20 Sailing Superstitions
Sailors, fisherman and pirates have developed wickedly weird superstitions through the ages. The pirate Blackbeard of the early 1700s wasn’t so much known for superstitions as danger. He was allegedly jailed in Williamsburg. Here are 20 superstitions gathered by the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Read them at your own risk.
Re-naming a boat
It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.
When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore.
It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.
When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number
Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).
Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.
Egg shells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.
Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails, cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.
Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship, and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.
Women were also bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts.
It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself).
Watch your mouth
Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including “drowned”, “goodbye” and “good luck”. Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church, pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.
Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”
Also, it was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.
Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck
As would turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut
As well, these two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea:
Like flat-footed people, red heads brought bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.
It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.
Scottish fishermen began their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on. That served to encourage fish to be caught.
No bananas on board, since their bad luck caused ships to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.
Sailing for Christmas
A father-daughter team joined a local couple for a serene day on the York at the end of July. Steve Lankford of Longs SC explained that his daughter Stephanie had given him a Christmas present of whatever he wanted to do one day. In turn, she got a gift from him that became a tour of the Yorktown Battlefield. Jake Bosco of Suffolk joked, “So at your house, you give punishments for Christmas.”
As we sailed Steve recounted his brief career in the US Navy. “I was trained to fight fires on aircraft carriers and never went to sea. Six months of training here, six months there, and two years in Bermuda. As a result, I never went to sea.”
He added, “I did sail once in Bermuda, on a Sailfish years ago. I had my mother with me and had to negotiate two low bridges to get out to the water. I had to dismantle the mast while underway and suddenly heard a WHOOSH. I said, ‘Mother, what are you doing in the water?’ She said, ‘I thought you were trying to knock me off, so I jumped in.'”
Jake eventually took the wheel and did fine since he’s a propulsion engineer. He deadpanned, “Is sailing like woodworking? You can get the idea in a day, but it take 20 years to really learn it.”
Watching the Rain
A couple and a family enjoyed a quiet afternoon on the water, which eventually showed some signs of approaching weather. Off in the distance we could see what looked like a mushroom cloud of rain hovering over Williamsburg. I checked the weather app for the radar sweep, and sure enough it was stuck over town. We sailed closer to Sarah Creek to make a hasty exit if necessary. But the cloud shifted northwest and eventually dissolved. We went back to sunny skies. Modern radar and accurate phone apps make it possible to predict the path of a storm with very good accuracy. Later, my wife confirmed that it rained a solid inch of water on Williamsburg around 4 pm,
From Russia With Wind
We drifted past a unique wooden ship called Pilgrim that was docked in Yorktown for a few days. I thought at first it was a tall ship, but not so tall. More like an older ketch except for the 1700s style and downwind sails. Father and daughter aboard are sailing around the world to promote Russia’s culture. Scale models of ships and selected paintings convey Russian history. Free tours run 10 am-8 pm at Riverwalk Landing.
Sailing after Rain
Maurice Hairston of Washington brought his girl Marti Curry and another couple for a birthday sail honoring Marti. She took the wheel in gentle winds of 8 mph, but within the hour it began to drizzle. “It doesn’t bother us,” Maurice said with a drink in his hand. “We drove 3-1/2 hours in the rain from DC this morning.” We went under the bridge to see the Navy patrol boat maneuver against us. When the wind picked up, I sailed while all four sat on the bow talking.
The afternoon run comprised a French-Canadian family staying at Kingsmill Resort for an insurance conference. On the helm, Jean-Guy Dubuc handled building seas in winds approaching 10 mph. “My friend sailed a 40-foot yacht out of Quebec across the ocean to Marseilles. One night he was the pilot while the others slept. It was totally dark. He saw something on the radar and watched it carefully. It got closer and closer and by now he was stressing. Finally the radar showed the ship right near him, but it wasn’t. He peered off in the distance and could make out the ship’s lights in the dark — a mile away. The radar didn’t show the proper proportion of distance. He was in Marseilles to run a 24-hour race to the Island of Corsica. He loved it.”
