We haven’t been out on the water in quite some time now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what my former life used to hold for me. The one I’m working so desperately hard to get back to. Days full of snorkeling, sunsets, sundowners, and a constant fresh breeze in my face. Gently swaying in harbor, long nights of stargazing and even the butterflies before a long passage. Which also happens to remind me of the long list of sailing superstitions I would run through in my head before we weighed anchor.
Last year I had written a post on a few biggies out there. I had covered things like ‘Never set sail on Friday‘, ‘Don’t spit in the ocean‘, and even some personal ones we’ve developed along the way. Like certain brands of lip balm can slightly control the wind. Personally, I’ve found out that if you want more wind, swipe on a little Blistex, and to calm it a little, dab on some Carmex.
In my previous post I barley even scratched the surface of the number of marine superstitions out there, and for your pleasure, I’ve dug up a few more good ones. Can you tell me what superstitions you follow, whether traveling by land or by sea?
Whistle for Wind
You might think it would be nice to whistle a little tune and get a steady breeze in return, but apparently you’re not supposed to whistle at all on a boat. Whistling is said to challenge the wind itself (since I guess if you think about it, you always refer to the wind as whistling through the trees, ect) and if you do whistle on board it is said to bring a storm about. I am married to a perpetual whistler who doesn’t even know he’s doing it most of the time, and luckily we’ve only faced a handful of storms so far, so I think this one is bull. But that doesn’t mean you’ll hear me whistling any tunes across the Atlantic. No use trying to tempt fate.
Having a woman on board is bad luck
Well, this boat couldn’t really travel without me on it (have you read about Matt’s nil attention span while navigating?), so we kind of have to disregard this one. It’s said that this curse can be counteracted if said woman is naked, but as we found out from our sail into Port Antonio, Jamaica, this seemed to hold opposite of being true. I’m not even sure how this superstition came about, but I’m sure it was a bunch of drunken men sitting around a bottle of rum one night while their petticoated counterparts were dressed to the nines in corsets, stockings, gowns, frills, ect, and they thought ‘We need to put an end to this. I know….let’s tell them that they’ll bring good luck to the passage if they run around in the buff!’.
Untying knots to get more wind
Not all superstitions are bad luck, and if used properly, this one can help a sailor out. Granted that they don’t take it too far. In nautical legend, it is said that knots have magical properties, including the ability to control the wind. Sailors believed in this so much that often times they would leave for passage with what were called wind-knots, where three separate knots were tied into a piece of rope. By untying the first knot, winds would fill in to a gentle breeze to give the sailor an easy and comfortable passage. Untying the second knot is said to make winds fill in enough to the point where reducing sail necessary, giving quite a fast and maybe a rough ride. Untie the third knot….and you unleash the full fury of Poseidon and would be lucky to walk away from what comes at you.
Don’t bring bananas on board
This is one of the very first sailing superstitions we ever learned about, yet refuse to follow it. All along the east coast of the US we were always bringing bananas on board, making banana bread, and having nice leisurely motors down the ICW. Hmmm, I wonder if the fact that we weren’t doing any actual sailing while having bananas on board was key.
There’s a few reasons having bananas on board is bad luck, the most popular and well known reason is that one could slip on the peel and fall overboard. Sounds logical enough. But after researching a little more I found out that part of this angst came from back in the days of slave ships. Bananas being transported on these ships would give off a fermented gas which would become trapped below deck. Prisoners being kept in the hold would give in to this gas and die. It’s also said that a particular species of spider with a lethal bite would hide in banana bunches and bite crew members after being brought aboard, causing that person to die. So yeah, I can see why sailors may have looked down on this delicious fruit before realizing the scientific reasons for all of their crew members demise.
Renaming a boat
With two boats under our belts so far, we’ve yet to rename any of them so far. Our first boat came to us nameless, and even though we’ve heard this is just as bad as renaming a boat, we knew it would only be in our care for a few years before passing it on to a new owner and didn’t want to take away the opportunity for a dream name someone might have in mind. Serendipity was not our first choice of name when it came to our second boat, but it was good enough. Truth be told, we didn’t leave that one due to the fact of superstitions, but only because it would have been too much of a pain to change the name through the Coast Guard registration.
Why is it such bad luck to change the name of a boat? Legend has it that when a boat is named it has been enlivened and should be given the same respect as one would give to a person. To alter the name would bring disrespect to this being…unless you follow the proper steps to wipe the slate clean and start over again. There are many different ways to properly rename a boat, but usually end with a bottle of champagne being broken over it. Hopefully it doesn’t have to be too good of champagne, because our kitty isn’t that deep.