To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Documentation, Part II

Documentation is officious nonsense; there is a lot of documentation. What -- precisely -- is the point of a "Documented" vessel? Primarily, the USCG agrees to recognize our name. They agree so strongly that they assign a number as a surrogate for the name. That's right. The privilege of documenting your vessel's name gets you an ID number that you must use in addition to the documented name.

Indeed, the numbers must be visible, 3"-tall letters that can't be removed without damaging the hull. The name -- meh -- do what you think is best.

Why name a vessel when the only thing that a name gets you is a number?

Weather Window

Sailing is about respecting the environment and working with the weather. As true while working on the boat as it is when sailing. We've been waiting almost a month to put the name on the boat.

It turns out that you can't just toss the name up on the transom. You have to wait for just the right weather. We were starting to get worried that we would not get the right weather any time soon. And that lead to worrying about when we would launch. There's a long chain of dominoes all poised and ready to fall, waiting for the weather.

And waiting. And checking the marine forecast.


Picking a name is both fun and hard. We went through several gyrations of choosing a name. The "Other" List -- Item 3 -- Pick a Name and Narrowing the Choices were long lists of candidate names.

The name -- and a "hailing port" -- must be affixed on or near the transom. Traditionally, it was painted on. Our boat's two previous names were both painted on. And removing the paint was wretched work. The hailing port was stick-on vinyl letters -- much easier to cope with.

The painted letters left a semi-permanent residue. The skin of sailboat is a mirror-like layer of gelcoat that's only a few microns thick. Sanding is a dicey proposition because you can -- if inattentive -- remove the skin and be forced into a fairly complex repair. We limited ourselves to rubbing compound, liberally applied, and buffed until the original colors were a bit more muted.

Vinyl letters are the preferred 21st century solution. It works like this.


First, find a site that sells vinyl letters. There are dozens. I looked at six or so. The good ones have cool on-line applications that you can use to design and preview your transom lettering. Font. Color. Size. Other Graphics. Effects. Good fun. I used Speedy Signs. Why? Typography.

You must find a font you like. I had a roommate in college who was a type/font/graphic artist type. That was a very cool thing to be exposed to. A plain-Jane sans-serif font (e.g. Helvetica) has it's place -- it's very readable. Old wooden boats, however, are often painted with fancier-looking serif fonts, sometimes based on Garamond, Bodoni or even Baskerville.

But Red Ranger -- to us -- evokes the Tolkien rangers: Aragorn and Arwen, Faramir and Eowyn -- the gray and green rangers. Tolkien's own Tengwar font is a bit crazy. So, how about a nice hand-lettering font? We looked at Uncial-like fonts, including Kelt, and Stonehenge. Cool, but...

We also flirted with a distressed font like Immortal. Like the letters in the font case were worn out; kind of cool.

That lead us to fonts like Viner Hand and Black Adder. These say "old-school" and "hands-on".

In contrast, our neighbors on "Nederland" used the font that exactly matches the Beneteau logo in size, shape and color. The Beneteau gray is part of the design.

Cellophane Tape

When you order your letters you get a big roll of cellophane tape. You also get instructions and you can order a nice squeegee and a bottle of "don't stick yet" that will slick up the surface for you.

During the ordering process we had a nice conversation with folks at Speedy Signs. They were worried that we might have misjudged the size of our lettering. The Black Adder font has massive ascenders and descenders. The piece of vinyl would be big, but the actual letters in and among the curlicues would be smallish.

It was pleasant to have someone looking over our shoulder making sure we were getting our money's worth. The rule is that the letters must be 4" tall -- we're just barely there.

Your roll of tape will have the vinyl letters on the sticky side. For transport, they then stick the tape to a big roll of waxed paper. So putting the letters on the boat requires you to essentially peel the wax paper off, stick the tape and vinyl letters to the boat and then, gently, peel the tape off, leaving the letters on the boat.

No Wind

Experts suggest that you wait for a day with no wind at all. None. Remember, you'll be waving around a big, expensive piece of cellophane tape.

But we're parked just a few yards from Jackson creek on the Chesapeake. It's almost always breezy. We tried a dry-run last weekend with a light breeze. That showed how much breeze was too much.

We put the name on so we could eyeball the size and position and make sure we had indeed ordered the right kind of thing. The swim ladder, vents, and exhaust pipe are all part of the problem to be solved.

It fit, it looked pretty good. But a light breeze made the big sheet of tape and wax paper unwieldy. Okay, so 10kn is too much wind.


Saturday afternoon was still. Not flat calm, but very, very light and fitful breezes. The water near shore in Jackson creek was glassy smooth.

As we looked at the weather, and the launch date, we decided to go for it. There's "perfect" and there's "as good as it gets around here".

The name is our identity; as a couple and as the crew of a vessel. It's a big banner. It's what you hail on the radio. It's on your greeting cards. It's how you remember all those people you meet in the marinas, bars and restaurants. "Henry of Legacy". "Paul and Françoise of Sea Turtle". "Ruth and her daughter and granddaughter of Alexandra." "Peter and Anita of Nederland". "Steve and Cindy Ann of Red Ranger."