Later we talked about Celine Dion, who’s from Quebec. Jean-Guy said, “Her late husband, Rene Angelil, was quite a golfer. He was a partner in Le Golf Mirage course outside Montreal. One day he asked the course superintended how much it would cost to pave the golf cart paths in asphalt. The superintendent said it couldn’t be done because it was too expensive. ‘I didn’t ask if it could be done,’ he responded, ‘because it can be done. I asked how much.’ It was $6 million for the two courses. ‘It is my gift,’ he said simply. Later he bought out the other partners, and now the course is among the best in the world.” Helene-Marie added, “Celine is very much into flowers, so she had flowers planted everywhere around the golf course. ‘It is my gift,’ she said.”
Trump Don’t Know Much About History
This is a Facebook post by my friend and colleague Dennis Montgomery, who has written extensively about Jamestown…
President Donald Trump’s remarks at Jamestown, Virginia, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the state’s General Assembly were shot full of errors.
The most egregious came during his recitation of prominent colonial Virginians when he came to George Wythe, a scholar who taught the law to Thomas Jefferson, among others. Trump said, “George With. W I T H. Great name.” Moreover, the president said Wythe came from Williamsburg. Though Wythe was a long-time Williamsburg resident, he was from Elizabeth City County, and he moved to Richmond after the Revolution.
Trump pronounced the word Powhatan (POW-hat-un or Pow-HAT-an) as Poe-et-n.
The president said that when the Jamestown colonists attempted to abandon Virginia in 1610 that, sailing down the James River, they ran into an English fleet that was “the answer to their prayers.” In point of fact, the fleet’s arrival forced their return to Jamestown, the last place all but one of them (Captain John Martin) wanted to be.
He linked the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, founded in 1698, to a failed and unrelated attempt to establish a college at Henricus in 1618, eighty years before.
According to the president, there were no survivors of the 1580s Roanoke colony, “The Lost Colony,” in present day North Carolina. Indians told the English that the Lost Colonists had moved to another island—which means there were survivors—in Albemarle Sound. Later English searches for them were aborted, so we don’t know what became of them.
Trump said there were 104 original Jamestown settlers. That number comes from Captain John Smith. It is doubtful that Smith included himself in that count, making him the 105th. No less an authority than Ivor Noel Hume subscribed to 105.
Again relying on Smith, the president said only 60 settlers survived the Starving Time. Smith, however, did not count the 50 or so English encamped at Old Point Comfort.
Though the first recorded arrival of Africans in Virginia is dated 1619, historians are not sure that they, as Trump said, were enslaved. We know that some of them are found as free people in later records.
Trump said the first settlers “worked hard” to make Jamestown a success. But Smith bitterly complained about their sloth and unwillingness to work.
There are more mistakes and misrepresentations in Trump’s address, but [you get the idea].
The Poplawski family of Newport News took daughter Morgan sailing on her 25th birthday. Her dad, Michael, is director of Newport News Parks & Recreation, which also encompasses animal control. Michael Poplawski holds the rare distinction of working 45 years with the same organization–and still going strong. “I think I’ll retired in four or five years,” he said. He started as a teenager and now has 600 people, 208 of them full-time paid. “Many of the staff hold master’s degrees, including MBAs. He’s seen a lot of changes over the years, including at Newport News Lake, which is a reservoir. “It’s gotten weedy in recent years and is more difficult to fish. Pickerel and pike are popular.”
In the afternoon, a family and friends from Fredericksburg went sailing on the York in rising winds of 8-10 mph. Cindy Fontanez talked of two extremes in boating. “My father quit his job and went back to Puerto Rico, where he ran a boat out to a private island. He took those people back and forth as a ferry service. My brother tried it briefly and preferred the military instead.” Later, the women got to talking about cruise ships. “I knew of a woman who lived on the ship. She got medical care and got to go ashore for excursions.” Cindy’s friend Daisy Williams said, “We have a friend who spent seven months on cruise ships, the longest for 44 days at time. Can you imagine?”
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20 Sailing Supersttions
Sailors, fisherman and pirates have developed wickedly weird superstitions through the ages.
Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails