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Elena Gray-Blanc

Ship Shape: And Very Strange


Of Santa Barbara’s many attractions and advantages, the ocean - with its opportunities for the watching of whales - and the harbor - with its opportunities for the watching of tourists - are not the least. The harbor, in addition to its usual complement of knee-socked visitors, is also home to approximately 1,100 boats, some of which are used for fishing, some for living aboard, and others for pure recreation.

The naming of boats and ships has a long and superstition-ridden history. Naming or launching a vessel has always been accompanied by some sort of offering or prayer to whatever god is considered relevant. For the ancient Greeks, it was Poseidon, god of the sea. Monotheists typically choose to pray to their one God or to patron saints, depending on the religion in question, in the hopes that the powers that be will intercede to prevent shipwreck or disaster. The tradition of breaking a bottle of wine or champagne over the prow comes from the offering of wine made by Greeks and Romans to the gods before a ship set sail for the first time.

The naming of a boat, of course, is a part of this tradition. The idea is, or used to be, to give a ship a lucky name, thus affording it some protection from the vagaries of the sea. However, as can be seen in the Santa Barbara harbor, some names are just a little odd, and make one wonder exactly what deity the captain intended to propitiate.

By Elena Gray-Blanc

The Electric Pumpkin is a good example of this. It’s hard to imagine what God or gods could be involved in the naming of this boat, although the owner has to receive full marks for originality. The boat itself is, unfortunately, very normal-looking - with no pumpkins, electrified or otherwise, in sight.

Many of the boats in the harbor do have at least nautical-themed names, however. One, the Lord Nelson, is named for the British admiral who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Some are puns or plays on spelling, like the Knot Yet, the Wind Kix or the Second Wind. Others have amusing but still ocean-themed names - such as the Webfoot, the Sea Monkey, or the Aqua Condo.

Aside from these whimsical examples, though, there are some boats with very classic names drawn from mythology, usually Greek. A Nereid is a type of sea nymph, associated with Poseidon, while the Nepenthe is named for a potion of forgetfulness, mentioned in the Odyssey. The Argo, of course, takes its name from the ship used by Jason and his Argonauts in their legendary quest for the Golden Fleece - though anyone who actually read the story of Jason in its entirety should know that both Jason and his ship meet rather unenviable ends. The Lisianthus, on the other hand, which sounds as if it might also be named for a mythological character, doesn’t appear in any of my mythology reference books, and the only Wikipedia note lists it as the name of an anime character. (According to Wikipedia, the flower known as the lisianthus is more properly called the eustoma.)

There are quite a few boats in the harbor, like the Lisianthus, with no immediately obvious reference. The Makaira and the Scouse are both in this category, along with the Adytum and the Coastal Confessions. However, a little bit of research can turn up at least a possible derivation for each of these: Makaira is a swordfish genus, Scouse is a particular British accent found in Liverpool, and Adytum is a technical term for a part of a Greek temple. Of course, these boats may or may not be named for these meanings but guessing is part of the fun. I’m not even going to speculate on how the Coastal Confessions got its name.

By Elena Gray-Blanc

By Elena Gray-Blanc

Which brings us to the really and truly weird boat names. The My Id II is one of the best perhaps the first My Id had to leave the harbor to undergo psychoanalysis? Another boat has a name which really can’t be transcribed here the picture will have to suffice. It’s the Sea ‘n’, with a seahorse forming the S of the word sea, followed by a symbol of unknown significance. In any future Weird SB columns, this ship will be called simply The Boat Formerly Known as Sea ‘n’, in honor of Prince.

By Elena Gray-Blanc

But despite the presence of the mythological, the psychological, and the unidentifiable, there is one boat in Santa Barbara harbor which wins, hands-down, the Weird SB prize. I refer to the SPAM, which is, apparently, registered out of Spama Barbara. I would support any motion to officially change our city’s name from Santa Barbara to Spama Barbara but in the meantime, it’s good to know that at least one person who lives here has a sense of humor.

Seen anything strange lately? Let us know about it, and you may see a solution to the mystery here. Contact Elena at weirdsb@gmail.com.

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