My wife and I spent the last two days working on our sailboat, the “Santa Maria.” We didn’t choose our boat’s name but inherited it. Of course, the name is not all we inherited, and as every boat owner will tell you, buying a boat is rather like purchasing an invoice. This was doubly the case with the sainted lady; she was in sore straits when we got her, and we have plugged away at healing her. In order to mitigate the threat of financial insolvency, we have been doing most of the work all on our own: painting the deck and interior, making new cushions, replacing the marine plywood inside, etc. The repairs are done in a lop-sided fashion. I am the strong-man who does my wife’s wise bidding. She is the mind, I am the muscles; she the master planner, I the measure once saw twice man.
Each year we tackle a new project. This year we decided to paint the hull. This hull has been painted before – not by us – in a piece meal fashion. Many shades of white cover up bumps and so forth. On Saturday we bought a power buffer and some cleaning material to strip away some of the crud that has accrued over the years. I have to say, I love doing this sort of work. It is mindless, and after a busy week at work I find myself reveling in muscular engagement, the mindless repetition, the fresh wind on the face, the to and fro conversations with my wife and passers-by. And it always feels good to begin a project that has an identifiable beginning, middle and ending – even if it is only one step in a long journey. This happened to me with the hull cleansing process, a necessary preparatory stage in painting it. But sometimes even small steps in a journey are a trip of their own.
As I cleaned up the port side of the hull, I noted a kind of shadow emerge; something of a faint outline of a word, a call number, a what? Slowly, I could see it was an old name. Santa Maria has not always been named after the blessed virgin. As I cleaned and peered, it became clear that her name was once Abishag (I had to look it up). For those of you as poor at Bible trivia as me, Abishag was the young woman who used to keep the aged David warm when his health deteriorated (1 Kings 1:1-4). The bible is quick to vouch for young Abishag’s good reputation. It is reported that nothing untoward transpired between the two.
I like the idea that this boat has these two biblical referents. We have always wondered a bit about whether we should keep “Santa Maria” as a name, since it wasn’t our choice. Changing, however, isn’t as simple as getting a new stencil – dire omens attend a boat whose name has been changed apart from the proper protocol. Moreover, choosing a name willy-nilly has not appealed to us, and so when we saw Abishag, we began to wonder whether we should return her to her more original name, which had been hiding under our very noses for a long time. And so, my ever resourceful wife, took to the internet, where she found that Abishag is not an unknown name for boats. She did observe, however, that the owners of Abishags tended to be Davids. It was decided. I don’t have a David bone in my body, and so, “Santa Maria” she shall remain. I may, however, take to calling her Abishag when coaxing her through difficult shoals, something to remind me of her humble beginnings. Underneath every saint is a servant girl or boy, doing the bidding of the king, and wondering what will come of that.