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Safe at Sea: Superstitions of sailors — the bad

By Staff | Apr 14, 2020

Robert Macomber is a renowned Southwest Florid author and lecturer, upon whom numerous honors have been bestowed. Frankly, the list is so impressive that enumerating them here would consume the entire column. Suffice it to say, these honors range from being named the Distinguished Lecturer at NATO headquarters in Belgium to the 2020 Florida Author of the Year.

As the keynote speaker at the national conference of America’s Boating Club, Macomber regaled attendees with a speech, “Salty Superstitions,” a lighthearted look at the culture of sailors and ships at sea. Last week’s column highlighted the superstitions that bring sailors good luck; this week’s column presents the dark ominous beliefs.


Since childhood, many water-lovers have heard the refrain:

“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight

Red sky at morn, sailors be warned.”

Not surprisingly, this saying actually has scientific merit, assuming that storms will be approaching from the west. (In brief, the prevailing winds travel west to east.)


A “Jonah” is a oft-heard word among sailors and alludes to the prophet Jonah. A “Jonah” brings bad luck, pure and simple. Storms! Storms! Storms! By extension, clergymen are considered bad luck, as they are all of Jonah’s ilk. (An aside: Redheads and women passengers should always be avoided.)


Never set sail on a Friday!

Or the first Monday in April.

Or the second Monday in August …

Go figure.


This superstition was underscored by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” It was considered very unlucky to kill an albatross; thus, in Coleridge’s poem, the narrator, who killed an albatross, was forced by the other sailors to wear the dead bird around his neck.

From that poem by Coleridge, we learn these famous words:

“Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”


Bad luck. Do you remember the character of Fletcher Christian from “The Mutiny on the Bounty”? As he whistled every night? It was Christian’s whistling that signaled the mutiny.

One tale has it that whistling challenges the wind and, in doing so, brings storms.


Never – ever – bring bananas on board the ship. The reasoning is pretty simple: Bananas carry banana spiders and tarantulas; bananas attract rats; rats chew lines; rats carry disease.


On a lighter note, one should never make a toast drinking water! If you do, you will drown! Stick to the grog!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 612-987-2125.