Nautical Feng Shui
Is Beelzebub in your bilge? Are there gremlins in the galley?
A how-to guide for banishing seafaring superstitions aboard, nautically balancing your vessel, and keeping it that way.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler
GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE INFORMATION, A NECESSARY INTRODUCTION IS FORTHWITH:
Edmund Burke, the 18th century British political writer said, “Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.”
Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most melancholy Dane, cogitated that, “All is not well; I doubt some foul play.”
“Horse hockey!” remarked a crusty curmudgeon of a captain I once fished with.
While poets, scientists, scholars, and theologians have contemplated the roots of superstition throughout the ages, none seem more under its spell than those of us who goes down to the sea in ships. And as you may ascribe to some Neptunian/Poseidon-based superstitions, I have chosen to arm myself using a parallel interpretation of Newton’s Third Law of Physics—For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—to dispel any ensorcells coming my way. Therefore, in order to share my so far unbroken lucky streak in dealing with these waterborne perturbations with you, my shipmates, I offer the following solutions. But before we begin, let the wise mariner beware. Since karma is like a boomerang, you always carry yours with you. Hopefully all your worldly good deeds to date far outweigh your bad ones and therefore, should any of these conditions befall you, I hope you have enough juice built up to repel them.
The only guarantees here are that there are none. Good luck!
CHANGING THE NAME OF A BOAT
It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. Well, what if you don’t like the name of the boat you’re contemplating buying? Or, perish the thought, already own? Tripe Stew. Muck & Mire. Regurgitation. Skid Marx. Haggis. Yes friends, these and others, some way too blue to make it into print for this collection—this is, after all, a family experience—are names I’ve seen adorning the transom, often in gold leaf and lavishly illustrated, of many a craft. If you really can’t stand your boat’s present name, you can change it without fear of reprisal. But do it only in the following manner lest you stir up a heap of trouble.
First, you will have to ceremoniously obliterate the old name everywhere you find it. For example, run a piece of sandpaper once across the transom, or if the bows and superstructure are so festooned, up there also. And don’t forget the tender. If there is a ship’s log aboard (logs are often kept by new owners for maintenance schedules), or a life ring, raft, salt and pepper shakers, and so on, take a pen, pencil, or marker and draw a single line through the name everywhere it appears. Continue doing this throughout the boat, making a mark that in some way deletes the odious cognomen.
Next take a piece of paper and write the soon-to-be-exorcised name on it. Fold the paper up and place it in a small cardboard or wooden box. Burn the box completely until there are only ashes left. Scoop up the residue and take it to the water’s edge. Throw the remains into the sea on an outgoing tide. (If you live on a lake, do it at night and only during a new moon. For you river dwellers, send the scoriae downstream.) You may now change the name everywhere on your vessel without fear of irking the ire of any mischievous water sprite. And of course the monogrammed towels will have to go.
AN ASIDE: Eugene V. Connett III, born 1891 and who died in 1969, spent most of his adult life fly-fishing and publishing rare and collectible sporting books at his Derrydale Press. Such was his obsession that he exhausted his family fortune pursuing his dream and wound up in financial ruin. His take on the difference between a boat and a chicken coop is especially telling: “Boats are quite different from chicken coops; things on a boat must be able to take any licking to which they are exposed or you take the rap. In a chicken coop the chickens take it.”
How about whistling aboard? In olden days, becalmed sailors whistled whether at the wheel, swabbing the decks, or chained in the fo’csle. This warbling was believed to bring up the wind. Of course, centuries later, since the last thing some of us motorized boaters need is a blustery day—sail boaters need not heed this particular fallaciousness as they often require some sort of snotty blow to get them from Point A to Point B and even perhaps back again lest they turn on their engines to cover some ground at the very least; so for the ragbagger
s amongst us, tweet and twitter away to your heart’s desire. So be it. For the rest of us, trilling aboard is absolutely verboten
. However, if any of you power boaters happen to forget yourselves and by chance do pucker up and blow, merely spit overboard in the direction from which the wind is coming, and any errant gust will hasten itself to disappear. Don’t forget to duck or feint one-way or the other lest your chucker hit you on the way back. If it does, take a bucket of water from the ocean, lake, river, or bathtub and douse the spot where you were hit. If it lands on your face, you can’t just wash the spot off. Instead, you’ll have to dump the whole bucket over your head. Of course there’s a more salty approach but again, this is a family site.
