One of the pleasures of travelling and rowing is to learn of customs and traditions that are unique to different countries. One wonderful Swiss tradition is the naming and baptism of a new boat before it can be rowed. Just before Christmas I was privileged to participate in an emergency boat baptism on the Lake of Zurich. Actually the full event included a magnificent late afternoon row with the Berner Oberland Alps visible, a stop at a restaurant for refreshments which included multiple bottles of wine, and a superlative row back under the full moon. Pure magic.
But back to the baptism. This was with my wonderful friends of the Seeclub Küsnacht. The delightful tour was planned for my last day in Switzerland after a month there. The intention was to row to the Stämpfli (a Swiss rowing boat builder) dock, leave our boats on slings in their boat yard and go to the next door restaurant. The day before the row, Stämpfli called to say that the new touring quad that Seeclub Küsnacht had ordered was ready. Perfect timing. The club was trading in an older and much loved boat. The plan evolved to one of rowing the trade-in boat over and returning in the new boat. However, a new boat cannot be rowed without a name and without a baptism. Hence the emergency ceremony.
Christophorus, the old boat wore a farewell bouquet on its bow ball as it took its final spin on the lake, rowed by a crew of four gentlemen who had rowed together for close to 50 years and coxed by the club President. The new boat was waiting on slings, and the two boats were set up bow to bow. The bouquet was moved over to the new boat. Some speeches, we all drank shots of aged rum and a little was poured on the deck of the new boat. It was given an interim name. Now it could be rowed. But first we needed some snacks and wine.
The official naming and baptism will take place in March or April 2014. Safely in the Seeclub Küsnacht boathouse, the new boat cannot be rowed until then. The full ceremony sounds fantastic. There are flowers on the boat, music, speeches, toasts and a crew in special uniform stands with oars at attention, ready for the inaugural row. To get a sense of what this is like check out these photos (courtesy of Heidi Peier) http://seeclubkuesnacht.ch/html/galerie/galerie.html If you have trouble with the link, look for the album labelled “Taufe Lissero”, which means Baptism of Lissero.
I visited the Club de l’Aviron de Nyon, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, this December. I was interested to note on their website that they too had recently baptised a new recreational quad, aptly named “Vogalonga” http://www.avironnyon.com/index.php?id=50&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=33&cHash=1a773c78599771b9160164a6b1950fcd . And this past summer, the Ruderclub Zurich (where I also had the privilege of rowing – thank you!) also baptised some singles as part of their summer fest: http://www.rcz.ch/galerie/2013%20RCZ%20Sommerfest%2024_8/index.html
I am sure that there are many more such stories. What a lovely tradition.