Perhaps ever since the time the first vessel was placed on sea waters certain nautical myths and common superstitions of the sea developed over time. Even at ships armed with the most modern technologies the sailors and the crew members continue to observe these superstitions and customs.
The dangers associated with the marine profession certainly cannot be ignored. The dependence on the forces of nature was also high specifically in the olden days even though with the modern technology hardly anything can be done against the grandeur of nature and the oceans as mostly the circumstances that are beyond man’s control.
Perhaps this vulnerability to danger has resulted in the people going out to the sea being conservative and times even being superstitious. Many of the seafaring men have been in this line of profession since countless generations. Along with the intricacies of the profession, these superstitions and customs have been passed on from one generation to the other.
It would be interesting to note there that there is an article which tries to explain the science behind superstitions.
Some of these nautical myths and customs are interesting and some unbelievable. Let us look and analyze some of these common superstitions of the sea:
#1 No Women on Board:
One of the most common superstitions at sea is that women on board are known to bring bad luck.
A woman on ship was known to anger the sea. Probably the reason behind this must be the belief that women are not as strong. Another reason for the same could be that a ship full of men with very few women on board was sure to serve as a distraction for the men.
The custom resorted to counter this belief was to place a naked woman on board. It was said that the naked lady would shame the waters and hence keep them calm and ward away any bad luck.
#2 Bananas bring bad luck:
The yellow fruit on board means bad luck, now, this is unbelievable! The basis for this belief can be attributed to two main reasons. Bananas were the main fruit over many cultures and a very popular fruit. Trade in this fruit thrived well in the 1700’s. Nearly every vessel that was lost in voyage had bananas on board. This could be one of the reasons.
The second reason that could be attributed was that vessels carrying bananas traveled very fast. It was imperative for these vessels to reach their destination before the bananas rotted. This meant that no fish or very less fish being caught.
The reason for bananas being considered as bad luck could be any of the above.
#3 Black Cats, Dolphins and Swallows bring Luck:
While the color black is associated with death a black cat is on board considered to bring good luck. This superstition is opposite to the belief regarding cats held on land. A pair of Dolphins sailing along the vessel are considered to bring good luck.
#4 Breaking a Wine Bottle against the Hull at the Launch:
Breaking a bottle of wine against the hull of the ship sounds waste of some tasteful wine, but the truth is it is often done to ward off bad luck. In case a person refuses to drink a toast at the launch is not considered lucky. Often a religious priest is invited at the launch to bless and purify a ship. Any thing going wrong at the time of the launch like an injury to a person, or the ship not moving once ready to sail are considered as bad omens.
Some other do’s and don’ts that are observed by men at sea are:
- Do not set sail on Friday, first Monday of April, the second Monday of August and December 31st
- Avoid black bags, red haired people and people with flat feet on board
- Dogs on board and a shark following a ship are considered to bring bad luck
- Throwing stones into the sea is not good as it disturbs the sea and is believed to cause storms
These common superstitions at sea are basically the result of man’s desire to have a safe journey and return back home. It is also perhaps accepting the presence of certain forces that are beyond our control.