Fresh Fish: The first person to write in English about using a fishing rod was Dame Juliana Berners, whose Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle (c.1496) remained the basis of fishing knowledge in England for 150 years.
VOYAGING ON A FRIDAY
Then there’s the one about not embarking on a Friday. Well that comes from the idea that perhaps Christ was crucified on a Friday, and therefore it is very bad luck to set out on that day. And as far as where letting your lines go if the day falls on the 13th, well, perish the thought. Even thinking of it will bring disaster down upon you on a biblical scale. However, my good friend and dock buddy Father “Fishin’ Magician” O’Really—actually O’Reilly but due to his penchant for telling exaggerated fish stories we hung this respected moniker on him—has a remedy for this one. Should those whose minds have contemplated such a voyage on that particular day of the week, he advises his marinized parishioners to say the proper novenas—especially those concerning St. Francis and St. Peter—and all will be just fine. “And for my Hebrew friends, of which there are many,” he said as we shared another wee Bushmills during this conversation, “Well it just doesn’t matter now does it my boy? They can set out any old day they wish.” See where I’m going with this?
Overheard on a recent flight from Boise, Idaho to St. Petersburg, Florida: “Hey, Olive, be a dear and pass me that can of spinach.” Popeye, sailorman
Bananas. Now, how can nature’s perfect food ever be bad luck on a boat? Well shipmates, it seems that long ago, when iron men sailed wooden ships, many a voyage often put into exotic tropical locales for reprovisioning. Among the foodstuffs taken on were copious amounts of bananas. And
in these bunches of bananas, living happily on nature’s perfect food, were all sorts of bugs, spiders, and snakes and creepy-crawlies that, once aboard, often lived just as happily in the victuals, bunks, and on the bodies of the crew, including many a vexed captain. Soon unexplained fevers and sores spread throughout the ships companies, and eventually to almost all the ports of call the vessels made, including its home port, as the insecta–
the Latin family name—
interlopers made it ashore.
When the irate masters finally figured out the source of the scourge, the word spread lickety-split from port to port and any form of genus Musa—that’s Latin for banana—aboard a ship was prohibited. To cement the edict, they fed into the sailor’s trunk of superstitions that bananas aboard portended all sorts of ill and thus deemed the fruit bad luck.
Of course today this is all so much bilge water so there’s no need to deprive yourself of nature’s perfect food aboard your boat. But if you feel the need to dispel any chance of any bad mamma jamma coming your way, simply throw the peel into the water—not to worry tree-huggers, it’ll quickly get eaten as it rejoins the circle of life—while balancing on your right foot. That’s your right foot. Never the left. And oh yes, make sure you’ve finished the banana before tossing the peel.
The code of the old U.S. Lifesaving Service: You have to go out, and that’s a fact. Nothin’ says you have to come back.
GETTING ON AND OFF A BOAT
And don’t make light of this left foot thing. Getting on and off a boat with your left foot—you’re not supposed to in case you didn’t know—is a big no no. You question the authenticity of this fact? Then you research it in the Gutenberg Bible on your own. But if you happen to absentmindedly make this podiatric faux pas, merely retrace your steps backwards exactly as you made them forwards until you are either dockside or deckside. Take off your shoes, sneakers, flip-flops, or whatever and switch them to the opposite foot. Then step on or off the boat, right foot first of course, after which you can put your whatever’s back on the proper foot.
If you’re one of those unshod boaters—go figure anyone with a splinter/hot-deck fetish or having a penchant for picking up all sorts of foot fungi that are more than happy to take up residence and multiply and be fruitful between your toes—perform the same maneuver. Do the reverse shodding thing, and get on or off. Right foot first please, or you’ll have to do the whole thing over again but this time twice. Once ashore or aboard, feel free to unshod yourself if you must.
In response to the question of how long a particular seaman had been a sailor, there’s some insight I found in this little ditty:
All me bloomin’ life.
Me mother was a mermaid,
Me father was King Neptune.
I was born on the crest of a wave
And rocked on the cradle of the deep.
Seaweed and barnacles are me clothes,
The hair on me head is hemp,
Every bone in me body’s a spar,
And when I spits, I spit tar.
I’se hard, I is, I am, I are.
