The Name

Altair is the boat’s original name, given in the early ’60s and safely carrying the boat around the world. When we bought the boat, we decided not to mess with a good thing. Plus, we liked the name.

Altair is the 12th brightest star in the night sky. The word “Altair” is Arabic for “the flyer”, from the phrase نسر الطائر “an-nasr at-ta?ir”, meaning “the flying eagle”. The star has been noted for its extremely rapid rotation and, as one of the closest stars visible to the naked eye, Altair can be used for celestial navigation. It is also the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, which is Latin for the word “Eagle”.

The name Altair is referenced by many science fiction works, including Star Trek, Buck Rogers, and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It is also the name of a couple of cities around the world, a few companies, a sci-fi magazine in Australia, a number of ships in the US Navy, and a classic schooner built in 1935 by the renowned designer William Fife.

The star Altair is also the subject of a love story in Chinese mythology, that is the basis of Qi Xi, The Night of Sevens, sometimes called the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The Story of Cowherd and Weaver Girl, is told in the late summer when the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky over China. There are many variations, but the basic story is that a young cowherd named Niulang (meaning: “the cowherd”, and the star Altair) happens across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he steals their clothes and waits to see what will happen.

The fairy sisters elect the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (meaning: “the weaver girl”, and the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She does so, but since Niulang sees her naked she must agree to his request for marriage. She proves to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang a good husband, and they are very happy together. But the Goddess of Heaven finds out that a mere mortal has married one of the fairy girls and is furious. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratches a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever (thus forming the Milky Way, which separates Altair and Vega). Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae).

Once a year all the magpies in the world take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, the seventh night of the seventh moon. Thus the Night of Sevens is celebrated. This year, 2006, the seventh month is a Chinese Lunar Calendar Leap Month, and is repeated, thus resulting in 2 Qi Xi days, approximately 1 month apart: July 31st and August 30, of 2006.

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