Sailboat in a sunset

There’s lots to read when you’re kayaking in a harbour.

In fact, it sometimes feels like I’m back at university, idling in the library stacks.

Everywhere you look, water and words. Strong words, archaic words, mysterious words: all of them spelled out in gorgeous script or precise capital letters, emblazoned on boats of all descriptions. 

I find myself playing various word games as I paddle around local marinas.

Word associations, etymologies, puns; it’s surprising how entertaining it all is, not to mention a welcome relief from relentless paddling. Coming across a boat with a puzzling name will have me digging out my cell phone to google the mystery behind it

The Halcyon catches my attention. Resting the paddle across the kayak, I scroll through the information about the word halcyon.  Overhead seagulls squeal while the water bobs my beat up, old kayak.

The ancient Greeks claimed that, during the winter solstice, the kingfisher bird could charm both the waves and the wind, allowing it to lay its eggs in a nest floating on the sea. The word ‘halcyon’ speaks of a time of peace and happiness and the term ‘halcyon days’ describes this idyllic 14 days period.

It is, I decide, a perfect name for a boat. But there’s more.

The pharmaceutical industry also decided it was a perfect name and named a drug – halcion – after this legendary calm. That the drug is a tranquilizer will come as no surprise.

I tuck my phone away and resume paddling, pondering the idea of tranquility as represented by doctor’s prescription pads, floating bird nests, or pleasure craft.  On this beautiful day I feel like the mythological kingfisher in her nest on a glass sea.  My breathing takes the rhythm of the imperceptible swells beneath me.  Halcyon days, indeed.

Photo from Pinterest

It would appear that people put a great deal of effort into coming up with just the right name for their boats, no matter the size. There must be something about salt water that makes people favour puns. Truant Sea, Partner Ship, Luna Sea, and oh-so many more can be found in any moorage.  Risque double entendres tend to be confined to smaller vessels and, unlike licence plates, it appears there are no restrictions. I haven’t seen one in years, but it’s said that, at some point, every moorage has harboured a runabout christened, Mom’s Mink. Another favourite along the same lines is, Kids’ Inheritance. Cornier still? The Office.  

Some names show real ingenuity.  A friend chimed in on this topic saying he saw a fellow minus his right arm navigating a small boat into harbour. He was contemplating the difficulties this sailor would have until he noticed the name on the stern of the boat: One Left.  

When it comes to gigayachts, however, the names tend to be single words. When you’re over the 400 foot mark, expect names like Octopus, Savarona, Serene, or Azzam. It’s a bit of a shame as there’s so much room for creativity. My vote? The M.V. Because I Can.

Now, if you were to find yourself with a boat and you wanted to change the name of that boat, you’d best proceed under caution. Maritime lore is rife with dire warnings on how to effect this change. To begin with, you have to remove every trace of the previous name on and in the boat.  All this has to be done before you bring anything on board with the new name or before you even say the name out loud. Thursday is Thor’s Day – god of thunder and storms – so don’t schedule your christening for a Thursday. Friday is also considered unlucky. The Coast Guard will wait until Saturday rather than risk christening a new vessel on a Friday. Despite what you’ve seen in the movies, it’s almost impossible to smash a bottle of champagne on a bow. For about $20 you can get a pre-scored christening bottle that’s housed in a net to contain the broken glass.

My kayak doesn’t have a name.
Panacea has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
But what about Pana-Sea-A?!

This week’s question for readers:


Send your answers by email text, not an attachment, in 100 words or less, along with your full name to Jane at We will print some next week in this space.

Responses to last week’s question for readers:

What is your go-to flavour when you get two scoops? Ever made ice cream at home? Any ice cream stories to share?

Chocolate over vanilla every time. Lately though, Salted Caramel has been my go to at home, and if there is Blood Orange gelato on the menu when I am out, I will never say no.  But chocolate mint? Who could possibly do that to the chocolate? Yikes!

Allan Bruce

My ice cream choices over the past few years never fail to generate raised eyebrows, chuckles, or both, especially from my wife. Forget chocolate or vanilla (although if those were the only choices, I’d go for vanilla). My favourite two scoops on a waffle cone would be cotton candy on the bottom and bubble gum or birthday cake on top.

George Mosley

On a cycling trip in the Charente region of France – famous for brandy, and specifically Cognac – we invited our B & B hosts out for a meal and they chose a rather fine restaurant!  The dessert I ordered was vanilla ice cream which came with a small antique leather-coated pitcher which the server explained to me I was to pour over the ice cream, a little at a time, as I ate it.  The coldness of the ice cream and the slight burning taste of the brandy – a match made in heaven!

