From The Boathouse: Sailors’ superstitions



This Friday is the 13th, a date known for bad luck, but no one really knows how it all started. Various theories of how this began date back to the 1800s.

Friday the 13th means nothing to sailors, because sailors are not the least bit superstitious. Well, not if you leave out that it is bad luck to change the name of a boat; or that you shouldn’t bring bananas aboard; or that having a woman on board a ship angers the seas, but having a naked woman on board calms the seas (you thought there was no rhyme or reason).

How about being lured in from the sea by the sirens with their persuasive song? Greek mythology states that they live on the islands of Sirenum scopuli, where ships would crash onto the rocks as they tried to get to the sirens.


I am still looking for sirens and mermaids, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) may have popped my bubble with their recent report, “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.”

NOAA released this statement: “But are mermaids real? No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.”

Have the staff and scientists of NOAA ever seen Sponge Bob or Disney’s Little Mermaid? You can read NOAA’s report on mermaids at

So, I am going to apply for a government grant to fund a research expedition in search of Mermaids. Mermaids date back about 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings that were created during the late Paleolithic period.

But, I digress ... did you know that it is bad luck to set sail on a Friday? Now I know why I see all the sailors using their engines on Friday evenings, and not their sails to get to Catalina for the weekend.

However, do not forget to place a silver coin under the masthead for good luck before you depart.

That brings up an interesting question: If you set sail on a Friday and place a silver coin under the masthead, then do the two opposite superstitions cancel each other out, or is one superstition more powerful than the other?

Black cats are considered good luck on board, but seeing rats scurrying off a ship is bad luck. I always thought that the rats were running so that they would not be dinner for the cats.

In Great Britain, a black cat crossing your path is good luck, yet, in the U.S., a black cat crossing your path is bad luck.

One of the funniest superstitions is that if you see a cross-eyed person on the way to the harbor, then your voyage is doomed.

Lastly for my Friday the 13th nautical superstitions, never, and I mean never, step aboard a ship with your left foot first, and if you are going fishing, then bringing bananas aboard the boat is really, really bad luck.


Tip of the week

If you are visiting King Harbor in Redondo Beach, then you need to visit Dolce Vita Cafe with one of the original celebrity chefs, Mario Martinoli. You might remember Chef Marioas part of the K-CAL 9 TV news team, and also with his cooking segments in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s on Channel 2.

Also, Mario was popular with his radio shows on KYPA, KABC, KFI, KFWB, and where I met him at KLAA. Mario and his wife Amy hosted the radio show immediately before my radio show on 830 KLAA, the 50,000-watt home of Angels baseball.

So swing by and introduce yourself to Chef Mario when you are in the area, and you just might see me sitting at one of the outdoor tables. I am planning to broadcast a few radio shows from the restaurant and attend his Italian cooking classes.

Dolce Vita Cafe is at 1718 South Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach, and do not forget to bring quarters for the parking meters.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon and replayed at 10 a.m. Sunday.

You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, BlackBerry, iPod touch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at

Safe Voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to