Tradition for the fun of it

12 Jan

It was just a little tickle on my neck, but something made me give it a flick instead of a scratch. Good thing, too, because instead of aggravating the little scorpion that perched there I knocked it to the cabin sole- and I ended up with a nip instead of a serious injury.

The little brown scorpion had jumped from a large stem of bananas (200+ bananas!) that I was cleaning and cutting into hands, the gift of a generous family back in Panapompom Island. It all worked out, but how could we have avoided a scorpion in the first place? Well, had we paid attention to maritime superstitions, that banana stalk where it was hiding wouldn’t have been on board in the first place: sailor’s superstition says it’s bad luck.

It turns out, a bananas are one of many things that are said to bring bad luck to a boat. Nautical tradition is full of superstitions, and we ascribe to many of them. But we do this because it’s fun, and not because we’re superstitious. Mostly.

DSC_2282A line-crossing ceremony is said to bring good luck to the sailor marking a first crossing of the equator. Well, it’s also a lot of fun, and we did it for that reason- and because it invoked tradition, and gave us stories to tell and recall. When we splashed Totem from the Satun shipyard, a string of firecrackers sent us off with a bang. It’s a sound year hear near fishing ports in this part of the world: fishermen looking for good luck and a safe voyage. And maybe it does, but either way, it’s a celebratory way to mark an event. Boaters everywhere love naming ceremonies when a boat’s name is changed, but I’m pretty sure that’s mostly because we all love a good party.


We’re certainly never going to kill an Albatross, but I don’t think it’s unlucky- just stupid. Whistling is supposed to be bad luck but we think it’s a fine way to pass time on watch. And my husband would like to know: how exactly are woman unlucky on board? He’s been very lucky with a woman onboard.

But you’ll often hear me say “touch wood’ (and I do!), I tend toward triaphilia (things come in threes), and my sailor’s superstition is this: I will never depart for a significant voyage on a Friday. There have been times when weather and timing pointed to Friday, and we might have departed, but Saturday looked fine as well… and so we waited in port an extra day. Is it rational? No, but it sticks, and if I’m honest about it there’s a little more than the love of maritime tradition. The HMS Friday tale is fiction, but the Christmas tree ship isn’t.

The question of sailor’s superstitions afloat came from LOOK insurance. They’re running a survey about it, and I’m curious to find out: am I an outlier? Or in a herd of Friday-avoiders? Share your superstition… or lack of them. We’ll see when LOOK shares the results.


And meanwhile, do I wish we’d left those bananas behind? No, but I wish we’d taken the smart, practical measure of dunking it in saltwater for several minute before bringing it on board! It’s common knowledge that creepy crawlies hang out in these big stalks of fruit.

Even the most pragmatic readers know it’s fantastic luck to click through to the Sailfeed post.


  1. Pingback: Tradition for the fun of it | Sailing Totem

  2. Robert

    I have pulled scorpions from the bottom of my pool thinking they had fallen in and drowned. After they dried out, they scurried away. Maybe salt water is different.

  3. Rafael Quesada

    I could not disagree more with the writer; I am a former Merchant Marine officer and sailed aboard refrigerated vessels carrying 180,000 pallets of bananas for the uSA and Europe; not a single time we had “bad luck” because of it.

  4. Trace

    My wife (Filipina) always starts to whistle when the winds die out and eventually the winds come back. She says this is what her father used to do when she was a child out sailing with him. So whistling on a sailboat is not bad luck. At least for us.

  5. Ernest

    We had a scorpion stow-away on board SV ‘Nova Vida’ from a bunch of bananas, from Galle, Sri Lanka, back in 1985. Fortunately without mishap. Definitely don’t start a voyage on a Friday. Maybe it’s having a single (unmarried)woman on board that brings the bad luck, because my mother was the absolute best of luck we had on board. Fair winds and smooth seas to you.

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