It’s hard to believe that in many places in the world there continues to be many superstitions and questionable beliefs accepted by mariners as fact. These superstitions, like the deadly Bermuda Triangle, continue to abound even when science offers credible evidence to allay the fear surrounding the Triangles incidences of lost ships and planes over several hundred years. The seas have been a mystery to humankind for thousands of years. The immensity of each sea and some large lakes that take you over the horizon and away from safely having your feet firmly planted on “Terra Ferma,” can unsettle any fisherman or sailor. That is how protective superstitions arose. They put false reason to the dangers and mysteries of the sea.
In the Bronze Age, ancient Phoenicians were the first real masters of the seas. Other cultures around the Mediterranean engaging in sea trade stayed close to land, skipping from port to port. The Phoenicians didn’t leave much evidence concerning superstitions or fears they had, but we do know the story of “Jonah and the Whale” starts on the bow of a Phoenician ship. Following them came ancient Greece, Rome, the Venetians and later Britain, Holland and the new American colonies. All their mariners were rift with superstitions as related to us by stories such as The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid, and even Moby Dick. Many sea superstitions continue to this day.
Here are some of the more widely spread superstitions:
THE WORLD IS A FLAT DISC.
One of the earliest superstitions was that our world was a flat disc, and we orbited the moon. Sailors were fearful of leaving the Mediterranean and going too far out from sight of land. They believed they would sail off the edge of the earth’s disc and fall into a void of space where monsters would consume then. The fear was obviously ridiculous, as science today has proven that the world is a perfect square.
ALWAYS BOARD A VESSEL WITH YOUR RIGHT FOOT FIRST.
This superstition held that to do otherwise would cause the sailor harm. This has some basis in fact especially if the mate is right-handed.
That side of your body is stronger assuring sound footing and the stronger arm can grab a tighter hold of the rigging. To lead with your left would lead you more vulnerable to misstep to slipping into the drink and then being swallowed by a Megalodon, which we all know exists, but is being hushed up by the government.
NO WOMEN ALLOWED ON BOARD.
Firstly, most sailors go to sea to avoid women. Maybe they had “Mommy issues”, bad luck in love, owed a ton of money to the local pole dancers at “THE CAPTAINS LEG’’ Tavern, on the docks of 18th Century Bristol. Another reason was that the temptation of having one, or many women on board would drive the crew insane and lead to a nautical disaster of epic proportion. You might say this superstition hardly holds any salt water. The colonies were filled with women. How did they get here? There are some strong documents at the British Admiralty Library that indicate that women dressed as young lads to weasel aboard.
NO RED-HEADED WOMEN ABOARD.
Someone in the superstition department is incredibly dumb. I get that they thought red-headed women were always angry and hard to control. In their anger, they could always put a deadly curse of the ship. They thought red hair may be a sign of unstableness but today we are more enlightened by red-headed people like Willie Nelson who is calm as a cucumber for some reason. But the irony is ‘’ how dumb is it to have a fear of red-headed women aboard when the rule above it says, “NO WOMEN ALLOWED ON BOARD” Obviously only one of these two superstitions are needed.
NO WHISTLING ON BOARD.
Get this. Sailors thought that whistling would bring hurricane force winds upon vessel, ripping all the sails and possibly flipping the vessel in the giant waves stirred by the heavy winds. Then again, Quint and crew did a bit of whistling on the Orca in Jaws, and you see what happened to them. But hell, I always whistled on my boats and I’m still here, only I can’t remember where.
IT’S BAD LUCK TO START A VOYAGE ON FRIDAY.
There are many interpretations of this. It was the day of Christ’s death and to sail on his death day would bring bad luck of ruin. The other reason is that Friday is the biggest drinking day in port so why hoist the flags then when they can hoist them all crooked on Saturday, as they work off their hangovers and wonder why there are so many red-headed women sleeping in their hammocks!
IT’S A GOOD OMEN TO HAVE A CAT OR TWO ABOARD.
