Sailors’ superstitions: what should never be done in a boat?

Sailors’ superstitions: what should never be done in a boat?

During the navigation, the sailors were at the mercy of uncertainty and elements’ strength in the old days.

It is not surprising that many of them had developed peculiar beliefs during navigation to avoid disasters, throw out misfortune, attract luck, and reach the final destination.

Although today we perceive these beliefs as superstitions, they are still part of the nautical culture, and the most superstitious shipowners want to follow them.

For instance, having a cat on board foretells good navigation: this superstition is linked to a historical fact, since the felines hunted the mice hidden on the boats, which otherwise would have eaten stock food, gnawed the ropes and spread diseases. 

On the other hand, rabbits are the sworn enemies of the sailors: they were brought on board alive to get fresh meat, but they used to gnaw the cages and then move on to the ropes.

In the maritime culture, the albatross embodies the souls of dead sailors and therefore deserves the utmost respect: woe to harm them, as Coleridge reminds us in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Anyway, not all winged creatures have such a reputation: some of them are auspicious, as they indicate approaching the mainland.

Moreover, a sailor from the past would never let a passenger with a green garment get on his boat. Indeed, green is seen as a deadly colour, because it brings to mind wood mould and metal oxide, which could seriously compromise the integrity of the ship.

Banana-loving shipowners will also be disappointed to learn that they are not allowed on board. On the one hand, as bananas ripen very quickly, sailors were forced to take shorter but more dangerous routes. On the other hand, rotting bananas release methane gas that could poison sailors, considering how many fruits a hold could contain.

Whistling at sea was a way of recalling Aeolus, the god of the winds, and therefore attracting hurricanes and typhoons.

Finally, a tradition still alive today among sea enthusiasts relates to the name of the boat. Never change it! The myth tells that when a boat is christened, this name is recorded in a register kept by a spirit of the sea, and changing it would attract its anger.

However, there are some “safe” ways of renaming the boat. For example, a propitiatory rite approved by the Royal Navy consists of throwing a metal plate into the sea with the old name written insoluble. 

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