Superstitious Sailors

Sailors are a superstitious bunch. In fact I think if you followed all the various different sailing superstitions, then it would be quite hard to actually sail anywhere any time! Perhaps it is easier for sailors to blame bad weather, breakages or losing a race on bad luck borne out of some superstitious behavior, than it is to blame ourselves and admit that we made a mistake? One superstition that we usually adhere to on Wildwood is that bananas bring bad luck when you are racing. We specify the racing bit as we do actually quite like eating banana’s, particularly while cruising, so by adhering to the superstition, but narrowing it down to just one particular part of sailing still allows us to get around the ‘rule’ when it suits us! The banana superstition for us came about one day when I was crewing on Natural Magic many years ago. We ripped a sail, lost a man over the side (we did get him back again) and hence lost the race. As we were sitting around talking about what went wrong, one of the crew produced a banana from his bag, and they were blamed for all the bad luck that we’d had! From that point on, whenever anything went wrong the crew would ask “Who has bought banana’s on board…!?” Inevitably there might be someone at least with some banana cake or banana flavoured something, and the superstition was perpetuated! image Who bought the banana’s? We did have banana’s on board our recent delivery trip, and no bad luck came our way, so we have now proved that bananas are in fact only bad luck when you are racing! Other sailing superstitions also claim that it is bad luck to leave port on a Friday – not proven yet by us thankfully. It is also supposed to be bad luck to change the name of a boat unless a certain ceremony is performed, again not yet tested so we cannot vouch for this one either. Whistling is supposed to bring more wind – might try that one next time we are becalmed, but this isn’t usually a problem in our part of the world – right in the heart of the notorious roaring 40’s!

Hard to photograph waves showing how big they were!

Hard to photograph waves showing how big they were!

Must stop whistling now! Thankfully there aren’t any ladders or black cats on the boat, although I have heard that cats on boats can bring good luck. I am allergic to cats though, so I don’t think that sneezing the whole time I am out sailing would be so lucky. One superstitious activity I am looking forward to partaking in is the first crossing of the equator. I hear that there is a bit of a ceremony and offering to King Neptune. From pictures I have seen recently on the Volvo Ocean Racing boats, the crew seems to be covered in some kind of goo, and everyone dresses up in strange costumes. Sounds like lots of fun to me! What kind of ceremony did you perform when you crossed the equator for the first time? To gather up good luck, we have a piece of New Zealand Greenstone or Pounamu on board. This was given to me by a local Maori tribe who I was doing some work for at the time. The Maori people have lots of interesting superstitions and legends. The Greenstone is considered a Taonga or treasure and brings good luck to the one who is wearing it, but you can’t buy it for yourself – it has to be given to you as a gift. The Greenstone is hanging around one of the handles on the boat and brings us good luck. We also consider it lucky to see dolphins, and we just love it when they cruise along with us on the bow of the boat as if they are escorting us on a safe passage.

It is also good luck to see a red sky at night! Or bad luck to get a red sky in the morning. The rhyme goes “Red sky at night – sailors delight, red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning” we do take note of this one, as of course it is always important to keep an eye on the weather when you are out sailing! sunrise over the Bay of Islands Look Insurance Services did a survey on some sailing superstitions and have put together a funny video clip on the various superstitions. You can check it out by clicking here.

Anyway I consider myself to be a very lucky person. Lucky to have such a great partner, family and wonderful group of friends, lucky to have so many new friends via my blog, lucky to have such a lovely yacht who looks after us so well, lucky to have my health and a wonderful son. They say if you believe something then it is so much more likely to happen, so that is my newly founded superstition – “bad luck doesn’t happen to lucky people” I like that and I’m sticking to it!

Party on Resolve in the marina

Party on Resolve in the marina

I am so lucky to have such great friends! 🙂

16 thoughts on “Superstitious Sailors

  1. This is too funny! I’ve been putting together a post about seaward superstition myself! Thank you , thank you. You’ve inspired me to stop procrastinating with the post and get it up soon. I didn’t know about the bananas. I’m not sure how Taj would like not having bananas on board. 😃 So far we’ve been lucky with that one.

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  2. Sailors are a superstitious lot but usually the saying come about for good reason. Renaming the boat is bad because in olden days it meant cutting the old name out of the wooden hull so weakening the boat. Figureheads were usually partly naked women as the bare breast were supposed to calm the seas. On our boat I keep whistling up the wind but my wife still refuses to be the figure head. Then there is the superstition that having a woman on a boat is bad luck. How you going to get round that one?

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      • The origins of that one are pretty easy to place, right? Big group of men gone from home… a woman would naturally be a big distraction from the duties and responsibilities of sailing the ship, not to mention a source of strife and jealousy… Happily pretty much every sailboat out there nowadays is crewed by a husband and wife team and everyone is much more content 🙂

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  3. In France, rabbits are forbidden in any way, shape, or form. Even saying the word on board is bad luck. Patrick brought some rabbit pate’ on board one evening and the next day our genoa split. Renaming boats in France is different as well. We did both the anglo-saxon versions and the french versions when we commissioned Spray, but frankly, I’m not sure it worked ! (You can see all the fun in the “renaming the boat” posts via This Cruising Life.)

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    • I haven’t heard the rabbit one! There is a very happy family of rabbits living on the lawn at our yacht club so I’ll be a bit more suspicious of them from now on! I’ll read your renaming post! Anything special you will do for good luck when you launch your new boat?!

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  4. Ha Ha – if anyone was going to bring up the women-are-bad-luck thing it would be Mark! I was a rescue skipper in NSW and some blokes didn’t like a woman on board (!!) – I used to take bananas with me just to wind up the extra superstitious crew! 😉 We liked seeing Dolphins too – considered it good luck and we just gave Neptune a nip of something alcoholic each time we crossed the equator – it seemed to be enough!

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  5. I love the dolphins as good luck omen, happily saw a lot of dolphins on our Alaska venture this summer. Another good luck superstition is placing a penny under the mast before stepping it, which bore up well during our circumnavigation. Leaving on a Sunday is supposed to be extra good luck, just like leaving on Fridays is bad luck. How do we ever get anywhere, worrying about all this??

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