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Kiwi Yachting - Lewmar - 1

Fishing and boating superstitions - Bananas, red heads, unlucky Friday

by Gary Brown on 22 Sep 2013
Andrew doesn’t mind taking a banana on the boat Gary Brown
You probably won't find a more superstitious group of people than sailors and fishermen. Their present superstitious beliefs date back several centuries and include these prominent examples: its bad luck to sail on a Friday. If you whistle or sing into the wind on a boat, a storm is sure to follow. Sailors who wear earrings or have tattoos won't drown. It's bad luck to have women onboard because they make the sea angry or jealous. Rats leaving a ship are a sign of trouble. Actually, that's no superstition. You probably should pay those fleeing rats some heed.

Two of the most enduring superstitions have to do with, of all things, bananas and suitcases. In both cases on some boats these items are strictly forbidden onboard.

Over the years of fishing on charter boats I have come across many charter fishing boat crews have steadfast restrictions about bringing bananas on the boat. In fact they have made anglers throw the offending fruit into a bin, and I have also heard of some charter operators go so far as to prohibit Banana Boat brand sunscreen or Banana Republic brand clothes onboard. What a joke.

There are many theories on why people believe bananas are bad luck for a boat. One superstition is that boats carrying bananas don't catch fish. The origin of this belief dates back to the Caribbean trade of the 1700s, where the wooden sailing boats of that time had to move quickly to deliver bananas before they spoiled, and fishermen had a hard time trolling for fish on such fast-moving boats. Which is how the superstition came about. Another superstition that originated during that time is that bananas will cause a boat to sink. This belief developed after many boats never made it to their destinations and all of the doomed boats were carrying bananas.

One of the creepier superstitions is that banana cargo could actually kill a man. In actuality, fermenting bananas do give off methane gas, which could conceivably get trapped below deck and kill any crew members unlucky enough to be working in the hold. Another popular theory was that venomous spiders hitched rides in bananas, and once those bananas were onboard the boat would be host to any number of lethal critters.

I have read that suitcases onboard are a fishing boat no-no as well. Even when camera crew boarded crab boats to film Discovery Channel's reality series 'Deadliest Catch,' they were asked to leave their equipment suitcases on the dock.
The origins of the suitcase superstition are murky, and the superstition has variations. For example, some sailors are superstitious of all luggage; some only ban black suitcases and bags. But everyone seems to agree that a suitcase is a harbinger of death or illness. Black bags are considered bad because black is the color of death and a metaphor for the depths of the dark, cold sea.


A Woman on Board is Bad Luck

It was traditionally believed that women were not as physically or emotionally capable as men. Therefore, they had no place at sea. It was also observed that when women were aboard, men were prone to distraction or other vices that may take away from their duties. This, among other things, would anger the seas and doom the ship.


Interestingly enough, there is a way to counter this effect. While having a woman on board would anger the sea, having a 'naked' woman on board would calm the sea. Imagine that. This is why many vessels have a figure of a woman on the bow of the ship, this figure almost always being bare-breasted. It was believed that a woman’s bare breasts would 'shame' the stormy seas into calm. Alas, the ancient power of female nudity.

I have had plenty of females on my boat and it hasn’t stopped us from catching fish.

Unlucky Friday

It is believed that Friday is the worst possible day to start a journey on a boat and no enterprise can succeed which commences on that day.

The most well known reason for the dislike of Friday is because it is believed that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Therefore, this day must be observed and respected and will be unlucky for anyone who attempts to go about business as usual. Many fishermen state that various ships lost at sea disembarked on a Friday.

While Friday is the worst day to begin your journey, Sunday is the best possible day to begin a voyage. This observation is due to Christ’s resurrection on a Sunday, a good omen. It has led to the adage, 'Sunday sail, never fail'

Some more maritime superstitions:

Never start a voyage on the first Monday in April.
This is the day that Cain slew Able.

Don’t start a voyage on the second Monday in August.
This is the day sondom & gommrrah was destroyed.

Starting a cruise on Dec. 31 is bad.
This is the day Judas Iscariat hanged himself.

Black travelling bags are bad luck for a seaman.
Black is the colour of death and indicative of the depths of the sea.

Avoid Flat-footed people when beginning a trip.
They, like red heads, are bad luck. The danger can be avoided by speaking to them before they speak to you.

Disaster will follow if you step onto a boat with your left foot first.

Throwing stones into the sea will cause great waves and storms.
A sign of disrespect to the sea, ensuring retaliation in the form of stormy seas.

A stone thrown over a vessel that is putting out to sea ensures she will never return.
A sign of disrespect to the sea, dooming the ship and all aboard.

Priests are not lucky to have on a ship.
They dress in black and perform funeral services. They are a symbol of possible death and anything that makes you think of death or dying is a bad omen.

Don’t look back once your ship has left port as this can bring bad luck.
Looking back to port implies that you are not truly ready to brave the seas and complete your voyage, bringing about bad luck on yourself and the ship.

A cormorant sighted at sea is bad luck.

Handing a flag thru the rungs of a ladder is bad luck.

When the clothes of a dead sailor are worn by another sailor during the same voyage, misfortune will befall the entire ship.

Personally I don't believe in fishing and boating superstitions.

Guy Nowell - Blue 660Hella Marine - July 2016Pantaenius - Worldwide Support

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