Janet Cowley

I grew up in Southern Alberta where winters could be bitterly cold.  Ice cream wasn’t even in our dreams, but once a year we borrowed our neighbour’s manual ice cream maker. The rich custard was made using our own cream and after chopping up ice, my brothers cranked the ice cream maker, and the magic happened. Years later I bought an electric ice cream maker, and added fresh local strawberries to the custard.  I was proud to treat our dinner guests to my homemade ice cream until someone quipped, “Don’t you know you can buy ice cream?”

 Ellie Ewert

When I was a kid, on a prairie ‘mixed farm’, we had an old fashioned ice cream maker- a wooden bucket with a metal container inside for cream, and a handle you turned. The outer part was filled with ice and rock salt to bring the temperature below freezing. For some reason my brother stuck his finger in a drainage hole in the side and couldn’t get it out. The finger was freezing. So my Dad took a hatchet and broke the bucket apart to free his finger. Before that we had delicious handmade ice cream from our own cows.😩

Patricia Rust

I am not a huge dessert or ice cream lover but there are two things I can’t say no to. One is a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, it reminds me of an After Eight chocolate.  The other is a strawberry milkshake from Chick-Fil-A in the US; for all their Trump support and political incorrectness, they still make the best strawberry milkshake in the world. I challenge anyone to find a better one. 

Sue Hector

My go to flavour when I get two scoops is coconut.  I’ve never made ice cream at home for the fear that I will end up eating all of it by myself. Growing up in a small town one of my favourite memories is waiting for the ice cream vendor to come by my house every day after school.  Fresh cow milk was scarce in my hometown , so the ice cream was made from fresh coconut cream, and his coconut ice cream is still the best I have ever had!

Valerie Takounseun


  1. Whith a larger yatch , there is consideration for the way the name sounds over the marine radio. There are three occasion when the name must be said 2 times in quick successions. For MAYDAY calls, PAN PAN calls and SECURITE SECURITE. The name of the boat is aalso said twice. It may require to be spelled out. Our boat was called Isabelle Marie. My mother’s first name and my wife,s mother’s’ first name. It worked well for us and other boater’s loved it.

  2. It was over fifty years ago and I was a novice geologist working out of Yellowknife. I was charged with repainting the company’s canoe. My supervisor said I could name it, so I purchased the required stick-on letters for “AFTER YOU.” The motive was for use in the Gold Range Hotel pub, where younger people hung out. When learning a new young lady’s name, I could state, “Really – wow, would you believe it – we named our boat after you?” They would be flattered and the following explanation would be a great conversation starter. Ah – those were the days!

  3. Missed sending this earlier but think you might enjoy this. A few years ago there was a boat in a West Van marina called PASSING WIND

    Not sure if the owners saw any humour in it!

  4. Hi Jane, Here is the story of the naming of my sailboat:

    In the 1980’s I was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia and was given 2-3 years to live. At the time I had business dealings in Turkey and my Turkish friends pressured me to go on a sailing trip along the Mediterranean coast in Turkey and assured me that such a trip will cure my illness. I followed their advice and my subsequent chemotherapy was stopped after only 2 treatments due to me being already in remission. A few years later I bought a 48 foot sloop and named it “Serefe”, which is the Turkish word for “Cheers, to your good health”, a word frequently used on that life changing trip in Southern Turkey enjoying the national drink “Raki”.

    Kind regards, Klaus Zeitler

  5. Hi Jane:

    Thank you for your column. I enjoy reading it every Saturday.

    I also enjoy looking at the inventive names that people give their boats. My husband and I are both musicians and if we had a boat, we would name it Sea Note followed by a musical note. We had a fun discussion coming up with the name.


  6. My wife’s daughter had done a painting, that looked like an abstract arial view of a farm. It appears to have a barn, river, tree, pond and round things in a field, which we assume to be cows. One of these cows is yellow. She called the painting “Yellow Cow”. Sadly she passed from pneumococcal pneumonia at the age of 24. In memory, we named the boat Yellow Cow so she is with us wherever we cruise. Every place we visit on our boat, people ask about the origin of the name, as it definitely is not a nautical name.