KEEPING GOOD LUCK ABOARD
Getting from bow to stern on many a craft is often a task that is made even more difficult by the many things that can be left on deck. Anything from a mop to a length of line to last night’s empties lying about can and will get you in trouble. And should you accidentally overturn a bucket full of water, you are leaving yourself, your vessel, and those aboard facing dire consequences. You see the water inside the bucket is considered to be good luck and the more that spills out, the more good luck will be leaving. Therefore, make all haste to right the bucket and save even the smallest amount of water. Any luck left is better than none at all. Under no circumstances should you leave the bucket overturned. A prudent skipper will therefore alert all in his crew to make sure they are ever vigil whenever buckets full of water are about.
Should this happen aboard your boat, and you have been successful in righting the bucket and saving some of the water, immediately fill the container with water which has come from overboard in the general area where the spilled liquid found its way to the sea; it takes a sharp eye and a keen mind not to panic when this happens. Just follow the trail to the nearest scupper. But do not use the righted bucket for fetching. Instead use another ewer, jug, carton, cup, container, pitcher, basin, decanter, or carafe until the pail is half full.
Then, as you are pouring the very next fill into the bucket, throw a copper penny overboard on the opposite side from where you are filling. As copper is the main ingredient in protective anti-fouling paint, this is a way of making an offering to safeguard your hull bottom as well. The metal was also used as copper sheathing on hull bottoms on ships in days gone by. Anyway, making this submission while refilling your bucket with water will ensure that good luck will return aboard your vessel. Once the bucket is filled, you can now slowly pour the water overboard, allowing it to surround your boat with fair winds, clear skies, and no underwater obstructions.
Should you kick over a bucket below decks, quickly sponge up as much as you can and get it back into the bucket. Then, with as much alacrity as possible, get topsides and proceed with the already mentioned instructions. In this situation you can fill the bucket from any location but remember to toss the copper penny into the drink opposite from where you are.
On Launching A Boat
This one has some overlapping with the not-voyaging-on-a-Friday annoyance. As you recall from that one, bad luck will follow you for the rest of your days—and then some—if you set sail on any Friday, double that for a Friday the 13th.
To bolster the point, I recall the story of a ship building company at the turn of the 19th Century whose principals decided to test the hex to the max. Cutting to the chase here, they signed on to build the ship on a Friday, commissioned the keel on a Friday, finished driving the last fastening on a Friday, hired a captain named Friday, on a Friday, by the way, and launched and christened the vessel on a Friday. There were lots of other Friday occurrences but I’m sure you get my drift here. Oh yes, one more: The vessel was named…yep, Friday.
Anyway, on her maiden voyage, she smartly slipped her lines and drifted away from the dock on the outgoing tide. With family, friends, and investors waving from quayside, her crew unfurled her sails. She caught the wind, and slowly, bit by bit, made for the horizon after which she was never heard from again. So, as my good friend Father O’Really would have me do, let’s uncork a bit of the wee Bushmills and set aside Fridays for other things rather than splashing our boats.
But let’s get back to the problem at hand. Before the notion of using champagne to wet the bows of boats slipping down the ways, or more likely being lowered in the TravelLift for the vessel’s first taste of water, wine was poured upon the decks and represented a libation to the gods, what with their well-known and avid proclivity for the drink, thus ensuring to bring good luck. Christening a ship by breaking a bottle of champagne across her bow at the time of launching arose from this practice. However, there is one derivation of this that is a bit more macabre. Somewhere back in antiquity, Druid stuff and all that, it is said that only human sacrifice could appease the capriciousness of the spirit world. With the decks thus bloodied, the vessel could now sail upon the waters in safety. I, for one, am glad that’s over with as is, I am sure, the hapless participant of such a ritual.
Now, to guarantee a good and proper launching, and to make sure no calamity, disaster, mishap, or ruin comes of your beginning this portion of your watery adventures, it is important to have this most sacred of nautical undertakings well planned out.
First, arrange your launching on an outgoing tide; preferable at the top of the flood and just before the ebb. In addition, if you can plan things during any cycle of a full moon, neap, or spring tide, this is also desirable but not absolutely necessary. But doing it during this special astronomical occurrence couldn’t hurt. This might well irritate your marina manager, but when you’re dealing with the alternative, I’d opt for the short-lived annoyance that anything from a six-pack to a freshly caught fish to a t-shirt can usually cure.
