On 17th March NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) asked the public to name the UK's new polar research ship.
The 15,000 ton vessel is currently being built at Cammell Laird, Merseyside, and is due to become operational in 2019. NERC said that they were "looking for something inspirational - something that will exemplify the ship's work." They hadn't factored in the British sense of humour and a man called James Hand. James Hand said "I read the story about naming the ship on the BBC website on Thursday (17th March) and some of the entries were really funny - my favourite was Clifford The Big Red Boat. I thought I would throw one into the ring." The name James came up with was 'Boaty McBoatface'.
This quickly caught the public's imagination. The public voted. The Boaty name soared 25,000 votes ahead of the second place suggestion, 'RRS Henry Worsley' and NERC's website crashed. Other names in the running were 'Pingu', 'Usain Boat' and 'It's Bloody Cold'. NERC responded saying that their staff were "very much enjoying hearing everyone's ideas" and that "we are pleased that people are embracing the idea in a spirit of fun." Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme he was "proud that we have silly names going around" but hoped that none of them were actually selected.
It has today been announced that the ship will be called 'RRS Sir David Attenborough'. Sir David has stated he is "truly honoured". The tongue-in-cheek name will also live on. One of the ship's remotely operated sub-sea vehicles will be named 'Boaty' in recognition of 124,000 votes. And what of James Hand who came up with Boaty McBoatface? He tweeted it was a "fitting and excellent choice". He is also pleased that the name Boaty would live on. "The name appeals to the child in us: that's one of the reasons it's been so popular. I never expected Boaty to become so popular as it has, and I'm glad NERC have chosen to harness that interest."
Sir David turns 90 this coming Sunday (8th May). When he was recently asked by the Daily Mail what his career high was, his answer was scuba diving. "The first time I put on scuba gear and dived on a coral reef”. Sir David loved “the unbelievable fact that you can move in three dimensions. That minute, when you suddenly move your weight, do that with your fin and know you’re going to move off. Suddenly, there are all these extraordinary creatures — wonderful shrimps or shoals of triggerfish or the looming shape of a shark. It’s an individual communion. That’s really revelatory and it’s part of our world”.
Big Red Blunder?
Meanwhile the chief executive of NERC is to be called before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on the 10th May to be questioned whether the process had been a "triumph of public engagement or a PR disaster". You couldn't make it up! Good luck Professor Duncan Wingham. I think your poll idea was spectacularly triumphant. The adventures of Boaty McBoatface aka David Attenborough are going to be far more closely watched by the public now.