siren sailors superstitions

Seafarers have, throughout history, always been an easily spooked bunch. Whilst we can acknowledge that sailing is inherently risky, and appreciate that a lot of famous accidents and incidents were down to luck (both good and bad...), even we're astounded by the level  of trepidation within today's captains and crew when old wives tales threaten their voyage. Still, we suppose it's better to be safe than sorry, so if you wish to remain extra cautious on your next voyage, here's our special Friday 13th, lucky seven list of the longest standing, classic sailors superstitions:

1. Fridays

Whilst today of all days is generally held as profoundly unlucky by both mirror delivery services and raunchy camp counsellors alike, it turns out that every Friday is fairly unlucky as far as sailing goes. Whilst it's not universal to every culture, one of the most enduring sailing superstitions is that it is profoundly unlucky to begin a voyage when you're ready for the weekend.

Interestingly, there's a popular tale that when the Royal Navy tried to dispel this myth with it's own HMS Friday, she sank on her maiden voyage, which was on this very day sometime in the 19th century. We didn't include this in our Unexplained Ghost Ship Stories blog because it's a complete fabrication, even if it does add a darker new meaning to the phrase 'Friday Feeling'.

2. Sirens

Beautiful yet fatally dangerous creatures, the Sirens differ from many of the mythological sea creatures we featured in our Amazing High Seas Mysteries blog in that they are undoubtedly the most human. Though they have in many depictions featured various bird parts including legs and wings, they are often imagined as profoundly gorgeous women who lull sailors with their beautiful songs and harp skills before taking them to the depths. Familiar to readers of Odyssey and the Euripides play Helen, we can only imagine why early, wife-deprived sailors would invent these strangely familiar sea creatures...

3. Sailor Tattoos

Whilst they are more and more becoming the property of New York's most bearded residents, sailor tattoos have had a long, scanty history within the men of the sea. Whilst it's originally thought that the crew of the great British explorer James Cook first introduced the practice in 1700's Europe, tattoos quickly went beyond denoting one's place in the naval hierarchy or achievements to preserving their superstitions. These include having an image of a pig and a hen to ward off drowning, to wearing the North Star as a way of finding home.

sailing superstitions

4. Crossing the Line

Even to this day, many around the world still hold crossing the line events; a classic ceremony that commemorates a sailor's first crossing of the Equator. The idea is that it grants the seafarer good luck in their later journeys, and is in many ways an unofficial initiation rite. Even if you can't see the practical value of celebrating one's passage over an arbitrarily defined point, there's something to be said for an event that ensures new shipmates are properly seasoned, that boosts the moral for all the crew and that has a beauty contest where every contestant is man dressed as a woman...

5. Jonah

The eponymous, whale-swallowed character of The Book of Jonah has an expected roll-on effect when it comes to sailors' superstitions. A long established expression, if you find that all the bad luck aboard a ship seems to be centred around you, then don't be surprised if the crew quickly relegate you to the role of "Jonah". Whilst in today's boating scene such a thing would likely be in jest, as we saw with Hollom in Master In Commander, many years ago it wouldn't be a name you'd want to have for long...

6. Bananas

As the urban legend busting and rumour roasting website explained, bananas have had a turbulent history aboard boats. Whilst we weep for the scurvy ridden sailors who could have benefited by such sources of Vitamin C, even today some fishing charters will turn you home if you walk aboard with a Banana Republic t-shirt (can't say we blame them). Explanations for this rumour range from the fact that bugs and vermin often snuck aboard within the berry, to the odd obvious injury caused by slipping on a discarded peel.

7. "Ship's Cats"

If you thought this is where the sailors superstitions would start becoming more familiar guess again. Believe it or not, it's actually considered good luck to have cats aboard a boat - even a black one. The boating superstitions revolving around cats and the weather in particular are startlingly numerous; they can ward off dangerous weather, start storms through magic in their tails and predict a hail storm is coming by licking its fur against the grain. Interestingly, outside of these not-so rational conclusions, cats are able to detect slight changes in weather with their sensitive ears, and they were highly suited to catching pests and rodents aboard the ship.

ship's cat superstition

What are some of your favourite (or least favoured) sailors superstitions? Have they ever affected one of your journeys? Let us know through the Seachest Facebook page, Twitter and/or Google+.


Post By Graham