Noth­ing Finer

Soundings - - Underway - By Mary South

I’m not a cov­etous per­son by na­ture — maybe be­cause I feel I have been lucky, or blessed, in all the ways that mat­ter. Ev­ery now and then, when the jack­pot is enor­mous, I buy a cou­ple of lot­tery tick­ets. But I’ve found that, mostly, the old cliché is true: The best things in life are free — or at least, not for sale.

Years ago, while writ­ing a fea­ture on McAl­lis­ter tug’s New York har­bor pilots, I re­al­ized there was one thing I couldn’t buy that filled me with a keen and cut­ting envy: watch­ing those hand­some and stout ships mak­ing way with some lucky McAl­lis­ter woman’s name plastered across the bow. How in­sanely won­der­ful it must be, I thought, to have a boat named af­ter you.

Of course, there are plenty of nam­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to cor­po­ra­tions and phi­lan­thropists will­ing to buy those priv­i­leges — think of sta­di­ums, are­nas, mu­seum wings and col­lege cam­pus build­ings. The New Jer­sey Turn­pike is lit­tered with rest stops named for peo­ple of his­toric or civic im­por­tance, though (no of­fense, New Jer­sey) that’s an honor I’d prob­a­bly de­cline. Bridges, high­ways and streets are some­times named or re­named for fa­mous or lo­cally sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple. And of course, off­spring are some­times en­dowed with a com­bi­na­tion of names to honor beloved fam­ily or friends. So there are mul­ti­ple ways we may find our names echoed, if we’re very lucky, as a trib­ute.

Still, I have al­ways thought there must be noth­ing cooler than hav­ing a boat named af­ter you. And now I know.

You may re­mem­ber my beloved Bos­sanova, a 40-foot, 30-ton steel boat de­signed by Phil Bol­ger. I loved that rugged lit­tle ship from first sight, when she was the bleached out gray of an old bat­tle­ship, bak­ing in the harsh glare of mid­day sun­shine over Lake Okee­chobee. I made an of­fer on the spot, and to­gether we trav­eled the whole Eastern Seaboard. She car­ried me through days of spec­tac­u­lar per­fec­tion when the seas were 1 to 2 feet and the sun danced across the ocean’s chang­ing hues of indigo, cobalt, corn­flower. On those days I’d some­times hang over the bow and watch dol­phins seem­ing to tease us to give chase.

I’d lis­ten to the throaty chug of the dry stack, turn my face to the warm heav­ens, breathe in the salty air, think noth­ing could be finer and thank my sturdy ship. On days when the sun was a dim mem­ory, all but oblit­er­ated by low, bruised skies and seas that made us climb and fall, climb and fall, climb and fall, on pas­sages that seemed Sisyphean, I gripped my ship’s wheel with white knuck­les and thanked her with all my heart, know­ing she’d get us safely to port.

Yes, I loved Bos­sanova fiercely. I sold her with great sor­row two years ago to an ex­pe­ri­enced boater who promised her a full re­fit. We’ve kept in touch, and a few weeks ago he sent me an email let­ting me know the work was al­most com­plete. He in­cluded a photo of the boat’s gorgeous new dinghy and a lovely, hand­made name­board. I gasped when I saw it be­cause it reads: Mary South.

Some of you will un­der­stand why this nearly brought me to tears. This is not just any boat; this is my boat, the lit­tle ship that changed my life and which part of me has mourned ever since. To have my name on that mighty beauty as she plies the seas again — it’s about the great­est honor I can imag­ine. It’s an enor­mous gift I don’t de­serve, but there’s also a cer­tain po­etry to it: We are to­gether again.

I do see one con and one pro: I can­not buy back a boat that bears my name, and I sus­pect when I see her next month that’s ex­actly what I’ll want to do. On the other hand, I didn’t have to en­ter into a love­less mar­riage with an un­wit­ting mem­ber of the McCal­lis­ter clan.

Some­one else may buy the boat, and it’s quite likely the new owner will want a dif­fer­ent name. That would be very sad, but in the same way my mem­o­ries of our jour­neys to­gether are an in­deli­ble part of me, this won­der­ful ship will al­ways have been, for at least a lit­tle time, the Mary South. Noth­ing could be finer.

“It is a kind of plea­sure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be con­soled, that you will con­stantly re­mem­ber more and more.” — Mar­cel Proust


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