There is endless lore around the renaming of boats. Every boater has an opinion and (often unsolicited) words of advice on boat names, and whether to rename at all. When I mentioned that I planned to change the name, many people strongly recommended that I avoid the dark sea magic and Neptune’s potential wrath altogether and just leave the name unchanged. Avoid any potential curse! they warned, with a waggling finger and nervous, shaky tone.
I’m a scientist, so I’m not much for superstition. But I’m also Irish, so I’m not about to mess with hundreds of years of tradition. I’m all for a ceremony to celebrate my respect for the sea and my love for our boat. And as my editor (and Executive Director) at the Institute of Current World Affairs put it, surely what will matter most is how well you sail the boat.
Which is not to say that I dislike the name Far Niente—but I’m not a fan of the meaning for our boat. Aside from being the name of a well-known California winery, Far Niente is more often Il dolce far niente, which translates from the Italian to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” I like being reminded to enjoy life, Italian-style. Yet it couldn’t be more opposite from my personal way through life and my goals for our sailing mission. I love adventure, challenge, and purpose—that’s how this Cal 39 and I ended up together, sailing for climate research. In addition, Far sat at the dock for at least ten years. I wanted her to have a name that means she’s going somewhere. So while Far Niente is really fun to say in a pirate accent over the radio, I started hunting around for a new name.
I knew that I wanted the name to mean something about her climate mission on the ocean. As a surfer and a yogini following the flow, I also liked the idea of her name having something to do with waves or swell. I searched for a Spanish word to fit the bill.
My friend and colleague Diego gave me a list of ideas, and as soon as he showed me oleada, I loved the word. He explained the meaning as swell, but the word is often used in a political context to mean uprising. I loved how the word rolled off my tongue like a wave. For the next six months, I asked other native Spanish-speakers what the word meant to them, and each time I got a slightly different answer. But in the end, I liked oleada from the beginning, and it stuck.
First, I had to make the name change official on all our US and Mexican documentation—a daunting task for a person scarred by fourteen trips to the Mexican Immigration office. I had to submit a name change to the US Coast Guard, a process that when ‘expedited’ took over two months. Next, we had to change all of the safety and communications registrations on the boat to reflect the new name, from our E-PIRB and our PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) to the FCC radio communication certificate for the SSB. The acronyms start to get alphabet soupy after a while.
Finally, my most dreaded change: our Mexican paperwork, or TIP (Temporary Import Permit.) This ended up being a breeze thanks to the recommendation of Tom at Cruiser’s Supply in La Paz—seek out Lizbeth at the Pichilingue Ferry Terminal. She canceled our old form and printed a new one within ten minutes. All I needed was the old form, a copy of the boat registration, and a copy of my passport. Phew! This was nothing like the hassle for my student visa. Once again, confirming that it’s not what you know, but whom you know.
Now all that was left was removing the old name and painting on the new one—and a CEREMONY.
I rolled my eyes the first fifty times people demanded I follow tradition and hold a renaming ceremony, but then I realized the superstition had sunk in (no pun intended.) I turned to the humor and guidance of sailing author John Vigor, who has a specific process of denaming and renaming a boat. Fortunately, it did not involve the most oft-cited ceremony of a virgin peeing off the bow.
To dename, we had to pull everything with the old name off the boat, and open a bottle of the fanciest champagne we could find. NO CHEAP STUFF! he emphasized. Pour some over the bow and say a few words. To rename, we had to have another bottle of excellent champagne, also with a portion over the bow for the sea, with some words.
But nice champagne in La Paz? I knew I could fine decent wine, but the most expensive sparkling alcohol was the Pacifico ballena (40 ounces of beer, a ‘whale’ of a beer) at the Aramburo grocery store. So I was completely shocked to find one bottle of Dom Perignon tucked into a jewelry case in the Soriana mega-grocery store. I can’t even remember why I looked in the case, but there is was, collecting dust.
The paperwork was done, now it was time to make the aesthetic changes. First, I had to remove the old name. It took me hours, sitting on the paddleboard in the marina, to scrape the old FAR NIENTE names off the sides. Antsy to depart La Paz and a bit overwhelmed by the responsibilities of a ceremony, we left the dock without adding the new name.
We didn’t get around to painting on the new name, complete with ceremony, until we were about to enter Puerto Escondido three weeks later. We didn’t want to enter with a name on our stern different from our paperwork, so we stopped in the tiny, lovely Honeymoon Cove on Isla Danzante (Dancer Island) for the ceremony.
I fashioned the font for the name, careful to make a graceful “O” with the sentiments of a wave. After I painstakingly cut it out, Josh pointed out that we needed a stencil, not an impossibly thin outline to trace, since this would all be done in the wind and waves of the building thunderstorm overhead. Round two: he and I created a stencil as the wind and waves built from a nearby thunderstorm in the mountains.
When I stepped to the bow to shed the old name, I found to my own surprise that I was impossibly choked up. I was sad to say goodbye to the name that had safely brought us all the way from Berkeley into the heart of the Sea of Cortez! Amid my tears, my ceremony was simple:
for being my first boat
for bringing Josh and me together
for being a home for Josh, Uly, and me.
for carrying us safely and swiftly from Berkeley, down the Pacific coast of California, the Pacific coast of Baja, around the tip to our home in La Paz, and up into the Sea of Cortez to here, Isla Danzante.
for accepting all your repairs, and for waiting for me to find you so we could be together on this voyage.
for your carefree spirit and your reminder every day of the sweetness of doing nothing.
We have loved saying your name on the radio, or with a pirate voice.
And it is with the sound of your graceful name that we send you off, Far Niente.
We return you to the sky and the sea. Thank you!, Far Niente! We carry our gratitude for you in our hearts always.
Here’s to you, Far Niente! Adios!
In the middle of the ceremony, thunder rumbled gently from the mountains. We poured champagne on the bow and drank a glass ourselves. We decided to use the same bottle for both the de-christening and the christening—it only seemed right that the names share the very fine bubbly.
Josh stenciled the new name onto the stern amid the rising wind. We moved the boat to a slightly more protected lobe of the cove, and I sat on the paddleboard in the wind and painted the delicate cursive script with blue paint and a foam brush far too large and awkward for the job. As I lamented each error with exasperation, Josh reminded me that it was only the beginning: we could find other brushes and clean it up later.
We returned to the bow to bring in the new name.
Welcome to the world, Oleada!
You are the name of a sturdy and swift Cal 39. You represent the hard work, effort, research and love of Josh Moman and me, Jessica Reilly, and Uly too.
We trust you to keep us safe on our adventures sailing together throughout the Americas, and perhaps even beyond.
Oleada means swell or uprising in Spanish, and it represents the power, grace, and enthusiasm of both.
We humbly give you this new name with our deep respect for the ocean, all its creatures, and everyone living on its shores.
Thank you for being our boat, our home, and our best companion for adventure!
With another pour over the bow and for us, we had given our boat her new name. We didn’t follow the ceremony guidelines perfectly, since we couldn’t pull all of the old name off the boat in an anchorage, and we didn’t have two bottles of fine champagne. But I think we followed our instincts perfectly and honored our beautiful boat as such. We did what felt right for us, the boat, and the ocean.