Not such a unique boat name after all

One of the criteria we had when selecting a name for Totem was to find something unique: we didn’t want to be another Jenny in the anchorage. When choosing her name, We scoured the internet for ideas (I wish Funny Boat Names had existed at the time- this entertaining site organizes boat names by personality type, a good laugh!). One key reference was the USCG’s online registry of names for documented vessels. Not every boat has to be USCG documented, of course, but we felt it was a good proxy for name popularity. A couple of Alaskan fishing boats didn’t feel like an infringement, and Totem became our new boat (and family) name.

I found out recently that we’re not the only sailboat named Totem. A flash of disappointment that we weren’t alone lasted just a few seconds as I read the story of this other boat.

That’s Totem on the right, above, next to sistership Cherokee. They belong to the Six Metre class; Totem was designed and built by famed naval architect Bill Luders. Launched in 1930, he sailed her to win the nationals in 1931.

The six metre heyday dimmed in the mid 20th century, but has surged again in recent decades. Back at home on Bainbridge Island, we often admired the local fleet- there are a couple of dozen six metres based there. More are gathered in fleets around the world.

I had to know more than the overview on the 6 metre website, so I wrote to webmaster Matt Cockburn and to Totem’s owner, Jesse Smith, who has a blog for Totem linked from the class website. (Thanks to Matt and Jesse for allowing me to share their photos!)

Many of the early six metres are remembered only in racing records, but a handful of owners like Jesse have invested considerable effort into the restoration of these classic boats. A modern fleet, fiberglass boats built since the latter half of the twentieth century, have added to the numbers. Old or new, they are stunning vessels with a gorgeous overhang and clean pretty lines that just leave me speechless. What Jesse has given Totem is more than a refit- it’s really a resurrection. Stripping back later modifications, then building to the original aesthetic.

The details are breathtaking. It’s boat porn, really.

Restoration complete, she’s been actively campaigned with great success, and gone on to win a host of awards- racing in the World Cup in Finland in 2011, and finishing first out of 57 boats at the Opera Cup in 2010.

I suppose it was inevitable that eventually we’d run into another Totem. That this Totem should be a beauty of great provenance makes it feel special. Crazy as it is, I feel a connection to this boat I’ve only seen in pictures. Seeing on Totem’s team the names and faces of people Jamie and I have raced with or against (we have spent more years as racing sailors than we have as cruisers), chronicled in Jesse’s blog, knowing Jesse’s roots are in our home waters of Puget Sound- it all reinforces the link.

As it turns out, Jesse and his family are planning their own cruising adventures and plan to depart soon for blue horizons. We’ll be looking for them. And no, their cruising boat isn’t named Totem.

4 Responses

    1. Glad it could help. It’s nice to have a name that just suits you, isn’t it? Some people are lucky enough to have that already on the boat… but hey, a proper naming ceremony makes it all fun if it didn’t.

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