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ON THE WATERFRONT

What's in a Name? Craftsmanship, Artistry and Punny Business

January 20, 1990|SHEARLEAN DUKE

Houses have addresses, but boats--like children--have names. And for some, choosing a boat name is more difficult than naming a baby.

When Paul and Jeanie Lowry bought their 35-foot powerboat, it took them two years to name it.

"We weren't going to name this boat until we came up with something different and clever," recalls Jeanie Lowry.

But in the pun-filled world of boat names, that is not easy, as the Lowrys soon discovered. The Lowrys finally settled upon Conjeanie L I (read that "congenial one" and it helps to know that Jeanie Lowry is as congenial as they come).

"Once we thought of it I was sure that was it," Jeanie Lowry says. "We've had the boat for 15 years now. Everybody loves the name."

And if you like Conjeanie L I, you'll love Cost A Yacht More, Sloop de Jour, Sol Searcher, Slippery When Wet, Priority Won, Devocean, Seaducer and the hundreds of other personal, professional and sometimes unprintable puns.

"It used to be that people named boats for their wives," says Robert Kline, who has been painting on boat names for 16 years. "But more and more people are beginning to name their boats after their professions.

"One of the most common doctor names is Pair A Docs (for a boat owned by two doctors)."

Other doctor names, according to Kline, include Laughing Gasser (an anesthesiologist); Jack of Hearts (heart surgeon); Bone Bender (chiropractor) and Tooth Fairy (dentist).

Other memorable names, according to Kline, include Defense Rests (an attorney); Loan Shark (a banker) and Sails Calls (a salesman).

"Originality is the key," says Kline. "The big thing is they don't want what everyone else has. They want something different. They want to stand out from the crowd."

When Fred Martin and his partner Jim Moore, both former sailors, got ready to name their new 37-foot powerboat, they were determined to come up with something that expressed the guilt they felt at switching from sail to power.

"We felt like traitors," says Martin. "One of the names we considered was Benedict Arnold, but that was too long."

Martin and Moore settled on Turncoat.

"Most people in boating get it right away," says Martin.

Once boat owners have chosen a name, they call a professional such as Kline, one of half a dozen people in Orange County who specialize in boat lettering.

Some, like Kline, paint names on using a stencil, while others paint free-hand, without stencils. Other boat letterers use computer-generated vinyl letters, often accompanied by color graphics.

At Pacific Signcenter in Dana Point, owner Bob Smith uses two computers to produce letters, logos and drawings.

"We got in this business four years ago because we found a market that needed to be filled," Smith says. "Most lettering was done by painting at that time."

One of his most challenging jobs, Smith says, involved creating and applying three large killer whales--all done in vinyl.

Kline, a graphic artist who estimates that he has done 8,000 to 9,000 boat names, also uses a computer, but still does hand-cut vinyl lettering as well as painting.

For Kline, one of his most challenging--and expensive--jobs involved applying two 15-foot-long names in 22-karat gold leaf on each side of a 72-foot sailboat. The cost was $6,000.

Most boat names, however, cost substantially less, Kline adds. Depending upon the number and size of the letters, a job could cost as little as $100 or as much as $1,000. Pacific Signcenter even produces do-it-yourself kits that allow boat owners to order names by mail.

Despite the increasing popularity of computer-generated vinyl lettering, there are still a few people, such as Ron Nawrocki, who specialize in free-hand painting.

"Lots of people are getting into vinyl letters and spray on letters," says Nawrocki, who has been painting boat names for 11 years. "Younger people are getting into stencil and stick-on letters. I only know of two other guys besides me who do free-hand lettering (in this area)."

Nawrocki, who runs Ron's Yacht Lettering in Fountain Valley, learned sign-painting from his grandfather. Later, he began to specialize in yachts and now he estimates that he does about 12 to 15 boat names a week in the summer and about half that many in the winter.

"I think there is still a big call for hand-lettering," he says. "The vinyl letters and the spray-on letters never have the warmth of the hand-lettered jobs."

No matter what method they use, most yacht letterers work on boats in the water, where finding a steady place to stand or sit is often difficult.

"Most powerboats have swim steps," says Kline, "and I work from there. But if there is no swim step . . . a lot of those I do upside down (by leaning over the transom of the boat)."

Luke Griffin, whose Corona company, Trim It, does computer-generated letters and graphics, recalls hanging over the side of a dinghy to do one job and actually standing in water up to his nose to do another.

What is really tough, says Nawrocki, is being perched in a dinghy, painting a name, when a passing boat zooms by throwing a wake that leaves you bouncing in the air. "That happens all the time," says Nawrocki.

Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life. On the Waterfront appears each Saturday, covering boating life styles as well as ocean-related activities along the county's 42-mile coastline.

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