Given the recent debate and discussion regarding male vs. female vs. gender-neutral names for vessels, I wonder if we might discuss another aspect of vessel-naming conventions. Perhaps it is partly the depth of my respect for dear old dad that leads me to it, but I feel a certain revulsion when I hear people refer to boats as “the” Courageous or “the” Hornswoggled II, or whatever. I call my boat Skua, sweet Skua, old Skua and more, but never the Skua. I was always taught that one refers to vessel names without the article (perhaps to respect them as more than just objects), unless one is referring to the schooner Bluenose or the 12-meter sloop Courageous. Of course, there are exceptions, but in the sailing world, at least, I find the solitary leading “the” worse than superfluous; it diminishes Skua’s character or soul, and much of the spirit with which I invest my sailing in her.
I wonder if this way people refer to vessels comes unknowingly from the dropping of the modifying schooner, sloop, gaff-rigged cutter, etc., before the name. When the schooner Bluenose becomes the Bluenose, or the 12-meter sloop Courageous becomes the Courageous, we lose more than verbiage. Have any readers been similarly disturbed or curious about this aspect of vessel name-calling? Call me a nitpicker, but all these demystifying “the’s” leave me itching.
Alex Abbott, a geographic information systems professional working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, sails his Morris Annie, Skua, from Freeport, Maine.