“West Wind or something like that.” – Jim, the former owner of our 1967 Cheoy Lee Offshore Ketch, trying to recall her original name
What’s in a name? To us, a lot. We’ve been called all sorts of things on the water: Sire, Seer, Star. (I admit I rather like being called “Star.”) Our boat’s actual name, “Siar,” is an Irish word, and it honors our history. The Irish Dictionary online offers sample pronunciations in three regional dialects across Ireland. Our home port is in the southern United States, so to those who know North Carolina geography, the best I can tell you is to just pronounce the first syllable of “Charlotte.” Got it?
When Lee and I bought our first sailboat together, her name was “Mi Luv.” Jim, who sold her to us, had bought her with the inheritance he received from his grandmother, and “Mi Luv” had been Grandma’s nickname for him. Adorable, and very personal for him, no doubt. For us, after having to identify ourselves as “Mi Luv” to dozens of bridge tenders along the Intracoastal Waterway, it was time for a new name.
My brother, Adam, had made a generous gift to our boat’s library, including a book titled Why Didn’t I Think of That. The authors, John and Susan Roberts, had collected and organized nearly 1,200 tips for cruising sailors, covering everything from maintenance to cooking to passage making. Originally published in 1997, some tips are outdated (fax machines, page 65), but many remain timeless (watch standing, page 85). On page 14 of the book, we found a description of a stern rail gate hand made by the owner of a 31-foot ketch. The sailboat’s name? “Westward.”
We examined our stern rail, and sure enough, there was the gate, hand cut by former owner Dave, and as described in the book, “secured by stainless steel sleeves that slip over the rail ends.” Soon afterwards, Lee was down in cockpit locker, working on something no doubt, when he found the word “Westward” carved inside the hull. That was all it took – we knew our boat’s name.
We brought Westward to a DIY boatyard in Washington, North Carolina. Along with new bottom paint and other fixes and upgrades, I hand cut stencils of her name and hailing port. We’d elected to change her accent color from blue to dark green, and so in dark green I painted “Westward” and “Washington, NC” on her transom. With the work completed, we re-launched. Captain Lee guided Westward to her slip with the aid of his childhood best friend. We re-christened our beloved Cheoy Lee with the aid of several friends and a bottle of champagne.
The Captain has his best ideas in the water, whether it’s on a boat, in the shower, or in the hot tub at our “land house.” It was there that he proposed the name for our soon-to-be Island Packet. “Siar.” Lee had been lucky enough to travel to Ireland for a study abroad program during his undergraduate years at Elon College. He fell in love with Ireland, and when he first took me there in 2013, so did I. We’d vacation there for a week or two at a time, roughly every year and a half, for the next five years. Galway, Cork, Spiddal, Milltown Malbay, Clifden, Letterfrack, Fanore.
“Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”
2020 shut down any immediate travel plans for us. It also left us with a lot of free time on our hands. One of our more productive projects was studying the Irish language. The Irish (Gaelic) language is experiencing a comeback, especially in the areas of western Ireland that we love to visit. Children are learning to speak it in school. It’s nothing the be sitting in a pub in Connemara and hear the 18-or-so year old bartender speak to us in English and to the local clientele in Irish. We have a lot to learn – Irish is a verb-subject-object language, and it has no indefinite article. Our learning so far has been enough to inspire the name – “Siar” is the closest Irish translation to “Westward.”
So there you have it. Our new boat, that we hope to some day make our home, is named for our old boat, that once was our home, and in a language to honor the place and people we adore. Will we ever sail Siar to Ireland? Writing from my “Captain’s Chair” in her salon, the scent of a fall apple hazelnut crumble baking in the oven, everything seems possible.
Siar’s name and hailing port of Beaufort, North Carolina, along with a Celtic Cross, grace her transom in a lovely dark green. We christened Siar on a warm, dark evening in St. Petersburg, Florida, June 2021. We were aided by a bottle of champagne, of course, and Lee’s childhood best friend, who’d also been our travel companion on our last trip to Ireland. “May all who sail aboard her…”
Links / further reading:
The Irish Dictionary entry on “Siar” https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/siar
Amazon link to Why Didn’t I Think of That
Apple hazelnut crumble recipe. Note, I add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp allspice to the filling. https://www.food.com/recipe/apple-hazelnut-crumble-293253