A trio of names
When I bought Pea Green back in 2016, she wasn’t called that, nor did she have her original name. Along with other bits and pieces she came with a list of all the boats built by Chris Barney at Braunston. Mine, number 26 on the list, was named ‘The Go-Between’, though at some point in her 40 plus year history she was renamed Gwithian, this was her name she had when I bought her. Boat names are a subjective sport and itt didn’t take me long to realise that I didn’t really care for the name and that I needed to find another. I also wasn’t sure that I wanted to go back to the original ‘The Go-Between’ and wondered why that name had been chosen. My 1973 boat was built only a couple of years after the film ‘The Go-Between’ was released, so I wondered if that had an influence or perhaps something else. Sadly, I will probably never know the thinking about her original name, nor what lay behind her next name ‘Gwithian’.
I have issues with having to explain names, largely because I have done it all my life. When asked to give my name I state, ‘Kay’ to which the response is, ‘No I need your full name, not your initial’ to which I respond, ‘that is my full name’, invariably they follow with, ‘yes, but what is it short for?’ me – with increasing anger, ‘nothing it is K-A-Y’ and then I have to add, ‘and NO E’. (Practically screaming by this point. So, I am fussy about names…. )
Welsh, is it?
For me Gwithian just seemed to cause confusion – wasn’t it Welsh? Actually, it is a North Cornish village, but even on my first foray out ofCosgrove Marina someone yelled ‘you’re a long way from Wales’. I have nothing against the Welsh or Wales, but the thought of constant explanation made me think about renaming. The other, bigger, issue was exactly how did you pronounce it? I never quite got to grips with the pronunciation, was it Gwith-IAN or Gwith-EYE-an or something else?
Claimed as a Cornish martyr
Further digging revealed that Gwithian was a male, Irish saint, who had visited Cornwall and had, perhaps died as a Christian martyr. I have failed miserably to find out much more about Gwithian or Gothian as he would have been called in Cornish. I have found just two sources. One from 1844 – and can you ever trust the Victorians with their slightly dodgy interpretation of history -and the other from Daphne Du Maurier in ‘Vanishing Cornwall’. As a fan of Du Maurier, and there will be more of her later, it pleased me no end to read her critical appraisal of Welsh and Irish saints who were then claimed as Cornish. Soon after buying the boat, when I cleared multiple-previous owners’ stuff I had found a leaflet about the village of Gwithian and its surfing beaches. It does look spectacular and I do like Cornwall, but the name had no connection to me and it had to go.
The fact that Gwithian was probably a man seemed to add further confusion as boats are very often given a female pronoun. (Though I did ponder that perhaps my boat was transgender – female in spirit/male in name.) I just wasn’t sure I was up to setting a trend in narrowboat circles and referring to the boat with the gender neutral ‘they’.
Repainting the top
So, as 2017 rolled on and the PhD truly hit the rocks, a seed was planted in my head by my marina neighbour about repainting the entire outside of the cabin. If I was going to do this, then it would be the logical time to add a new name and decide whether I wanted to engage with the hocus-pocus traditional rituals of boat naming.
As mentioned previously my boat has a GRP top cabin, which had been gel coated in a colour that can only be described as blotchy, tropical frog/lizard green. (Strangely this is not a colour name chosen by any major paint producers – in my opinion they are missing a trick.) Having sanded and repainted the steel bow of the boat, and the wooden stern doors the GRP top began to stand out as looking exceptionally tatty -and in my OCD perfectionist world this was not a good thing. I really had not planned to paint the top, it just looked like a huge job, and I wasn’t even sure that GRP could be painted.
As if by magic
As I mulled over the possibility of painting the whole boat I began to really notice the very patchy colour. Additionally, I was increasingly bothered that the GRP frog green extended over the gunwales. It seemed like there was no going back and she did need a repaint. This decision fortuitously coincided with my acquisition of a number of cans of free paint (no they weren’t stolen, rather a gift from the manufacturer). As it turned out repainting the GRP top was quick and easy, compared to the labour intensive sanding/ undercoating/sanding/ undercoat/sanding/ topcoat/sanding/topcoat that had taken place with the metal and woodwork. After a light sand of the GRP to provide a key I roller-ed on and brushed out, two coats of undercoat, and two topcoats. It was fast and easy and the look of the boat was improved 100%. (Of course, who knows how the paint will stand up to the elements! Though it has done one very nasty winter without any problems.)
