sunken ship

Sailing Superstitions Part II

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?

sunken ship

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.



SS 3

Sailing Superstitions

Wednesday October 22, 2014


As we embark on our next journey from Madeira to the Canary Islands, I’d like to take a moment to talk about sailing superstitions. Let us not forget our last journey to get where we are from Sao Miguel Azores. I swear we did everything right and still had what I consider our worst overall passage to date. Maybe there was something out there I missed and need to pay closer attention to?

Most of the superstitions in the maritime world have been around quite awhile, and based on technology for the modern day seafarer versus our gadget-less ancestors, I can see why. Matt and I often joke that we would not be able to take this kind of trip if technology was even 30 years behind where it is today. Without our satellite phone, electronic navigation and charts, weather fax and even decent VHF radio signals, we would be completely lost. Celestial navigation? Hah, yeah right. Taking a position with a sextant? Nope. Basing our entrance to a tricky harbor on lining up with a building as a guide post that may not even be there anymore? No thanks.

We’ll be the first to admit that we heavily rely on all the tech that’s offered to us today, but it’s easy to see why the mariner’s of yesteryear based a lot of it on fate and superstitions. If I thought that keeping flowers off the boat or speaking to a red head before they spoke to me would give me any kind of control over the situation or guarantee me a good passage, I’d probably do them too. 

I think this quote on an article on Seafaring Superstitions sums up this theory perfectly.

You are a 19th Century mariner, living in the dank, dark quarters of a sailing ship, at the mercy of capricious wind and weather, six weeks from your last sighting of land. There is no marine weather forecast, no radio, no satellite communication; in fact no communication with the world as you knew it for periods ranging from months to years. You are virtually isolated from the rest of humanity. The captain is the absolute dictator; the ship is his kingdom. You and the rest of the crew are serfs. Small wonder you grasp at any support you can, whether real or imaginary.

LOOK Insurance is amassing the largest compilation of superstitions and when you read more they can find aasking us to give our personal list of what we follow to avoid toil and trouble on the water. So here I will break into two sections, popular superstitions that we follow for particular reasons, and also little ones I’ve made up myself.


Well Known Superstitions

Never Leave for a Passage on a Friday

If we ever follow one superstition, this one would be it. This is supposed to be incredibly bad luck, and we’d probably laugh it off if not for all of our modern day fellow sailors I’ve read about that have done just this and encountered the worst storms they’ve ever seen or major damage to their vessel in one way or another. None of these sound worth tempting fate for, and even if we see that a weather window will give us a perfect opportunity to leave on a Friday, we won’t do it. We may try and find a sneaky way around it by leaving at 11:50 pm on a Thursday night, but never ever will will leave on a Friday for any jaunt of more than 100 miles. The first time we encountered this, before even really hearing about the superstition, was our first overnight trip on Serendipity, traveling across Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee. Storms of epic proportions, especially for beginner sailors, dodging boats in the Chicago to Mac race, and total sleep deprivation.

We thought we could counteract this superstition, or at least worry about it on someone else’s boat, when we tried to join our friend Luis on his motor vessel last summer for a trip from Guatemala to the Bay Islands of Honduras, leaving on a Friday morning. The trip turned out to be ill fated from the beginning and was aborted before anything could really go wrong. So it stands, never leave for passage on a Friday.

This is an incredibly old superstition with religious background since it was written in the bible that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Other bad days to leave on due to religious affiliation are: December 31st (the day Judas hung himself), the first Monday in April (when Cain slew Able), and the second Monday in August (when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed). Huh. Who knew?

Don’t spit in the Ocean

Spitting in anyone’s face is just plain disrespectful, and Neptune is no exception. Not that we’re the kind of slack jawed yokels that can’t keep our drool in our mouth, we very rarely have any reason to spit, but on the occasions that we do, we keep it in the sink while on passage. While in harbor though is a completely different story, I trust our anchor to keep us safe even though some pretty nasty storms have been thrown at it, and I say ‘Spit away’. Just don’t ever ask me to take that chance while underway. Let’s face it, the ocean, although calm and soothing at times, can also be one crazy biotch. We’ve been back and forth at each others throats sometimes and although I consider us frenemies I’d like to stay on her good side here for the next couple of months, so don’t tell her I’m calling her names behind her back.

SS 2

Think these guys are superstitious about their races?

My Personal Made-up Superstitions

Do not trim your hair or nails while at sea

This is supposed to anger Neptune, although I have no idea why. I’d actually never heard this was a known superstition until now, although the funny thing is, I’ve already found it incredibly true. Without even knowing that this act was supposed to bring storms with it, I swear I’ve learned through my own practice that it will in fact do just that. I’m not exaggerating, every time we’ve had a storm while on passage I most likely trimmed or bit my nails the previous day. After noticing this trend on previous sails in the Caribbean I purposely tried it on our Atlantic crossing, and guess what?, we got a storm the next day. I will no longer even think of touching my nails now while on passage. In fact, I’ll actually freak out if I break a nail on accident. I’ve also found out that giving myself a pedicure within a few days of a passage brings storms. Truth is, I’ve noticed that the longer I go without putting pretty little colors on my piggies, the nicer our passages have been. So my nails will now be polish free until we reach the Caribbean.

Use Blistex lip balm for more wind and Carmex for less wind

Do you know where I got this one from? Yup, our Atlantic crossing. I’m not even sure what day into our crossing during my sleep deprived state that I was able to catch on to this little trick, and even if it’s just in my head, I promise it’s worked for me. The days we were in dead calms with barely 5 knots behind us carrying us along, if I put on my favorite Bistex lip balm the wind would pick up a little bit. Now maybe this meant just up to 8 knots where it wasn’t doing us a whole heck of a lot of good, but it was still something. Then on one day when we had one of our rare storms and I couldn’t find my Bistex, I turned to my Carmax instead. I’m not even joking, within an hour the winds died down at least 5-10 knots, which in my book is still soothing when you’re getting cannonballs of water exploding against your hull. I tried this trick again on our sail from the Azores to Madeira, and just and promised, if the winds threatened to stay above 30 I’d just swipe on my Carmex and they’d calm right down to mid 20’s.

SS 1

I’ve had a lot of fun writing this post, and in searching for a little more background on some of these maritime superstitions, I came across this quote:

Animals including particular birds were thought to bestow either bad or

good fortune. Swallows seen at sea signified good luck while curlews and

cormorants were bad luck. And killing a gull, dolphin or albatross was especially

troubling as these creatures were believed to hold the soul of deceased sailors.

All I want to know is….why would you kill any of these animals? Why??!! I hope that it is bad luck to kill a dolphin, you deserve to have your soul stolen if you do.

On another animal side note, who knew that black cats bring good luck at sea? Since Georgie is partially black, I wonder if she brings us partial good luck.

What sailing superstitions do you follow or have your made up? I’d also be curious to know, what ones do you blatantly disregard, and why?

Once you’ve thought of your answer, head over to LOOK Insurance and take their boating superstition survey!

racing on Muskegon Lake