Nov 26 2020 All Articles

Boating superstitions - A bunch of bananas or one for luck?

Boating superstitions - A bunch of bananas or one for luck?

“Let’s grab a banana, jump on the boat and go fishing,” said no fisherman ever. Well, not according to those who know about superstitions wrapped around fishing. The “no bananas” one is perhaps the most well-known.

Some research reveals that one of the more interesting shipping superstitions involves naked women. Did you know that women were deemed bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, which in turn would seek revenge and deliver treacherous conditions. However, funnily enough, naked women calmed the sea. And that is why so many figureheads featured women with bare breasts.

Boating superstitions. They’re interesting, entertaining, compelling, ridiculous – call them what you will, but they exist… popping up in conversation every now and then and providing some mirth. Many have been around for centuries and have, of course, lost any plausibility over time.

The New Zealand Maritime Museum has dedicated a section on its website to shipping superstitions and it’s obvious some of them hail back to much earlier days. Picks from the many old European sailing superstitions include, for example, fishermen’s wives knowing farewells were for indoors. 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. Oh, and you wouldn’t think about inviting flat footed people or red heads on board – unlucky! Nor would you whistle or sing into the wind as that would “whistle up a storm”.

Here’s some arguably less crazy ones.

  • Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one
  • Bad luck would come if the name of a boat is changed. If you do, then to ward off bad luck, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially re-christen the boat
  • Set an odd number of nets, such as 101; the extra one is “for luck”.

The Old Salt Blog has plenty more to offer:

Did you know that sleeping on the stomach anticipated a boat turning over and sinking. And, were you aware that a teapot must not be emptied after fishing had started, as to empty it might make the ship turn over and sink. Meanwhile, if you were Scottish and wanted a good haul, then you should simply throw one of the crew members overboard and then haul him back in. The fish will follow suit.

There was no point praying for good luck at sea as it appears those in high places within the church were bearers of bad luck. Clergy (known to fishermen as “sky-pilots”) were generally not welcomed onto vessels and some fisherman would not sail if they passed a nun (or a rook, or cat) on the way to their vessel.

Yes, we can grin, but not all those superstitions have been relegated to the history books. Case in point…back now to those unlucky bananas. You may well tell yourself it’s absolute bullocks that your fishing success can be impacted by a bunch of bananas.  But I bet the bananas stay at home regardless. And heaven help anyone who pulls them out of his/her chillybin while on board!