean jacket to prevent sparks from getting to my shirt, jeans, work boots, welding gloves and a welding mask. I pulled the gloves and mask off to answer the phone.

Cynthia was on the other end of the call. She asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was welding and that I had informed her of this plan last night. Sometimes wedding rings cause a hearing impairment where one spouse cannot hear the voice of the other spouse.

“What’s wrong with you?” She said.

I never know how to respond to that one. “Why?” I replied.

“It’s 102 degrees out. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be doing that, do you?

I liked how at the end it was really up to me. I could continue doing something stupid if I really wanted to. That’s true love. I told her I didn’t realize it was that hot. I didn’t tell her that under the boat it was probably more like 110 degrees. Under my thick jean jacket it was probably 125 degrees. I felt faint. I decided to stop.

Shortly after, I decided to stop more than just welding. We had just moved into a new house and I had started a new business and there wasn’t enough time to fix up what would always be a crappy boat. I sold it to another dreamer and let him think about finishing the work and naming it.

The name seems to be something of importance. We like to name things. It gives us clarity and order. That clarity and order is important even when we are in a space that shouldn’t need to be named. Maybe if I had named that project boat I could have finished it. Maybe I couldn’t have walked away from something with a name. At a minimum maybe I could have named the boat one of Cynthia’s expletives.

None of my boats would have been in the top ten best boats list – nor would the names. And maybe my next boat name should be “Hi, There. I’m Good.” And maybe that will be an accurate description of me, because I’ve never had a boat to be at one with the water or at peace with myself. I’ve always had a boat to have an adventure. If I wanted calm serenity (I think that’s another boat name), I’d sit on the beach and watch a sun set.

Sadly yours and Namaste,

Jason Spafford

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