Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dame Ellen MacArthur and the superstitions of sailors

Aled Jones had a very good interview with Dame Ellen MacArthur on Radio Two's Good Morning Sunday today. She spoke about the work of her Trust in giving sailing experience to children suffering from cancer and leukaemia. She mentioned that she does not regard the sea as dangerous - it is the wind and the weather that is the problem, 'the sea supports you' she said. Quite logical, when you think about it.

But I was particularly interested in what she said about the superstitions of sailors - not starting a voyage on a Friday, for example. I'd heard the one about not having priests on board. But one she mentioned is particularly bizarre. You're not supposed to say the word "rabbit" on board a boat or ship. If you do say it, you have the scratch the mast, apparently.

There's an article here on such superstitions:

To some seamen the loss overboard of a bucket or a mop is an omen of misfortune, to others it is unlucky to repair a flag on a ship's quarterdeck or to hand a flag to a sailor between the rungs of a ladder. Black travelling bags bring misfortune, and to hear bells at sea is a sign of forthcoming death. It is also considered unlucky to wear a sailor's dress of someone who has died at sea while the voyage is in progress; though once it is over no calamity will follow.

...Another, equally well-known, seaman's superstition is that to whistle in a calm will bring a wind, but to whistle on board when the wind is blowing is to bring a gale. Another belief is that a wind can also be brought by throwing the head of an old broom overboard in the direction from which the wind is desired.

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