The old boat name had been stuck on both sides of the boat as a vinyl transfers. I have to admit, in my naivety when I bought her I thought the name was a piece of sign-writing. It was only on closer inspection I realised Gwithian was made from vinyl and stuck on. These vinyl stick on pieces of decoration have proved popular amongst narrowboat owners, as in other previously sign written notices on shops and vehicles. However, I can’t help but feel sad that the work is not given to the small number of skilled sign-writers around the country. (Though I appreciate cost can be an issue.) ‘Sign-writing’ as a name seems to under-value the artistic calibre of the work of these professionals. Names are painted in different fonts, shaded in numerous ways and accompanied by other artwork. Their results are a pleasure to see up and down the cut. I must admit that initially I had thought I would buy vinyl lettering, but as I looked at numerous websites I was unimpressed by the styles and colours and it felt very impersonal. I decided that when I had a name I would paint it on myself, as after all if it went wrong I could just paint over it!
By the time the top coat was dry I had decided on the new name. It had taken a while and many crazy conversations in my head. ***BEWARE PLOT SPOLIERS COMING ***** I had gone through numerous ideas, starting with Rebecca. ‘Rebecca’ is one of my favourite novels by the often-under-rated Daphne Du Maurier. The downside of ‘Rebecca’ was that she ended up dead and scuttled in her boat. Plus, she was a very unpleasant character – so perhaps not a good choice. From the same book I considered ‘Manderley’ – the atmospheric Cornish house, as another option, but it too went up in flames (in the book, that is). The other option was the name of Rebecca’s boat, ‘Je Reviens’ – which as a none French speaker just seemed a bit pretentious! I also did wonder that all of this was dragging me back to Cornwall after ditching a real Cornish location in the old name.
Lear v Coleridge
From one classic I shifted to another, albeit going from the sublime to the ridiculous in the form of Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’. This was a poem I had learnt by heart whilst in the brownies, and one of the few that has remained in my head. The other poetry option was the opium fuelled Kubla Khan by Coleridge, but for an old GRP boat that seemed wrong too. Plus, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of reactions I would get to a boat call Xanadu or Pleasure Dome or Kubla Khan. It might get the wrong kind of attention. So, it was back to the Owl and the Pussy Cat who ‘went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat’. It, therefore, seemed only logical that my green boat (both before and after the paint job) should be called Pea Green. Hardly a clever name, and perhaps not very ‘grown-up’ but it seemed to fit my little hotch-potch of a boat.
Meddling with the gods
Boating tradition suggests that names should only be changed when the boat is out of the water, and that the bow should be drenched in alcohol at the time. Much of this tradition stems from sea-going ships and aimed to appease Poseidon and/or Neptune and ensure the removal of the old name from the ledger of the deep. Though as my boat was not going to sea, and even I, at 5ft 4in can stand up in the canal I decided to take the risk. Plus, always conscious of money (this is a theme) my boat would not be out of the water again for another 18 months, and I wasn’t paying £150 to pull her out, just so I could throw alcohol at metal! (This appeared wasteful on both counts! I did though, have a drink whilst staying on her I painted the new name on the cabin.) I wondered what kind of reaction I would get, when people learnt I hadn’t enacted the ritual. As I tentatively approached the issue with my boaty marina folk the overwhelming reaction was, ‘its all a load of crap’, so I didn’t feel too bad about opting out.
A two pronged approach
My name changing ceremony consisted of two stages, firstly the Canal and River Trust registration website. This highly complex change (not really) consisted of deleting one name and typing in another. I checked three times I had spelt it right, and then clicked saved. Legally that was all I needed to do. Secondly, painting the name on the boat, on both sides so they looked slightly similar. Though as everyone told me you never see both sides at once, unless you are some sort of two headed alien, they didn’t have to be totally matching. Although somewhat more tricky than the first stage it too was doable! More of the painting next time.