By Felix Kloman
“What shall I call thee?” asked William Blake many years ago. It has been a lifelong question of mine, as the owner of many boats.
Her name: Dianthus, and she has carried me on Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, Tenants Harbor, Rockland Harbor, and Penobscot Bay. A perfect flower of a boat!
It all began shortly after our move in 1967 from Philadelphia to Rowayton, Connecticut, a small town with water on three sides. Naturally, boats followed. But, as my wife Ann was more entranced by her newly acquired garden (she’s a natural horticulturalist!) while I was mesmerized by sailing, we had to come to an agreement on boats. My solution: name all our boats after flowers and plants. I, in turn would try to learn about the plant world, and she would attempt to learn the parts of a sailing vessel (for example, the foot, leach and luff, plus the head, tack and clew). Fair enough?
My first purchase was a Dyer Dhow for frostbite racing from November through April at the Norwalk Yacht Club. Its name? Turtlehead: not only a pink perennial but also an apt description of what the hull looked like upside-down on the club deck. Perfect! I raced her for more than 15 years.
Ann expressed an interest is trying fishing, so we bought a yellow, 16-foot fiberglass Amesbury dory. We named her, naturally enough, Banana, that tasty yellow fruit…and Ann’s nickname. Next came an 18-foot double rowing dory built by Dynamite Payson in Maine, for use on both Long Island Sound and the waters of Tenants Harbor. We christened her Lobelia, for that flowering plant, and she’s still with us.
In 1977 I moved to a larger racing boat, buying a brand new J/24 sloop from Rod Johnstone and Bob Johnstone, good friends from college. Yet another dual name: she was called Anemone, a flowering plant and a sea creature! We became so enamored of this apt moniker that it followed us when we moved to a Freedom 36 sloop in 1987. And Turtlehead became her dinghy, with a proper mount on her port foredeck.
Next in line was (and is, as I still own her) a 19-foot ocean-rowing scull designed by Britton Chance, Jr. Her name: Dianthus, and she has carried me on Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, Tenants Harbor, Rockland Harbor, and Penobscot Bay. A perfect flower of a boat!
By 1998, I had aged to the point when large sailing vessels were no longer physically enticing, so my son and I found a Dyer 29 powerboat in Camden, Maine. But we were then stymied by the naval tradition of maintaining the original name of the craft. It was Heron, not remotely a flower. Our solution: we bought a 8-foot Dyer Midget, complete with mast, boom and sail, adding a stern platform and davits to carry her. A search of one of Ann’s gardening books found the perfect name: Heronbill, a perennial similar to a geranium. Saved!
And finally I bought two JY-9 catboats, again from Rod Johnstone, in 1999. But, at the time I was thoroughly engrossed in the 21 novels by Patrick O’Brian describing the exploits of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin during the Napoleonic Wars. I simply had to name them after two of Jack’s vessels: Sophie (his first command) and Nutmeg (for a smaller ship he sailed in the Western Pacific). But, yet again, a search of Ann’s horticultural library saved the day. Nutmeg, of course, is a tree with an edible seed and also the state tree of Connecticut, where we live. Sophie (mirabile dictu) is a type of pink rose. Today, Dianthus, Heronbill, Lobelia, Nutmeg, and Sophie continue as proud possessions in our Maine seagoing garden.
But has all this practice improved my horticultural knowledge? I still cannot properly identify a lantana or a hydrangea. But neither can Ann tell the difference between a line, halyard, and sheet! So, what’s in a name?
Felix Kloman lives in Lyme, CT.