Superstitions at Sea
Superstitions grow out of the human need to explain the unexplainable; to provide answers to questions that may have none. In lieu of an informational vacuum we make stuff up. It makes us feel better.
For those who make their living on the sea, superstitions are numerous and can range from sea monsters to bananas, redheads to women on board, whistling to Albatross and eating the beating heart of your first tuna.
Sailors who had crossed the equator would pierce their ear with a gold hoop as a sign of good luck. Tattoos, particularly of the North Star or some nasty sea creature were considered good talismans.
If a redhead was found to be aboard your ship it was considered important to speak before they did for fear of bringing bad luck to the voyage. Even the sky had tells, ‘red sky at night, sailors delight…’
Loch Ness has its very own ‘Nessy’, sighted over the years by hundreds. Not to be outdone, we have had our own ‘San Clemente Sea Monster’ (reported as recently as 2003) ranging the often treacherous channel between the two islands.
In the interest of transparency, I have crossed that body of water many times and have never seen this monster, but I have seen monstrous seas that would outdo any monster’s job without hesitation.
Our need for closure is intense. When a loved one is lost at sea and there seems no plausible explanation for the calamity, it seems comforting to some to have an explanation regardless of how outlandish that answer may seem…the White Whale did it!
The need for such closure is illustrated countless times on TV news when we see a story of (yet another) hit and run. Inevitably, the grieving family will say that they just want the person who did this to come forward. I cannot imagine their pain, but truthfully I do not understand how this helps.
I may not have the genetic material that drives this need for closure. I have never been one to put much stock in superstitions. If I have to go under the ladder, I will. Black cats, there are a ton of them and I am not changing my side of the street to avoid having one cross in front of me.
So, when a customer comes aboard an Afishinados charter with a banana, I do not panic although many Captains do.
Bananas are traditionally taboo on boats and particularly on fishing charters. I remember my first awareness of this curse as a child on one of my first fishing trips aboard a huge party boat out of Davey’s Locker. Before the boat would leave the slip the Captain announced over the intercom that he will not tolerate any bananas on board.
I wondered if this might extend all the way to the banana-flavored chips in my Lucky Charms cereal. I decided to keep this possible infraction a secret, not wanting to miss out on my breakfast. I may have jinxed that trip.
Old superstitions seem silly today. Can you imagine that at one point it was considered unlucky to have a woman on board a sailing ship? Or that the only correct day to begin a long journey at sea was on a Sunday.
If you have ever wondered how pirates came to be such hirsute individuals, it was considered bad luck on board to cut your hair or even your fingernails. Thus, Johnny Depp’s version of Captain Jack Sparrow was pretty close to what he may have actually looked like.
One superstition that we have had a lot of fun with this season is the old saw that suggests you must eat the beating heart of your first tuna for fear of never catching another. Somehow our local Yellowtail (a Jack, not of the tuna family) has earned the mantle of this superstition.
I may have lost count, but I think we have seen as many as 15 customers eat the heart of their first yellowtail in the last month. This superstition is less creepy now that we are all sushi lovers, but still, to watch a 12 year old boy gobble the beating heart of a fresh caught yellowtail is pretty funny.
I remember watching Capt. Lance gagging down the apple-sized heart of a fairly large tuna he had caught on board Catallac. He did it, but not without some effort and to the howling laughter of all the others on board.
It makes me wonder how many of these traditions are born of the crew’s devilry rather than of the heart-felt notion that the future will change by performing certain acts thought to ward off bad luck.
We had a recent charter where all three anglers had caught their first yellowtail. Of course Taylor (deckhand) made them aware of the ‘requirement’ that they ‘must’ eat the heart if they wished to ever catch another.
Once the first angler did the deed, the peer pressure took care of the other anglers and all will be guaranteed to catch many a yellow in their futures, unless of course, they bring a banana on board.
By Capt. John King
Afishinados Charters and Catallac tours – 888-613-7770 – firstname.lastname@example.org