Christening Ceremonies

Cheryl and Mark Mitchell attended my private book introduction party for Sailing the South Pacific in December 2012.  They, in turn, invited Gunter and me to attend the christening of their new boat, French Curve, on the docks at San Diego’s Southwestern Yacht Club. Yacht Club chaplain, Ron Dixon, performed the ceremony. I wish them well as they take off in October for the Baja Ha-ha to Mexico, and then to the South Pacific with a copy of Sailing the South Pacific on board!

Cheryl and Mark Mitchell

Cheryl and Mark Mitchell

Christening a boat has a long tradition spanning thousands of years. This naming ceremony goes back to the early days of sailing. Rituals performed by the Vikings were marked by the spilling of blood. During the Middle Ages, religious shrines were loaded onto the ship and the ceremony was performed by officials or local religious men. As a substitute for the earlier blood sacrifice, a libation of wine was offered to all on board as the vessel hit the water. This wine was poured on the deck to ensure good luck and a safe voyage and to appease King Neptune.

These practices have carried over to our current christening and launching ceremonies; however, current traditions throughout the world require that women christen ships by smashing a champagne bottle across the ship’s bow.  Cheryl does that perfectly, while a man neatly catches the broken glass in a garbage bag.

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Chaplain Ron Dixon performs the christening ceremony.

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Mark and Cheryl pop the cork.

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The christening of our catamaran Pacific Bliss didn’t go that smoothly. From Maiden Voyage in the story, Let the Party Begin:

…A Catana secretary hands me a corked bottle of champagne as I weave through the revelers toward the trampoline. She whispers, “It’s time.”

The sun has set, but someone has thought to turn on the spreader lights. Gunter joins me at the starboard bow. “Okay, now!” I position the bottle carefully over the bow, then wham it down. Tough glass against even tougher Kevlar—and it bounces off, right into the harbor. The secretary calmly hands me another bottle without a word. She has obviously been-here-done-that before.

“Here, I’ll take it,” says Gunter, reaching for the new bottle.

“Don’t you dare! A vessel is supposed to be christened by a lady.”

“Then go to the center and hit it against the anchor,” he whispers.

That’s fair. After all, that is the middle of the vessel, since a catamaran has two bows. I raise the bottle high over my head and slam it forward hard. A million pieces of glass reflect the lights of the marina as the bottle shatters and its fragments fall into the sea. A chorus of yeas drowns out the music.

The party goes on and all is well…for now.

Here are a couple of examples to show why sailors insist on carrying out this tradition:

  • The Titanic was never christened.
  • The USS Arizona was christened with water rather than wine or champagne.

God bless their souls.

De-naming Ceremonies

Another sailor’s superstition is that it is bad luck to change the name of a boat. We did not have to worry about this because we had commissioned a new boat. And the new owner of Pacific Bliss decided not to change the name.

But if a new owner really desires to change the name, he or she can accomplish this through a ritual called a “de-naming ceremony.” The owner takes something bearing the old name and thoroughly demolishes it.  Before Cheryl and Mark Mitchell could christen their new boat, Southwestern Yacht Club chaplain Ron Dixon read the traditional recitation and then the group of yachties assembled on the dock tore a throw-away preserver to shreds and stamped on it!

I found the process fascinating. This de-naming was new to me; I had never experienced such a ceremony. Of course, I Googled it upon arriving home and found the information I wanted from a posting by 48° North, a sailing site.

Chaplain Ron Dixon reads the traditional denaming recitation.

Chaplain Ron Dixon reads the traditional denaming recitation.

A de-naming ceremony should consist of five parts: an invocation, an expression of gratitude, a supplication, a re-dedication and a libation. “First you must remove all physical traces of the boat’s old name. Take the old log book ashore, along with any other papers that bear the old name. Check for offending books and charts with the name inscribed. Be ruthless. Sand away the old name from the lifebuoys, transom, top-side, dinghy, and oars. Yes, sand it away. Painting over is not good enough. You’re dealing with gods here, you understand, not mere dumb mortals. If the old name is carved or etched, try to remove it or, at the very minimum, fill it with putty and then paint over. And don’t place the new name anywhere on the boat before the de-naming ceremony is carried out. That’s just tempting fate.
“The last part of the ceremony, the libation, must be performed at the bow, just as it is in a naming ceremony. There are two things to watch out for here. Don’t use cheap-cheap champagne, and don’t try to keep any for yourself.”

I learned that there’s no specific time period required between this de-naming ceremony and a new naming ceremony. But completion of the de-naming ceremony does require more champagne! Again, one bottle for the boat; it should be sprayed over the bow. And of course, another bottle for the owners.

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It’s important to rip the item to shreds. At the end, we all stomped on it

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Visit my Facebook author page to see the post from this event.

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