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Superstitions - The Sailor's Way

Cutty Sark Figurine

Photo: Wikipedia

Do you have any superstitions? Do you know where they came from? Did they originate from an ancestor of yours, or was your family somehow involved in the sea? It's amazing how many of our English sayings come from the sea.

But let's not get sidetracked Let's go over the most common superstitions the sailors believed...

1-No Women On Board Unless They Are Naked

Women distracted the sailors from their duties. This behaviour would anger the intemperate seas who would then take their revenge out on the ship. But naked women on board were completely welcome, as you can imagine. Records show it was because they calmed the sea. That is why ships’ typically had a figure of a topless woman perched on the bow. Her bare breasts ‘shamed the stormy seas into calm’ and her open eyes guided the seamen to safety. This photo is the most decent one I could find.

2-Bananas Prohibited

In the 1700's, at the height of the trading empire between Spain and the Caribbean, most ships that disappeared happened to be carrying a cargo of bananas. Apparently, fishermen never caught anything while bananas were on board either. One of the reasons for what seemed a silly superstition, came about because bananas fermented quickly in the heat of the storage hull and produced deadly toxic fumes.

Also, a species of deadly spiders were known to hide inside banana bunches. Their lethal bites killed the crewman instantly, heightening the fear that banana cargos were a bad omen.

3-Grooming at Sea

Sailors weren’t allowed to shave at sea because of the cut-throat razors they used. For obvious reasons. So there you go chaps, no need to shave at sea. The myth went that if you shaved at sea you wouldn’t get any wind.

Hair and nail trimming were big no-nos too.

4-Son of A Gun

Male children who were born on a ship were referred to as a “Son of a Gun.” This was because the most convenient place to give birth in historic times (which I put as anytime before 1900) was on the gun deck. Imagine that. Apparently, it was good luck to have a male child born on the ship. But perhaps not for the mother actually giving birth, especially if it was over a gun barrel.

Ashmore Curtis was a lad born at sea, so perhaps the SV Ashmore owes her luck to him.

5-No Whistling on Board

I completely agree. Appart from the fact whistling or singing into the wind was know to ‘Whistle up a storm”, it would be highly annoying. Imagine sharing a cabin with a professional (King Julien from Madagascar comes to mind).

6-Red Sky at Night

Red skies at night sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Have you ever heard this as a sailor's saying? It's about the coming weather. I hear it in New Zealand as, Red skies at night, shepherds delight, red skies in the morning, shepherds warning. Seems true, most of the time.

7-Deathly Sayings

Some words were strictly avoided to ensure the ship and crew’s safe return. Including obvious ones like “drowned” and “goodbye”. If someone said “good luck” it was believed to bring bad luck. The only way to reverse the curse was by drawing blood, so usually, a good punch in the nose sufficed. 

8-Beware of Lurking Sharks

A shark following the ship was a sign of inevitable death.

9-Welcome Dolphins.

Dolphins swimming with the ship is a good sign. Unless you're on board the Ashmore and the crew are shooting at you.

10-Dreaded Days

Sailors wouldn't sail on these days:

Fridays – Considered unlucky, likely because Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday

Thursdays – This is Thor’s day. The god of thunders and storms.

First Monday in April – The day Cain slew Abel. Who knew? Not me.

Second Monday in August – The kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

Sunday - The only good day to set sail

11-Earrings & Tattoos - Going for the pirates look

A pierced earlobe on a sailor meant that he had sailed around the world or had crossed the equator. They wore gold hoop earrings because it brought good fortune. Some believed the gold possessed magical healing powers and served as a protective talisman that would prevent the wearer from drowning. Didn't seem to work for some.

Tattoos were also seen as lucky. Seafarers would usually tattoo a nautical star on their bodies as the North Star represented a signal that they were nearing home. Or in the Ashmore's case, the Southern Cross.

12-Never Change the Name of the Boat

Boats develop a life and mind of their own once they have been named and Christened. If you do rename the boat, you absolutely must have a re-naming ceremony. The ceremony can be performed by writing the current boat name on a piece of paper, folding the paper and placing it in a wooden box then burning the box. After, scoop up the ashes and throw them out to sea.

13-Pay Your Dues

Sailors that hadn’t paid their debts were blamed for storms and any other misfortunate events that would occur on the ship.

14-Avoid Gingers

Redheads were thought to bring bad luck to a ship. Mainly, if you happened to encounter one before boarding. However, if you could speak to the redhead before they got the chance to speak to you, you were saved. Ever heard of this? I wonder if redheads weren't allowed to be sailors.

15-Don’t Kill an Albatross

Seabirds were thought to carry the souls of dead sailors and it is considered bad luck to kill one. However, it is considered good luck if you see one. So, what was with the doctor and captain fishing for them on the Ashmore? Have you read that part yet? Left me wondering if that was the reason why they were hit with the hurricane. But no more spoiler alerts.

The Mary Celeste Mysterious Disappearance

Photo: Wikipedia

The greatest maritime mystery of all time was the disappearance of the Mary Celeste. The weird thing was, she didn't disappear, but her crew and passengers did. Considered a 'ghost' ship she was spotted by a Canadian brigantine on December 4, 1872, unmanned, just off the Azores. She was still in seaworthy condition, but all the crew were gone.

She'd been at sea for only a month with six months' worth of food and water on board. Her cargo was virtually untouched and the crew and passenger's belongings were still there, including all their valuables. So they can't have been pirated.

Some suggested the crew had been murdered and thrown overboard by Ottoman pirates. They frequently sailed the area, so it wasn't a far stretch of the imagination. However, British officials dismissed this or any foul play because there weren't any signs of violence. The most plausible theory suggests the crew and passengers embarked on a lifeboat and perished. The ship's cargo was full of barrels of alcohol. Perhaps they thought it was about to explode. Or a heap of spiders from the bananas freaked everyone out. Think I'd climb off too.

Do you know of any other superstitions?

Do you abide by these rules when you go to sea?   

Please feel free to leave a comment.

I love hearing from you.

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