Sailing into Superstition

Growing up in a tiny fishing village on the north-east coast of Scotland, I know seafarers are superstitious folk. Like my friend’s grandfather, who would refuse a bacon sandwich before going to sea on the grounds it came from “the pink animal”, pig being an unlucky word as well as something unfortunate to see before setting out. Whistling within his earshot would earn you a reproachful look, as this called up the wind, and throwing things at seagulls a clip round the ear, as these were the souls of sailors lost at sea.

Beware the red-headed woman.
Beware the red-headed woman.

Some other things to be avoided to prevent bad luck at sea include:

  • Bringing a woman aboard, as they makes the sea jealous
  • Redheads
  • Carrying your belongings in a black bag, as this is reminiscent of the depths of the ocean

Oh dear, it’s probably not the best start to a voyage. Especially as our small band of volunteers is met at the quayside by a gigantic Viking with a big red beard wearing a green (an unlucky colour) fleece.

More superstitions to consider are:

  • Bananas on board will bring disaster.
  • Stepping aboard left foot first is terribly unlucky.
  • Bringing flowers on board will end with a funeral, and should be avoided.
  • The colours black and green are unlucky, and by default so is anyone wearing these colours, like a priest (or ”the sky-pilot” as he should be referred to).
  • A shark spotted shadowing the ship is the sure sign of a death to follow.
  • Looking back as you leave port is a sign that you are not well prepared for a voyage
Bananas. Disastrous.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom at sea. Good fortune can supposedly be found in the following ways:

  • Stepping on to the deck right foot first.
  • Seeing swallows, which are a sign of a safe return to shore.
  • Getting a tattoo.
  • Pouring wine on the deck of the boat, as a libation to the gods of the ocean. This has become the tradition of smashing a champagne bottle across the bows of a ship as it is launched.
  • Dolphins swimming alongside as you sail.

Here’s keeping my fingers crossed for more of the latter. Oh, wait. Crossed fingers. Is that good luck or bad luck at sea?


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