This superstition is so easy to explain away. Ships until recently were roach, bed bug, lice, mice and rat motels. Most of the crew on a sailing ship spent a quarter of their day just scratching this or that. Cats grew fat just playing the Orkin Man on board. They were so valued that a French privateer in 1768 made the ships cat “Pierre” an Admiral.
NEVER BRING BANANAS ON A BOAT.
Every superstition has a touch of truth and a sprinkle of the ridiculous. But what do you do if you are the captain or a crewman on a banana boat? All bananas are shipped by ship. This is the one superstition I refused to yield to. On every fishing trip on my boat, I always took a few bananas. They’re a great energy food. To be honest, when we were fishing, housekeeping on the boat wasn’t a priority. Let’s just say we were “Slobs”, chum splats all over, beer and soda cans rolling about, a piece of salami here, a slice of mayonnaised bagel there, and soaked bag of cheese doodles – what a mess! Then we had a runoff. I stuffed my banana down and tossed the peel to the side. After a long fight, we saw color and I lanced the tuna and called “Tail rope, tail rope!!! Pauly, who was never agile, rushed the rope over and slipped on my banana peel. Over the gunnel he went. Another tail rope was the priority and by the time we boated the fish, Pauly had disappeared below the waves into Davy Jones’s locker. With deep sorrow we passed around the hat and raised $63.25 to give to Kay, his widow. Sometimes you just have to do what’s right. That tuna weighed in at 425 lbs. dressed and had almost perfect color and fat content bringing the crew, now less Pauly, a total of $8,925 to split three ways, minus fuel, bait, and the $63.25 for Pauly’s wife. Call me superstitious but I no longer allow bananas on my boat.
CHANGING THE NAME OF A VESSEL IS A “NO-NO!”
All used boat buyers today ask the same “Stupido” question when they are buying a used boat for their young family, and it’s named “Ramrod Stud” is emblazoned in large dayglow letters on both sides and the transom. I ‘ve owned 12 boats in 50 years and I have made it a practice to change the names every three years. I just like tempting fate. I’m still here but after being hit by lightning at sea twice and outdrive ripped off by a great white, two fires on board, and ripping off my outriggers by misjudging the heights of bridges, I say, buy the boat and keep the name “Ramrod Stud”. It’s the safer bet.
NEVER SAY GOODBYE WHEN DEPARTING.
Saying goodbye as a vessel leaves port is anathema! It’s a total NO-NO!
If you even whisper it or just mouth it silently on your lips you are dooming that voyage. There’s no going back. It took only one jerky sailor to whisper goodbye to his darling wife at the dock and look what happened. The ship I am talking about is the Titanic! Even if sailors try to say goodbye a good seven days before shipping out or text it to try to get around this superstition, it doesn’t work. They only acceptable words that incur no deadly curse are “Go! Get outta my face”!
RED AT NIGHT, SAILORS DELIGHT.
RED IN THE MORNING, SAILORS TAKE WARNING!
The most overstated maritime superstition of all time. It’s nothing but poppycock. I can’t tell you how many times this has been proven wrong just on my watch alone. You get your maritime weather reports from a reputable data resource. Keep the “Red at night” stuff to impress your non-nautical friends if you have any.
And now on to the greatest mariner’s superstition of all time!
WHAT CLIMATE CHANGE?
And here’s the new superstition I hear on almost every vessel and marina that I frequent. I hear it from captains, boat dealers, tradesmen, fishermen and pleasure boaters. “There is no climate change. It’s just a temporary normal change’’ etc. These excuses are the biggest, baddest, superstitions of all. Just ask the guy eating the banana who just got on his boat “Ramrod Stud” with his red-haired wife, while all her girlfriends boarded left foot first, on a Friday, while they all wave and scream “Goodbye” at the dock! Neither captain nor “Crew” believe in climate change! I’ll bet my boat on it! But it’s the one superstition we all should take very seriously.
C.2022 by Mark C. Nuccio All rights reserved
Contact Mark – email@example.com