With everything now in place, take a pair of old shoes, whether one by one or tied together, and throw them in the water at the moment any part of the hull first touches the water. Having someone standing by helps to coordinate this. There is, of course, some leeway in the timing of the toss so don’t implode if you are either slightly ahead of the dipping or just behind it. The shoes—boots are also permissible as are boat shoes, sneakers, sandals, flip flops, or any other type of foot wear—must be well worn, beyond repair, and a long-time favorite of the boat owner’s. The older and more seasoned the better, as the long accumulated mileage will guarantee that much time and tide will pass before any monkey business will, well, monkey around with your vessel. And as far as that champagne goes, please make sure the bottle is well scored so that it will shatter and bathe the bows in liquid on the first shot. You are allowed a second shot but in doing so, this will lessen the amount of protective time the shoes were originally giving you. For the full effect, you must wait at least 24 hours before cracking the bottle. To counteract this blight, hang the shoes overboard in the dock, much the same as a zinc guppy, for the same amount of time.
Once the boat is safely afloat, retrieve the footwear—I’m sure your dockmates and neighbors as well as that feisty marina manager don’t want a pair of old shoes floating around the docks—and toss them in the garbage with complete confidence as they have now and forever, served their purpose.
“I’m going below to put on my 50 mph hat cause I only got 40 mph hair.” Dick Weber, owner, Canyon Club Marina/South Jersey Yacht Sales, Cape May, New Jersey, as we hit 41.8 mph on his 73-foot Ocean Yacht in Biscayne Bay, Miami, February, 2005.
On Having Redheads On Board
Okay guys and gals, for all of you who are smitten with significant others whose hair, locks, tresses, curls or mane are carrot-topped, crimson, scarlet, ruby, burgundy, or any hue, shade, tint, color, tinge, tone, or blush in any variation on the color red, this one is for you.
Since the days of yore, having a redheaded person on board has been considered a harbinger of bad luck. Whether its roots can be found in the old ‘Red Sky At Dawning, Sailor Take Warning’ elegy or some other limerick, couplet, rhyme, or verse dating back to when the first mariner set off from terra firma to float upon the watery world, we will most likely never know the true reason for this particular predicament.
However, should you be expecting a redheaded person aboard, you must, lest you suffer the most dire of consequences, not allow them to speak to you first. Therefore, the utmost vigilance must be taken. As soon as you see them coming down the dock, quay, gangplank, wharf, pier, or being ferried from ashore via dinghy—a pair of high-quality binoculars should be used—be prepared to speak first. Whether it’s a hearty ‘Hal-lo!’, ‘Ahoy!’, ‘Hey, hiyadoin!’, or whatever greeting, salutation, welcome, salute, or any other means of communication available that causes you to say the spoken work, it absolutely, without question must be you who utter it first.
Should the unthinkable occur, you will have to immediately cease all tête-à-tête, discussion, dialogue, conversation, or any communication that may be construed as verbal discourse, including singing or speaking in iambic pentameter, or any other lyric or poetic presentation, with the offending person. Even if they continue to assault your auditory senses with lexis, you will desist with all your inner strength. Using an intermediary, or if no one else is around or refuses, on secular or religious grounds, to be part of this exorcism, you will, without delay, communicate with the aforementioned scarlet-headed person via the written word or sign language as long as no sound utters from you.
During this inscribing or gesticulating discourse, after you have explained yourself fully and made it quite clear that you are most serious about the unfolding and subsequent ramifications of these event—you may be looked upon with dread, scorn, revulsion, as well as a stare that might very well question your sanity, but, my dear fellow sojourner, see it through—you are to ask for a small cutting of hair. You are then to place it in a small envelope, seal it, and place the packet in a larger sachet and mail the package to someone you know who lives inland and not within sight of a major body of water; whether it be ocean, lake, stream, pond, brook, river, tributary, waterway, canal, channel, inlet, gulf, bay, cove, creek, sound, or fjord. They are to be instructed to place the parcel, unopened, in a dark place such as a closet or drawer, and keep it there for one complete cycle of the moon after which it can be thrown away. Choose wisely now pilgrim, for entrusting such an important burden should only be asked of someone worthy of the responsibility.
