Why Boats And The Ocean Are "She"

By Tom Neale, 5/7/2013


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We've given the sea many names over the millennia. "Mother Ocean" is one that first comes to mind. It makes sense. All life, we're told, came from the sea.  Jimmy Buffet really drove the point home because he said two times: "Mother Mother Ocean" in his song, "A Pirate Looks at Forty." The term "Mother of Life" has fit the bill for many of us. Just the word "Ocean" rolls off the tongue perhaps most easily of all. And particularly in the biblical context, I've heard the phrase "the deep" more than I've needed. And then there's "oceanic," "deep-sea" (although some of it is pretty shallow), marine, and, oh yes, let's not forget "Bounding Main." That's where the pirates live. We've also called the sea "Mother of the Waters" and "Mother of the Rivers" although the phrase has applied to various smaller bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay,

Which one turns you on
Heading out into Mother Ocean.

Whatever we've called her; we've considered her to be feminine. We also consider the boats that go on her to be feminine. Even the mighty German battleship, the Bismarck, named after a man, with no feminine traits that I know of, was probably thought of as a she by those who served her.  I've often wondered if the Vikings, who put those famous figureheads on their boats, and who weren't the most sensitive of souls and who were famous for doing a lot of raping and plundering, considered their vessels to be "she." Unfortunately I guess I'll continue to wonder since I don't know any Vikings. The ancient Romans and the Greeks and I suppose a lot of other people back in those times had long battering rams protruding from the bows of many of their war vessels. Some have compared them to large nautical phallic symbols. One can't help but get the impression that this was very masculine and that these boats weren't thought of as "she," but I don't know any ancient Romans or Greeks either, so I guess I'll have to keep wondering about that one too. I do know that I have two very tall masts on my motorsailer, but I consider "Chez Nous" to be a she.

I considered my very first boat to be feminine, although at age nine I wasn't exactly an expert on the subject of femininity and the tubby little rowboat perhaps wouldn't have fit the bill for some folks, but SHE sure did for me. My boats have always given me pleasure — well, almost always — and some have sometimes given me vague feminine related reminiscences as being in a womb or being mothered. Of course most of my boats have, at one time or another, also given me the feeling conjured by Dante, in The Divine Comedy, of Hell itself.

There may be a subtle lesson developing here because we also think of the sea in other ways. At least some of us think of her as all powerful; an uncontrollable force and at times an exceptionally formidable foe. To me, at least, that sounds a little feminine. But whatever it sounds like, it's probably a good way for us to think. I've spent a huge part of my life out on the water. This has included creeks, rivers, bays, sounds and "Mother Ocean." I've been far out on the ocean at night, in storms of all sorts including frenzied lightning, in places where I thought I was going to be boarded by very serious criminals and more. I've even been in eerie ghostly calms "when the still Sea conspires," to quote the song "Horse Latitudes" by the Doors. I've loved the sea all my life. I don't need poets, song writers and movie makes to tell me how wonderful it is.  I've experienced it for years.  But, unlike some of them, I've also experienced the terror that it can inflict.

Tom's Tips
Tom's Tips About Mother Ocean

1. While it's nice to be a romantic about the Sea, this can obscure the truth and get us into trouble.

2. The Sea is indeed the last frontier on Earth and we know relatively little about it.

3. The Sea is, among other features, a variety of dynamics that we'll probably never truly understand.

4. We will hopefully never come close to creating a power anywhere near equal to the multitude of powers displayed daily by the Sea.

5. We should not allow ourselves to be influenced by the cute marketing hypes that give a false sense of security about being on the water.

6. Getting into boating and staying into boating is a wonderful thing to do, but only with your eyes wide open to all the facts — which are often lacking in the stories, songs and advertisements.

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A storm at sea totally dwarfs anything that humans can do. It can render us entirely helpless and completely at its mercy. The word "awesome" doesn't even begin to communicate what it's like, nor do other words. It even renders us helpless in our efforts to describe it. You cannot describe something like that.  Oh, but we sure try to describe something not like that.

The cruise lines describe a Disney World type of perfect experience sailing the boundless beautiful seas as you engage in fake mountain climbing, drinking day and night and enjoying limitless pampering. When things go wrong and the ship starts acting like a ship in an ocean which is acting like the ocean, news media flocks to interview the disembarking "victims." One has to ask: What did they expect?  It's clear they have no clue about being in a ship on the ocean. Why should they? They're from inland and have been filled with ridiculous promotional drivel.  And they've lived their lives listening to romantic songs and seeing romantic movies about "Mother Ocean." But what really bothers me is that they're missing a point that humanity learned thousands and thousands of years ago. Humanity has developed all sorts of ways to say it ... or to imply it. Like "Cherchez la femme" and "Vivre la difference," and, far more telling, "Femme Fatale." 

I don't understand why we call the Ocean "her" and then get upset when she acts like a "her." We should get a clue here. Females aren't necessarily soft and gentle all the time. Most are that way when they want to be, but you'd better believe that they know how to show the other face when they want to. They're in control. I know. I spent many years living on a boat, on Mother Ocean, with three ladies (my wife and two daughters.)  I'm here to tell you that females can do a lot better at projecting or sublimating their moods than most guys I know, including me. And there's no limit to the awesome power of the Woman. The same goes for feminine boats. While I have pleasant memories of my first rowboat, I also have lots of memories of many of my boats drawing blood — lots of blood ... mine ... many times.

Now if you're thinking that I'm a male chauvinist pig or a sexist, you've got it exactly backwards. Which perhaps says something about you, if you're one of those people who take off into the ocean when a storm's on the way. I vote that humanity should continue thinking of the ocean and boats in the feminine sense. But we need to keep in mind the full potential of the most powerful, intelligent and awesome creature on earth: the Woman. And not be so surprised when we get our backsides handed to us on a platter.



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