Naming Netcher

One of the few things my father and I held in common was the place where our passions intersected – the water. He was an engineer by both profession and temperament. If you asked him what it was like outside you were likely to get an answer that invoked barometric pressure. I normally stick with adjectives.
Dad’s world was cluttered with slide rules, voltmeters, disassembled radios, and old mayonnaise jars full of washers, hex nuts, and bushings.
My world has always looked more like the back room of a sporting goods store with a lot of books on the floor. The old mayonnaise jars were usually full of old mayonnaise.
But when it came to boats we were on the same page; I think it had to do with the DNA. Years ago I became interested in tracing my family tree and I went to a gathering of distant aunts and uncles. We managed to document a lot of interesting roots and branches but there was also a good deal of family mythology passed around, including a reference to a great-great-great-grand Currier who was supposedly engaged in the China trade and was either owner or master of a ship called Morning Star.
I spent a lot of time rummaging through the Peabody Museum, the New England Historical Society, the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and some libraries on the North Shore. I found a ton of boats named Morning Star, but nothing connecting them to my bloodline.
I did, however, come across an interesting branch of Curriers who lived as fishermen on the Isle of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, in the late 1600s. In a footnote, the book explained that there was a curious courting ritual on the Isle of Shoals in those days. It seems that young men would go down to the beach and, when they’d see a girl they liked, throw rocks at her as a demonstration of affection. Imagine my excitement at finding there, in that simple paragraph, not only my ancestral connection to the sea, but also a possible link to the loutish behavior displayed by Currier men for generations.
Looking back, it seems we always had some kind of boat to mess around with when I was a kid. There was the big old clinker-built rowboat, steady as a tug, in which I had my first rowing lessons. Then there was the punt that Dad made down in the basement one winter and later traded in for a sleek little dinghy that I would row around in, endlessly fantasizing about John Paul Jones. They were practical boats, every one of them, because Dad was nothing if not a very practical man. Then one day, when I was about eight or nine years old, he totally lost his mind.
That was the day he came home from work and told me to go out to the car for a minute, he wanted to show me something. There, sitting on the lawn next to the driveway, was a boat I could only imagine in my dreams: a gleaming white hydroplane with red flames painted on the bow. I was speechless. I would sooner have expected Dad to come home dressed as a Viking than for him to buy me a gleaming white hydroplane with red flames painted on the bow.
On the back of the hydroplane was a used five-horsepower Champion outboard. Now granted, in this day of hundred-mile-an-hour cigarette boats, it may not seem like much of a rig, but to an eight-year-old kid in the Eisenhower era, it was an out-of-the-park grand slam.
What’s really odd is that, for the life of me, I can’t tell you what became of that boat. I can recall, just like it were yesterday, the sound of that Champion engine plugging away behind me, the wind in my face, and the waves slapping the hull beneath me, but as to exactly what happened to that little boat, it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe it’s in some vault in the sky with my first bike, my first sled, all my old baseball cards, and Regina Kerns, my first girlfriend – they all seemed to disappear as well. But most likely it simply got lost in the shuffle a few years later when we got “the speedboat.”
Once again, by today’s standards, a fourteen-foot plywood runabout with a thirty-five horse Johnson outboard is not going to turn a lot of heads, but to a fourteen-year-old kid with salt water on the brain, it was the big time. Our friends, the Fullers, had a cottage out on Lake Tashmoo, so we kept the boat right there. Their two daughters, Lissa and Linda, were like sisters to me, so that’s where I spent a lot of my summers in my early teens, waterskiing on the lake, fishing out on Middle Ground, and, as I got more and more proficient handling the boat, taxiing people back and forth to Woods Hole.
Those were pretty heady times for a kid and they instilled in me a love for boats and the water that’s never diminished. After I was married I became hooked on sailing and bought a little day sailer, which I kept up near our home in Newburyport, but by the time we built the house on the Vineyard I knew I was ready to make the jump up to something a little more substantial.
About that time, Dad was selling his sailboat, a twenty-four-foot fiberglass sloop. It was a very pretty boat, an old Sparkman & Stephens design with a huge cockpit and a small cabin that slept two comfortably and four in a pinch. It seemed like it would be a good way for me to move up to a larger boat without getting in over my head. And of course, as a bonus, Dad was right over in Falmouth and I knew he’d love to come out sailing with us and not only show me the ropes, but spend some time with his grandson.
We cut a deal. The boat was in decent shape so there wasn’t a lot of work to be done; however, there was one problem: the name. I realize it’s supposed to be bad luck to rename a boat, but I felt I had no choice. The boat was named Guillemot. I believe it’s some sort of bird – a French bird by the sound of  it. Which would be all well and good if I were a Frenchman, but the problem was and to this day still is – I can’t pronounce it. Too many silent l’s and t’s. I felt like I was going to sprain my tongue every time I tried to get it out. So I changed the name of the boat to Netcher.
Netcher was the name of an imaginary friend I had when I was about three years old. He used to fly in from California every morning and we’d have breakfast together. Then we’d stuff cotton balls in the keyholes. Don’t try to understand it, it’s one of those only-child kind of deals.
I liked the name a lot. To begin with, it reunited me with my old childhood buddy, but beyond that, I just liked the sound of it. Netcher . . . Netcher . . . Netcher. . . . It was fun to say. Netcher . . . Netcher . . . MAYDAY, THIS IS NETCHER –  it leaped off the tongue. It also had a certain gravitas and my friend Jimmy felt the same way.
Jimmy has been around the harbor for a long time and has seen a lot of boat names. He’s like me; he hates those cutesy names, the ones like A One Ana Tuna or Anita Cocktail – he doesn’t think a boat name should have a squirting plastic flower in its lapel.
Jimmy told me one day that before I had ever even met him, he was driving down State Road behind this sailboat that was being towed behind a truck and he couldn’t help noticing the name: Netcher. The rest of the day, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. What the hell did it mean, anyway?
I personally think that’s the beauty of the name; it sounds like a word you should know, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Is it a Greek god? A remote constellation? A person who netches?
No one knows.
Jimmy went home that night and checked out the dictionary, he checked out the encyclopedia, he checked out Bulfinch’s Mythology, and he couldn’t come up with a thing.
So when Jimmy found out that I was the proud owner of Netcher, he was dying to find out just what the name meant.
“Well, Jimmy,” I explained, “he was a guy who used to fly in from California every morning and have breakfast with me when I was about three.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding – that was it?” he said. I sensed anger.
“Well, not exactly,” I added, searching for a way to pad Netcher’s resumé, “we’d also stuff cotton balls in all the keyholes.”