Ships have sailed the seas for thousands of years. In this peculiar and closed world amidst a beautiful and sometimes cruel ocean, the life of the sailors was difficult which is why a number of practices, customs and traditions developed on board.
The most practical have become an integral part of maritime law over time, some of them have all but been forgotten and others have become superstitions to laugh at or even blindly follow. Let's dive into the mysterious world of ancient customs, legends and superstitions!
When to set sail and what not to do on board?
Don’t set off on a Monday but what about a Friday?
From time immemorial at sea, it has been a fact that Monday is an unlucky day on which you should never embark on a voyage. Even today's sailors follow this custom. But why? When sailing long ago, everything was settled up on Monday. Literally everything. Including the previous week's offenses which were dealt with by a boatswain or his assistant with a whip in his hand.
In some cultures, Friday is also considered an unlucky day. On Friday, however, you can sail just don’t embark on a voyage.
Whistling summons a storm
Whistling is also prohibited on ships. Because those who whistle, question and indeed provoke the wind itself. As a result it will reap its revenge in the form of a tornado or storm. The only exception is the ship's whistle. But don’t fret, it is said that storms can also be successfully warded off by fixing a horseshoe to the mast.
What carries bad luck
Superstitions and customs, which are a part of life on board, are about more than just the waves at sea. For example, you should always board the ship with your right foot first, never carry bananas on board as it summons death and cutting hair or nails when sailing angers Neptune bringing bad luck.
Where are the souls of dead sailors?
Don’t clink glasses, making a toast has its rules
When making a toast on board a ship, never clink glasses for it awakens and disturbs the souls of dead sailors. This brings bad luck to the voyage.
When toasting you should always remain seated and never get up. This habit has its origins in distant times. This is largely due to the impracticality in the past of trying to get up in a small cabin packed with fixed furniture built around slanted walls with a swaying deck beneath your feet.
Of course, the first toast before the voyage belongs to the sea, and must be cast out to the god of the seas. Whether it be Neptune, Poseidon or the Nordic Njörd.
There is one more custom associated with toasting, which Captain Jan Hosek, the commander of a number of naval ships, describes nicely:
Monday: "For the country!
Tuesday: "Our mothers!
Wednesday: "To us!"
Thursday: "To the King!
Friday: "To the home port!"
Saturday: "For lovers and women!
Sunday: "For those who are at sea!"
This tradition of toasts in the mess has long but disappeared, however some toasts have remained.”
Why do seagulls warn us about storms?
When a sailor dies and his body cannot be returned to the earth, their soul is said to transform into a seagull. It then glides around its native banks, closely watching over voyaging ships. When a dangerous storm approaches, it calls to those of its species still living, warning them with its cry.
However, there is always an element of truth hidden within legends. Try watching seagulls before a storm. Before any modern device can pick it up, the gulls have already sensed it. They drop back to the ship's stern making an unusual call. As a result of this, it has been forbidden to hunt and shoot seagulls since time immemorial.
Other customs attribute the same role to dolphins or albatrosses.
Mysterious characters at sea and in the sea
Treacherous Sirens and devious mermaids
They were said to be kinder, but still from time to time someone jumps into the sea towards them. The reason why sailors are lured into the sea, still remains a mystery. But as a result, during a long voyage, it is best not to stand alone at the stern looking into the waves. Especially not in the evening.
However, bear in mind that in the Trinidad and Tobago area, the sea is inhabited by mermen, who actually grant wishes.
Have you heard of Davy Jones? He is a strange man from the depths of the sea, harmful to a ship in every way possible. When something happens to people or equipment on board, and no one could have done it, it was definitely his fault.
Why do sailors decorate themselves?
Why did old sea dogs wear earrings? Because they believed it would improve their eyesight, and due to the pressure points on the ear that it can alleviate sea sickness. Of course, gold earrings also guaranteed a proper funeral. This was simply because if the corpse got washed up on the coast, the earrings would cover the funeral costs.
And where is sailor's paradise?
“No water, just green meadows stretching off into the distance. Music is carried through the air and in the middle lies a bar where young bartenders pour drinks to your heart’s content. Scantily clad dancers cavort about, tempting unageing mariners without asking for marital promise or other commitment. But beware because if the dancers become dissatisfied and silent, a storm will brew at the bottom of the sea."
So for the good weather at sea we can truly be grateful to our savvy predecessors :)
There are also a number of legends associated with sailing. The most famous one is undoubtedly the one about the Flying Dutchman but we'll look at them sometime later on.
Whether or not you follow a superstition or custom, remember to drink to those who are at sea. And maybe even remember those who were at sea long before us but are sadly no longer with us.
Have you made up your mind where to sail yet? We’ll be happy to advise you on a choice of route and recommend you the perfect boat. And don’t fret, it will always set sail on a Saturday :)