Four days a week I patrol Lake Tashmoo in a small skiff for the Tisbury shellfish department. Tashmoo is a lake in name only. A 270-acre coastal pond on the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard, it’s connected to Vineyard Sound by a deep, narrow channel.
Tashmoo offers sheltered moorings for a mix of sail and power boats. It’s also a popular daytime destination. When the weekend weather cooperates, a parade of Cape Cod boaters cross Vineyard Sound to anchor up for the day.
Thousands of years ago, the most crucial question a boat owner faced — other than “does it float?” — was what to name the boat. Ancient Greeks and Romans, who were only slightly less superstitious than Red Sox players, sought protection from the elements by naming their vessels after female gods. They supposed the male gods were busy fighting and couldn’t care less.
Tashmoo boaters are less reliant on the gods for protection. They have insurance, TowBoatUS, and the Coast Guard. Still, as I make my rounds it is clear that naming a boat gets considerable thought. And the maritime tradition of referring to boats in the female gender remains strong.
I have tried to discern a pattern. Sailboat owners tend to favor names that relate to the wind or lack thereof: Wind Spirit, Wing, and Patience, to name a few.
The owners of boats with enough horsepower strapped to the stern to enter orbit go for more energetic words: Steam Roller and Very Busy for example.
John Custer, Tisbury School principal, named his boat Summer School. Children, literature, film, and music inspire some.
Commercial fisherman Ray Gale named his boat Mariah. Ray operates a mooring business in Tashmoo, removing, placing, or inspecting the concrete blocks and chain used to keep boats where they belong.
It is a demanding job. Ray, as congenial a man as one could hope to meet on the water, moves at his own pace.
Standing on the stern, his white curly hair as overgrown as his white bushy mustache, Ray says the name comes from an old Kingston Trio song, “They Call the Wind Mariah.”
“I always liked that song,” he says.
It is obvious that the easy choice is to name a boat after a spouse. It is a much more practical token of affection than say a tattoo, which is more difficult to remove from your transom if the marriage runs aground.
John Karelekas of Vineyard Haven owns a boat custom made by Calvin Beal Boats, a Downeast Maine boatyard. She is sixteen feet long and has a seven foot, three inch beam. Roomy to say the least.
“I wanted the biggest little boat I could find,” John says.
John’s on a one-man campaign to get people to lighten up. With a smile, he says, too many people have serious names. His boat is named Schlept Away.
This summer I’ve admired one boat in particular, a 26-foot Tashmoo newly built along the lines of a classic bass boat by First Light Boat Works of Mill Pond, Chatham. Boat owners Rob and Cindy Doyle of Chilmark named her Civility.
Rob says his family has had one boat or another on Tashmoo for the past 35 years. Naming has always been a family affair.
“Civility seemed like a good fit. It’s a good quality, not just on a personal level but on a public level,” Rob tells me.
Size is no obstacle when it comes to creativity on the water. One boat among the small dinghies boaters use to get to their moorings would make the ancient gods chuckle. The name on the transom: Row vs Wade.