Living Aboard a Boat

Very Superstitious . . . Writing on the Wall

Wednesday, April 03, 2013S.V. CAMBRIA

Wearing the "lucky" sweatshirt at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico in 2012.

su·per·sti·tion : /ˌso͞opərˈstiSHən/  a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation  b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition (Merriam –Webster).


As human beings, we have a need to “connect the dots” – it’s part of our DNA and how we adapt and survive.  Throughout history, we've hit and missed when it comes to making these connections.  The hits live on to see another day through scientific evidence, while some of the misses become superstitions. 

Dangerous situations often give rise to superstitious beliefs, so it should come as no surprise that sailors, in general, are a superstitious.  For example, did you know that it’s considered bad luck to carry bananas aboard a boat?  It’s true.  At the height of trading between Spain and the Caribbean in the1700s, most cases of disappearing ships were carrying bananas as cargo at the time.  Theories later developed to explain this but, at the time, the bananas themselves were the cause.  And maybe they were.  A large cargo of fermenting bananas could produce toxic fumes and were home to deadly spiders, both of which could have killed crew members.  But without scientific knowledge to back this up, sailors were left to simply believe bananas were “bad luck”.  The notion continues even today and, while we buy bananas from time to time when at anchor, we would never start passage with them aboard . . . no sense in tempting fate, after all. 

We all seem to adopt or form our own rituals and superstitions in life, and David and I are no different.  When we changed the name of the boat, we made sure to do it when we were hauled out of the water so we could re-christen her when she was dropped back in (though we didn’t go as far as writing the former names on a piece of paper, folding it, placing it in a box, burning it, and putting the ashes in the sea . . . the previous names, however, are hidden somewhere inside the boat). 

Whether it makes sense or not, neither one of us (me especially) is allowed to comment on how well a particular piece of equipment on the boat is working at any given time.  If such a transgression is made, the offender must immediately “touch wood” or risk complete gear failure (it happens!).  And I, personally, am never allowed to say that “a little more wind would be nice” because it often turns into a gale.  In fact, I’m not allowed to comment about what may or may not be nice regarding the weather.  Full stop. 

We both like Polynesian tattoos and have several of them that are said to promote good fortune and safe travel.  I wear a cartouche with David’s name on it which offers protection from evil spirits in life and after death (but who am I protecting?).  David often wears a jade carving of the Hei Matau from New Zealand which represents prosperity, strength, determination, good health, as well as providing safe passage over water.  Do we wear these things because we believe they possess some sort of magical power?  No.  We wear them because we like them.  But if they represented evil and bad luck, they’d never have gotten a second look!

Superstitions are also big part of sports, which brings me to the real reason for this blog – supporting my favorite team through superstition.  It started off innocently enough.  Wichita State University, my alma mater, was playing Gonzaga, the number one rated team in men’s college basketball in the nation, in the NCAA Tournament.  They were doing really well until late in the second half when Gonzaga started to make a comeback, something any number one team should be expected to do.  Well, I got a little nervous and decided to dig the sweatshirt I was wearing during the previous game, when WSU decidedly beat the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), out of the hamper and put it on.  They rallied, thus forming a causal relationship!

Since then I’ve been wearing the sweatshirt during the games for good luck and they kept winning, even making it to the Final Four which is this Saturday.  The rules are that I can’t wash the sweatshirt, so it continues to hang on a hook in the v-berth (while airing out) patiently waiting for its next opportunity to help out the team.  Silly?  Absolutely!  But I’m not going to be the one to jinx the guys and get them knocked out of the tournament!  I believe.  Therefore it’s true.  Now all I need is for WSU to keep proving me right!  Go Shox!

Some Other Sailing Superstitions:
  • Naming a boat with a word ending in the letter ‘a’ is bad luck (oops!).

  • Tattoos and piercings ward off evil spirits.

  • It’s bad luck to step onto a boat with your left foot first.

  • Setting sail on a Fridayis bad luck.

  • A coin placed under the masthead is good luck.

  • Horseshoes on a ship’s mast will turn away a storm.

  • Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long passage – a libation to the gods – as will spitting in the sea.

  • Coins thrown into the sea when you leave port is a small toll to Neptune for a safe voyage, but throwing stones into the sea will result in great waves and storms.

  • Dolphins swimming with the ship is a sign of good luck.

  • A child born on a ship is good luck.

  • Whistling at sea will raise a gale . . . hence the saying “whistling up a storm”.

  • Women were said to bring bad luck aboard because they distracted sailors from their duties. This angered the seas, which would then take their revenge on the ship.  Funnily enough, if the women were naked, they were considered good luck (no risk of distraction there!).  Apparently their nudity calmed the seas.  This is why figureheads are often sculpted into the likeness of a naked woman, with eyes wide open to guide them safely to port. 

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