I refer to my boat s/v Blue Moon as a female: “she”, “her”. I attribute to her free will and individual character: “She likes to sail at sixty degrees”, “She doesn’t like when we leave her alone too long.” And I talk to her freely and often. I even pat her proudly and lovingly when she goes fast or rides out a storm well.
I should be clear that I am not that kind of person. I didn’t grow up believing in aliens and werewolves. I didn’t have any imaginary friends, and I tried to reason my (then six-year-old) goddaughter out of hers. I don’t even read or watch science fiction. What little fiction I do read is historical fiction about times and places that the officials aren’t talking about – the history that would be told if the walls and streets (and ditches and rivers) could talk. I like facts, reality. Things are things, beings are beings, and only Disney has the power to alter that.
And now I talk about my inanimate boat like she’s a female, and I talk to her like she’s a person. I’ve clearly gone off the deep end.
The first dozen or so times I stepped foot on Blue Moon, I hit my head, first on the overhead handrail above the stairs to the cabin, and then on the oil lantern hanging in the salon. I apologized each time to the first mate that had preceded me, at first sort of jokingly, and eventually quite seriously when I learned that the lantern had been a gift from her. It was only the first time we took Blue Moon out for a sail that I understood that Blue Moon was Jason’s other love, the only other woman in his heart. If anyone was to blame for my cerebral run-ins with the rigging, it was Blue Moon, not the first mate that preceded me. When Jason finally left me aboard alone, I started to talk to Blue Moon. I caressed her side, I assured her that he’d never leave her for me (praying that he’d never leave me for her), I asked her to let me love her too, to love me back, to stop smacking me upside the head. I get it. She’s the boss.
And then we started to offshore together. There’s nowhere better than the middle of the ocean with big seas at night to get to know someone. I got to know Blue Moon.
She’s strong and stable. She is totally un-phased by thirty-five knots of wind screaming across her sails and twenty-foot waves crashing over her bow.
She’s slow and steady. She rides the waves the way a bareback cowboy rides a horse, sitting back down and low, pushing down into the horse’s rise, riding it close, rather than posting up against the horse’s motion, beating into the waves.
And she’s as stubborn as I am.
She likes to sail. If I try to motor into the wind, diesel engine screaming, fumes spewing from her exhaust, she putts along at barely a knot, telling me to raise the sails, kill the engine and let her do what she does best: sail.
She likes to sail at sixty degrees. If I try to point her higher into the wind, she fights it hard, and then settles back into sixty degrees when I’m not looking.
She marches to her own drum (i.e., a big, heavy full keel weighing her down). When we’re at anchor, where all the other boats line up head to wind like soldiers falling into line on a battlefield, Blue Moon is abeam to the wind, head into the current, letting her keel respond to the current rushing by it. (Why can’t you just swing like other boats? It would make anchoring in tight quarters so much easier….)
She hates to be abandoned. When we leave her unattended for too long, we come back to find the bilge flooded, the batteries dead, and lines broken – a little reminder that she wants us to be with her just as much as we want to be with her.
She’s in cahoots with the sea. On an overnight through the Tongue of the Ocean, Blue Moon pitching, rolling and yawing in 10+ foot seas, Jason dodged a wave that broke over the port bow and crashed into the cockpit and taunted the ocean; seconds later Blue Moon scooted her stern into the waves and a second wave crashed over drenching both of us. Dare we mock the sea, she’ll put us in our place.
Speaking of boats as females and speaking to them as people is not uncommon among sailors. Style manuals for writing even used to require the use of “she” when referring to boats. It’s not that crazy (sounding) among the right company: sailors and grammar snobs. (I am pretty sure the conflux of those two groups is a single set comprised by me and only me.)
The first time I ever spoke this way in mixed company, it flowed so naturally, as though I’d silently come to terms with the fact that my boat is the “other woman” in our lives. I tried to reel the words back into my mouth, looking around at my lawyer (i.e., non-sailing) friends to see if they’d noticed that I’d gone completely mad. Of course they had; we’re trained to listen carefully and remember precisely, to use words carefully and meaningfully. But no one batted an eye, perhaps because everyone has had a car, a plant or a stuffed animal that they not only spoke about using third person gender-specific personal pronouns, but also believed to be alive with emotions, opinions and feelings.
It took me 35 years to get here. I don’t imagine I’ll outgrow it any time soon. To hell with style manuals’ decision to do away with reference to boats as “she”. Blue Moon is a big beamy broad. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.