From The Boathouse: Sailors' superstitions

July 12, 2012|By Mike Whitehead


This Friday is the 13th, a date known for bad luck, but no one really knows how it all started. Various theories of how this began date back to the 1800s.

Friday the 13th means nothing to sailors, because sailors are not the least bit superstitious. Well, not if you leave out that it is bad luck to change the name of a boat; or that you shouldn't bring bananas aboard; or that having a woman on board a ship angers the seas, but having a naked woman on board calms the seas (you thought there was no rhyme or reason).


How about being lured in from the sea by the sirens with their persuasive song? Greek mythology states that they live on the islands of Sirenum scopuli, where ships would crash onto the rocks as they tried to get to the sirens.

I am still looking for sirens and mermaids, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) may have popped my bubble with their recent report, "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found."

NOAA released this statement: "But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That's a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists."

Have the staff and scientists of NOAA ever seen Sponge Bob or Disney's Little Mermaid? You can read NOAA's report on mermaids at

So, I am going to apply for a government grant to fund a research expedition in search of Mermaids. Mermaids date back about 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings that were created during the late Paleolithic period.

But, I digress ... did you know that it is bad luck to set sail on a Friday? Now I know why I see all the sailors using their engines on Friday evenings, and not their sails to get to Catalina for the weekend.

However, do not forget to place a silver coin under the masthead for good luck before you depart.

That brings up an interesting question: If you set sail on a Friday and place a silver coin under the masthead, then do the two opposite superstitions cancel each other out, or is one superstition more powerful than the other?

Black cats are considered good luck on board, but seeing rats scurrying off a ship is bad luck. I always thought that the rats were running so that they would not be dinner for the cats.

In Great Britain, a black cat crossing your path is good luck, yet, in the U.S., a black cat crossing your path is bad luck.

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