    Larry Carlsen & Sherry Parrott

    1. Dear Larry and Sherry:
      I love the idea of Yellow Cow being an ever-present reminder of the love we encounter – and sometimes lose – along the way. The name serves not only to commemorate a daughter lost far, far too soon, but as a reminder to everyone prompted to ask about the name, that life is uncertain; set sail while you can.
      Thanks for sending your story along; I very much appreciated the story behind the Yellow Cow.
      PS: I grew up on Esquimalt on Sentinel Hill in West Van. You email address indicates that’s where you live …? Terrific views!
      Jane Macdougall

  7. Our current boat is called “Good To Go”. We were trying to come up with name and one day while we were preparing for a trip with the boat my wife asked if we were done and out of nowhere I said yup good to go. Our last boat was a yellow boat that we affectionately called “The Banana”
    A friend has a Harley and his boat is called “Hog Wash”. Hog being a nickname for Harleys and the wake a boat leaves behind sometimes referred to as the wash.
    My friends had an old cabin in White Rock from the cabin era that area. It was old and rough but a great place to spend time it called the Barnacle.

  8. Morning Jane
    Before I begin let me compliment you on your queries & questions to us which make us think. A true teacher.
    So I had 32’ Canoe Cove for 21 years which is the same as my first marriage. I renamed her WHO DECIDES which had other boaters to ask “who does”. That raised questions like which way we’d travel or others like is it the dog or……….
    Then my wife named the dinghy KNOT ME.
    Keep up your articles which are thought provoking and fun.

  9. The only car I ever named was an old beater I bought for $100 back in the seventies. Don’t ask me why, she just looked like a “Martha”. Many years later, a lawyer friend of mine told me of his encounter with a colleague at a gulf island’s resort where his friend had his yacht anchored in the harbour. His friend was a fellow criminal lawyer, and his boat was named, what else, “Crime Pays”.

  10. All Mine is the first name that suddenly popped into my head when driving home from storing my brand new sleek outrigger, an OC1. It struck me that it is the first thing that I have that is genuinely mine that no-one else in the family is interested in or would potentially borrow. The only other creature that may have wanted it was a pesky seal that kept trying to get on it one winter day! I’ve never paddled so fast!

  11. In our Whistler living room in our one-of-a-kind curio shelf sits a thick wooden plaque with “Gerlan” etched into it. My good friends, Glen and Vicki, had Glen’s father make it for my parents in appreciation for using their cottage one winter.

    My parents called this white-washed bungalow at Burritts Rapids on the Rideau River “Gerlan”, but it should have been “Gerlan 2”. In the early 1930s my mother taught high school and sent part of her pay cheque to my father who was building them a house in Caufeild, West Vancouver. When they were married in 1934, they moved into the house and named it “Gerlan”, the first 3 letters of her name and the last 3 of his

  12. Before we left the Netherlands, my husband and I owned a small sailboat.
    We named it after ourselves Fohn. And that is written with an umlaut over the “o”. It’s a German word for a warm, swift wind.
    My first name starts with an “F” , his name is John. We left off the “J” and there is was, very well named to represent us and the wind, which, of course , you need when sailing!

    Here’s another name which still makes me laugh.
    Years ago, when boats were still moored near the Bayshore Inn, I saw a small motorboat, painted red and aptly named “Blood Vessel”.
    I would love to know whether it’s still in use.

  13. Hi Jane:

    Many years ago, I was sitting in my GP’s examination room when I noticed a picture of a 20-something foot sailboat. When the doctor, now retired, came in I asked him about the boat’s unusual name. With some hesitation, he told me that the name came from an impromptu neutering of a neighbour’s cat (on request) involving a stovepipe and light sedation. Later, when he went to collect his new boat, he found that his neighbour and his wife had conspired to have Stovepipe painted on the transom.

  14. Hello Jane:
    Reading your article on naming boats here is my story.
    My latest boat: a 42 foot offshore sports fishing vessel is called :
    “FisherKing” –
    In Arthurian legend the Fisher King, also known as the wounded king, was the last in the bloodline charged with keeping the holy grail. The Fisher King could only feed his kingdom with the fish he caught because his wounds only allowed him to fish and of course he provided the fish.

  15. We have six grandchildren and about 12 years ago my husband gave them the job of naming our new little dinghy. He suggested to them that a name could be a mix of their names, but nothing doing , they came up with the name Blueberry Hot Sauce! How they chose it is a mystery but he had to honour their choice and Blueberry Hot Sauce it is to this day. A cause of much amusement at our cottage on the lake.

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