I was suppose to be a Mary. Right up until my Mother was in the throws of labour at the hospital. If I was born a girl I was going to be named Mary. But then, when asked just before I made my appearance, my Mother declared that I would be called Heather. As if she knew that there was no way that I would come out and grow up with Mary-like qualities. And boy was she right!
Here in Fiji I am more often than not referred to as Kate. The funny thing is, most of the people in the marina now know that the boat is not named after me, but they call me Kate anyway. Funnier still is that I answer to it.
There is a long tradition of men naming their boats after their women. I guess way back when if you were embarking on a voyage that you knew would keep you away from your beloved for months, or perhaps years on end, it was a little comfort to feel as if she was there with you, if only in spirit. Or at the very least to have an excuse to utter her name now and then and not seem sentimental.
In the beginning we had people come up to us on the dock and introduce themselves, shake our hands, look at me and say “And you must be Kate?” And I would wonder if I really looked like the kind of woman who would be vain enough to sail around the world in a small green boat named after herself.
I hoped not.
Of course all these people spoke English as a native language. I have come to learn that the particular combination of letters that make up my name is not one found in many other languages. The Spanish had difficulties with it, maybe if I spelt it with a J instead? The French dropped the H’s all together and called me “Eder”. And when all else fails I have simply been referred to as “Mrs. Steve”. Steve, it seems, is a name that either has an equivalent in most languages (Estaban, Stefan etc..) or easily rolls of the tongue.
But the Fijian’s don’t have any problem with pronouncing Heather. I could forgive them if they did, I have trouble with thier language. Then again when a ‘C’ sounds like ‘th’ and a ‘Q’ like the ‘ng” in finger, and towns like ‘Nadi’ are pronounced ‘NaNdi’ (the elusive Fijian invisible N) who can blame me? No, they just seem to like to call me Kate.
The thing is we don’t know who our boat was named after. Forty-one years ago the man who built her christened her Kate, and she stayed that way for the 20+ years he sailed her. She’s had a few other owners between him and us and a few other names as well; Eucharist and Rum Chaser are two we know of. But the guy we bought her from had found the original launch documents during his refit and changed her back to Kate. (On the hull anyway, the paper work still said Rum Chaser so when we were looking for a port to register her in Australia we thought Bundaberg, a town famous for their rum, was fitting.) When we heard the story we abandon our ideas of changing her name to suit us. We figured if someone long ago declared that she looked like a Kate, then so be it.
After 41 years Kate is still strong and graceful and fast. She is simple and elegant with just the right amount of hard lines and soft edges. She challenges me and protects me. She is the kind of woman I aspire to be.
So you can call me Kate, I don’t mind. In fact, it would be an honour.