Every profession has its own superstitions and traditions, but none are as enduring as those surrounding fishing, boating, sailors, and the sea. From bad bananas, to cursed sailors, many of these wacky sailor superstitions endure to this day! So drop anchor, sit back, and get the low-down on some New England sailor superstitions before you set sail.
Think long and hard before naming your seafaring vessel! Once named, a ship must carry that name for life. If you DO dare to rename your ship, you must honor her with a de-naming ceremony, then christen her with a new name (and a healthy dose of wine or champagne to the deck).
Back in the day, it was thought to be terrible luck for the wives and women of sailors and fishermen to bid them adieu before a voyage (this one is perhaps one of the more intuitive – goodbye could be permanent). In the same vein, the sailors and fishermen, once headed out to sea, could never turn to look back at their loved ones as they sailed into the distance.
Another prevalent sailor superstition is that of the Jonah. A Jonah is any thing, person, or vessel that is believed to be bad luck. Plenty of sailors have had their careers ruined when they were labeled a Jonah. How is it that a person, thing, or ship acquires this cursed title? When a fishing vessel was out on an unfruitful trip, there were multiple ways to find the Jonah onboard. Perhaps the most noteworthy method was to require the cook onboard to hide a nail or piece of coal in a loaf of bread –– the fisherman who got the nail was, naturally, the Jonah.
This sailor superstition isn’t very appealing to banana lovers, but it’s been around for quite some time just the same: never, under any circumstances, bring a banana onboard. How on earth did this superstition come into being? There are a few theories floating around, but here’s one of the most convincing: back before radios and SOS signals, ships often met their watery fates without the knowledge of anyone but the crew onboard. However, those ships left a clue for the next vessel that passed through those waters: a floating island of debris and cargo that would never reach its destination… and you can bet that if that unlikely ship was carrying bananas, they popped right to the surface. So won their name as a terribly unlucky fruit.
Back in the day (and even into the present), it was considered downright irresponsible to bring a woman on board. Although one might argue that the real reason women weren’t allowed on board was so they didn’t outperform the male sailors, history has a different theory. Sailors believed that women on a ship would cause jealousy, fighting, and distraction amongst the crew and that this would anger the sea. Naked women, however, were believed to calm the sea, which is why so many figureheads portray nude women.
These sailor superstitions might appear a bit ridiculous today, but they were a deeply ingrained part of fishing and seafaring culture (along with many, many others) for centuries. Next time you’re at The Point, head down to the marina and show off some of your newly acquired, old school knowledge. Or, if you’d rather enjoy the fruits of the sea than toss around old superstitions, head to Fresh Salt for the catch of the day, and enjoy some of the freshest fish around!