“It’s bad luck for you to change the name of a boat up. But, if for whatever reason you do decide to change it up, there is the rite of passage, so to speak. Um, a couple people have different ways of doing it. The most common that I’ve heard is to drive it around in a circle, backwards, three times. Yeah. And that’s to get the bad juju off, I don’t know if it’s really a left turn or a right turn, but that’s what I hear is if you’re going to be changing up your stuff, that’s what you do. Sign it off, write your name, get your new CF numbers and you put that thing in reverse to get the bad juju off. God speed.”
The informant is one of the captains of the Miss Christi, the boat that ferries people to the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina island. He came to the island a couple of years after graduating from high school in San Diego. He worked at the general store in Two Harbors, then as a housekeeper at WIES. Twelve years later he became a captain. Originally, he wanted to study marine biology, but fell in love with the island when he came there and has never looked back. He still enjoys marine studies, and he is a certified scientific scuba diver. He has loved the water his whole life, but did not start boating until he came to Catalina. An avid spear fisherman, he has a lot of contact with the other fishers on the island, and many of his friends are involved in sea life in some way.
The informant was asked why the boat WIES uses is called the Miss Christi. Apparently, the boat had been sold to WIES for cheap to the Institute as a kind of donation. It was called Miss Christi after the original owner’s wife. When WIES bought the boat, they had considered changing the name to make it more related to the University of Southern California or the Institute itself, but the staff argued that the rituals necessary to make the boat safe to drive on the water again were to complicated, and that it was just too risky to change the name. The informant then went on to explain the process to change the name, if absolutely necessary.
All boaters would agree that it is incredibly bad luck to change the name of a ship. Once a ship is named, it is named for life, and to change that name would disrespect the boat’s history and make light of the ship’s nature.
That being said, sometimes it cannot be avoided and the name of the boat must be changed. In that case, there is a certain ritual to go through to get rid of the bad luck. As the informant says, once the captain changes the name and gets the new registration for it, he must take it out in the water and drive it backwards in a circle. This is fairly dangerous, especially since there is still bad juju is still on the boat when driving it out on the water. It would be especially difficult if the ship was a sailboat or had oarsmen, as boats had in the past. It is not impossible, however, so it can be done if necessary.
The informant did not know what direction the turn should be, but if it is like much other Western folklore, it is likely counter-clockwise, sometimes known as widdershins. Whenever a ritual is trying to get rid of negative energy or change things that are already there, then it usually involves counter-clockwise movement. This name-changing ritual would likely use the same principle.
Sailors, boaters, and fishermen are notoriously superstitious. Most groups who are the most superstitious are those who have a trade that is heavily reliant on nature. Farmers are one example, as the success of their crops relies on variability in the weather. Seamen, similarly, rely on currents, winds, and weather to take them from place to place. All it takes is one storm, and their ship could sink. Because they have so little control over their trade, they attempt to create good luck through superstitions. Things become associated with good or bad luck, and all sailors must follow these superstitions for fear that their boat will sink. Respecting the name of the boat to make sure the boat will not sink is no different.