I've always been fascinated by boat names. And the Milwaukee lakefront is literally full of them. Water-based nicknames in a way. So, how does a boat get named? Why have they historically been more feminine named? And what about "up north" lake boats, or Great Lakes boats, as opposed to ocean worthy? Is that a different nomenclature?
The trigger is both my fascination with naming in general, and having spent three summers in the Jervis Inlet in British Columbia, one of the true boat Mecca's in the world.
I have found out that the process of naming a boat can be emotional, gut-wrenching, time-consuming, family-splitting and downright painful. It can also happen very quickly, and be a source of great joy and bring a family or strangers together for a lifetime. But simple? Not really. I recently spoke to a guy who owned a boat for three years and never named it.
A key component of this boat-naming process is to make sure you only name your boat during the time of ownership transition, but never after. Once you name your boat, you stick with it, until death do you part.
The Milwaukee Yacht Club began in 1871. And the current MYC Commodore Ed Purcell was kind enough to allow me to take a water based tour of the docks, to capture some boat names I found intriguing. Some of these names included: Busted Flush, Sir Vey, Aqua Pella, Loofah, Dock Holiday, Pain Killer, Sail la Vie, Whatever, Gray Matter, Once in A blue Moose, Bottom's Up, Wet Dream, and of course everyone's favorite: Honey, Does This Boat Make My Butt look Big? (Why frankly, yes it does).
How could you not want to know where some of these names came from?
Don, the owner and skipper of the power boat "Sir Vey," told me that he named his boat this for essentially two reasons. First, there was a "trend" at the time to give boats feminine names. So instead of "Miss," the thought of something named "Sir" would make it more memorable. Second, he owns a "survey" landscaping company. The boat name choice, an obvious play on words, was a no-brainer.
Mike, who drives over from Madison at least weekly in the summer to sail on Lake Michigan, named his 27 foot sail boat simply "Green Eyed Girl." He has owned "her" for six years. He told me his daughter Emily has both green eyes and a real passion for sailing. Obviously, the name of this boat is gender neutral, as Mike's a green-eyed chap as well, just like his daughter.
Then there was my chat with Bob, who is truly north of 80 years, and still sailing. His 36-foot sail boat is named "Sorrento." Ok, but why? Well, it turns out that the person in New Jersey managing his registration papers for the boat called him at 5:30 one evening and said that he was completing the paperwork, but the boat needed a name, and they had 15 minutes to decide on one. Being of Italian origin, Bob and his wife Jo settled rather quickly on "Sorrento" the play land peninsula on the coast of Italy.
My current favorite? The one name that leaves me hanging out over the bowsprit? It's called "Ruthless." It used to be docked at the MYC. Why "Ruthless?" Seems the owner, Jim, loved his boat, and spent a lot of time on it all by himself. His wife, not so much. Yep, her name was Ruth. Hence, "Ruth-less."
John Leaf was born in western Illinois, a mile east of the Mississippi. College in Chicago. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Leaf was goalie on the soccer team and captain of the golf team in college. He cut class to ride the "L" to see Cubs games, hung out for hours at the Art Institute and bent the brain doing graduate school in Theology.
He spent three mind-blowing summers in coastal British Columbia, as a resort photographer. He worked and lived in Minneapolis. He did hard time at a bank on LaSalle Street in Chicago and learned about PR, working at big firm a block off Michigan Avenue, while living in Evanston.
Now Leaf is just living the dream, under the radar, in Cedarburg. He's passionate about nicknames and launched his website three years ago.
He dabbles in yoga and cycling. Fishtailing as always, and taking a whack at life, like everyone else.