For centuries, brave sailors explored the sordid seas and battled high winds, treacherous thunderstorms, and hungry sharks. Today, sailing is a much more leisurely activity. Modern sailors have since traded peg legs and eye patches for boat shoes and sunscreen. Though the world of sailing changed over the years, many sailors hold to a few sailing superstitions from around the world to this day.
Whistling may seem like a harmless way to pass the time, but it’s strictly forbidden on board many boats. Ancient mariners believed that whistling summoned wind, which could prove either beneficial or detrimental to the voyage’s success. When stuck on calm, windless waters, some sailors would whistle or sing in an attempt to coax a breeze into their sails. Sailors needed to be wary, however, as they couldn’t control how much wind their whistles would bring about. Many mariners believed that this simple act could “whistle up a storm”. Sailors also steered clear of singing, clapping, or throwing stones into the ocean for fear it would bring about bad weather.
No bananas on board
Perhaps the most commonly held sailing superstition from around the world is the belief that bananas on board bring nothing but bad luck. Some argue as to why bananas are bad luck on ships, particularly on fishing boats. One theory postulates that the superstition arose during the days when cargo ships transported goods. The ethylene gas produced by ripening bananas caused other produce to ripen and spoil more quickly, which caused the boat’s already limited food supply to diminish more quickly than anticipated. A slightly darker theory states that the superstition was born from the association between bananas and shipwrecks. Bananas floating on the sea’s surface often indicated that a ship had wrecked nearby and left no survivors.
Trust the dolphins
Not all sailing superstitions signify bad luck. For instance, many mariners throughout history believed that traveling alongside dolphins signaled good fortune. Many tall tales boast that the playful and intelligent animals led men lost at sea to safety. Other stories tell of dolphins rescuing and protecting men who fell overboard. Sailors also believed dolphins swimming in the wake of a ship meant they found a bountiful fishing location and good sailing conditions. Conversely, sharks were regarded as a sign of bad luck, likely for good reason.
Appease the albatross
A well-known symbol among many mariners, albatross were thought to harbor the souls of dead sailors. Many believed these large, majestic birds meant that the spirits of sailors long since departed watched over the ship. Killing an albatross was a dastardly deed thought to bring misfortune to the sailor and all members of their crew. This commonly held superstition even found its way into the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. A sailor shoots an albatross that led his boat off course, and this caused the ultimate demise of his crew and beloved ship.