SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
Sailors are a notoriously superstitious lot. Perhaps it's because much of our lives is out of our control, at the mercy of weather which, despite all our modern equipment and methods, is still pretty much unpredictable. So we hedge our bets in the right direction, error on the safe side, and avoid walking under ladders.
A few weeks ago, in my non-sailing-writing life, I was given some explanations for some of the superstitions that are part of my everyday life. A fellow sailor asked for a synopsis of what I learned, so here you are.
We have all heard the childhood chant, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back" and of course we are all aware of the seven years of bad luck in store for anyone unlucky enough to break a mirror. And you don't even have to be a sailor to know that killing a cricket is bad luck. But I did learn the reason for throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder if you spill some. The spilling of the salt is not bad luck itself, but while you've got some strewn across the table, you may as well throw a bit of it over your left shoulder. Apparently we all have an angel and a devil on our shoulders. (My devil has a very assertive personality. Either that, or my angel fell off.) And they are particular about which side they're on, the devil always sitting on your left shoulder. So, to confuse him, throw him off guard, keep him from influencing you for a bit, throw some salt in his eye. That at least slows him down.
We Americans knock on wood. Brits and most islanders touch wood. This superstition goes back to ancient times in Britain when people believed there were evil spirits that lived in trees, and if you tempted them or taunted them into doing something they would rise to the challenge. Their weakness, however, was that if you touched the wood they were unable to come down. Thus, when we say something that the spirits could see as a challenge, we touch (or knock on) wood to keep them away.
Black cats are supposed to be bad luck since they were witches pets. But fishermen's wives used to keep a black cat at home, believing that they would prevent an accident at sea. Women are supposed to be bad luck onboard a boat, unless of course, they are naked. Unable to find volunteers for the job, shipbuilders started carving naked figureheads on ships' bows to bring good luck. Red heads on the dock are bad luck, and watching any vessel sail out of sight may bring bad luck to the ship. We took this particular combination of superstitions to heart when we sailed away in 2002. My red haired friend stepped off the dock (onto a neighbor's boat--we figured this was good enough) to say farewell, and we put her in charge of ensuring that everyone turned their backs and walked away before we were out of sight. She must have performed her duty well, since we seem to have an extraordinary amount of good luck. As our middle son says, "We have the best bad luck. Bad stuff happens, but we are always OK."
We have often been chastised for our unwillingness to begin a journey on a Friday. We have sat in port and watched the entire anchorage clear out on the perfect weather window, refusing to leave on a Friday. When people question the wisdom of this, I tell them the story of the British navy ship in the 1800's that was built with the intentions of dispelling this "myth." Her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, named H.M.S. Friday, and went to sea on a Friday. Neither she nor her crew were ever heard of again.
We know to never whistle for the wind—you just never know how much of it you may get. A simple case of be careful what you ask for. And if you want to catch fish, avoid having green lighters or bananas onboard. More than once onboard Eurisko, a kid has still been chewing the last bite of the last banana when we get our first "FISH ON" of the trip.
But here is one that I had never heard of until recently, but which explains a lot. Losing a bucket (or a mop) overboard is a bad omen. Those of you who have read Sacrifices to Neptune know the story of the dropped bucket. (Thanks, Nicholas!) But the rest of the story is that when we were finally within 15 miles of our destination, at the end of a three-day passage, with Nick's girlfriend who was green crew in more ways than one, Dave heard of a tropical depression that was probably going to become a named storm. Change of plans. Rather than anchor down in a few hours, we altered course for Antigua. Another day away. But like Garrett says, we have the best bad luck. Yes, we added another long day to our passage, but we were safely tucked away when the TD passed us. Maybe we touched wood somewhere along the line.
MONDAY we will share our experiences in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
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