October 6, 2011

First scratch ceremony

IF YOU’VE EVER owned a brand-new boat, or a newly painted old boat, you must have wondered when then first scratch would come. It’s a time of tension and trepidation as you do your best to protect that beautiful but vulnerable paint job, knowing full well that in the end the first scratch will definitely come, and all that’s really uncertain is just how bad it will be.

You can worry your little guts out for weeks and months while bracing yourself against the inevitable and wondering when the dastardly deed will occur, and who will be the dastard that does it.

This is why I invented the First Scratch Ceremony. It’s one of 19 useful maritime ceremonies, superstitions, prayers, rituals, and curses contained in my book How to Rename Your Boat. And this simple ceremony will relieve you from all the pain of this period of tension and fretting because you yourself are deliberately going to put the first scratch on your boat’s new finish. You’ll do it in some inconspicuous place, of course, where it won’t be seen in a casual glance. And then, when some thoughtless idiot finally ravages your paintwork, you won’t be consumed by rage because it won’t be the first scratch. It won’t be such a shock. You will bypass all those feelings of anger, revenge, gloom, and despair.

Furthermore, this ceremony offers you a perfect excuse to invite your sailing friends to a party.

What you need is a single scratch about an inch long. Use masking tape to mark off a small rectangle, maybe up under the gunwale where it will not be too obvious, and find yourself a suitable instrument to scratch with. Choose it carefully. You don’t want to be embarrassed in front of your guests because the old nail you found won’t penetrate the hard surface of your new Awlgrip.

Now here’s the wording of the ceremony, which you should read aloud:

O Aphrodite, worthy guardian of love and beauty, we seek your kind favor.

Grant us this day your help in preserving the loveliness of this far vessel. Guard her against disfiguration, we beseech you, that she may always be admired and respected by mankind.

We pray for your help to preserve her from misadventure and calamity, so that her looks shall neither be marred nor spoiled.

And yet, even as we beg this favor, we humbly acknowledge that there are times when the gods are too fully occupied to prevent all possible catastrophes to which this vessel will be exposed.

We therefore implore you to recognize the first scratch that shall be made here today in the knowledge that it will spare us the agony of the endless wait — the awful anticipation that keeps honest mortals awake at night, staring into the darkness, wondering when the wonderful new finish will first be violated.

Please bless our first scratch, O Aphrodite, and grant us your help in preserving this lovely vessel from future accidents and collisions that may injure her good looks.

In return for which, we confirm our devotion to thee with a libation offered in the hallowed tradition of the sea.

Now make your scratch and pour or spray champagne over it. Don’t stint. Use the whole bottle. Serve yourself and your guests from separate bottles, and when they’ve all staggered off home, remove the masking tape.

Today’s Thought
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.
— Francis Bacon.

Money cannot buy happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a 40-foot Hinckley than a 26-foot McGregor.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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