The parcel must always remain unopened up to the time it is trashed. For the length of its incarceration, and until it is properly disposed of, you and your vessel and everyone on board will have immunity from harm. And once the package has been forever dispatched, you and your redheaded crewmember can live in everlasting nautical harmony. Now isn’t that a nice way to wrap this one up? I think so too.
Gongoozler’s and dockwalloper’s are two distinct kinds of people. The former stands around the waterfront with their hands in their pockets watching other folks do things while the latter walks around the dock, checking things out.
By now dear travelers, you’ve most likely picked up on the importance of not only chasing but keeping away some of these troubles by coordinating their unraveling with certain phases of the moon, especially when it is full. This particular
component is nothing to be scoffed at or ignored as the moon not only plays a special role in the natural world but as we all know, “There are more things in heaven and earth dear Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
From time immemorial, the dead orb that accompanies our planet on its own ceaseless celestial voyage has had a profound effect on humankind. Such is the upshot on our collective consciousnesses that there’s “Moon For The Misbegotten” and “Moon Over Miami”; Native American author William Least Heat Moon of Blue Highways fame; pop star Moon Martin whose 1978 album—yes, in those days it was albums kids—‘Shots From A Cold Nightmare’ was received quite well; the infamous Moonies of the 1970’s and 80’s; H.G. Wells’ “From The Earth to The Moon”; moonshine whisky; Pink Floyd’s remarkable Dark Side of The Moon as well as Van Morrison’s mercurial Moondance; NFL pro quarterback Warren Moon; other songs such as Blue Moon, [It’s only a] Paper Moon, By The Light of The Silvery Moon, Shine on, shine on Harvest Moon, the Rolling Stones’ Moonlight Mile, and Warren Zevon’s They Moved the Moon; Streit’s Moon Strips matzohs; of course there’s always howling at the moon and the Moonwalk, made famous by pseudo-human Michael Jackson; the well-known Man in The Moon, not to be confused by the movie of almost-the-same-name, The Man on The Moon nor the movie of the same name starring Jim Carey as hell-bent-for-destruction comedian Andy Kaufman; moon pies (they came in artificial chocolate and strawberry flavored); Moon Dog, the Viking-clad existential poet who, until he died, made it his life’s work to stand on a street corner in New York City; and then there was his parallel universe buddy, Moondoggie, the half-wit surfer dude from those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello flicks; the absolutely wonderful Goodnight Moon children’s book; the persistent sophomoric inclination towards mooning; the famous comic strip of the 1940’s and 50’s, Moon Mullins; Frank Moon, who played the role of the doctor on the hit television show, The A-Team; D.H. Lawrence’s, “…the new moon, of no importance”; lots of Asian kids having Moon as a surname; many references in literature, poetry, and music to moon-faced girls, none of which I can name right now but I know they exist; Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank Zappa, transcendental leader and driving force of the 1960’s band, The Mothers of Invention; the movie Moonstruck with Cher and Nicholas Cage; a moon reference from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” reads thus:
The moving Moon went up the sky.
And nowhere did abide;
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside-
To Honeymooner Jackie Gleason’s exasperated signature shout as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Cramden, “to the moon Alice!”; the nursery rhyme line where the cow jumped over the moon; the moon adventures of Baron von Munchausen. And who could ever forget the cheesy 1950’s black and white sci-fi film classic, Cat-Women of the Moon; in colonial America, March was the time of the Fish Moon; for the Chinese, the month was known as the Sleepy Moon; the Cherokee tribe called it the Windy Moon while the Choctaw and Dakotah Sioux knew it as The Big Famine Moon and the Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow respectively; for the Celts it was the Moon Of Winds; Medieval Englanders christened it the Chaste Moon while the Neo Pagans naturally dubbed it the Death Moon—go figure, Pagans; and to those people inhabiting New Guinea, the appellation for the full moon occurring in March ranged from Rainbow Fish to Palalo Worm to Open Sea to Rain and Wind Moon. A rose by any other name, eh? And of course looked what happened to poor Larry Talbot in the original Wolfman film.
Then there’s the whole tide thing coupled with our own bodily makeup of lots of water and the fact that we begin life by swimming around in amniotic fluid for nine months and the possible effect the moon could have on that. I could easily go on and on and fill several more pages but I think you catch my drift here. So bottom line, don’t discount the effect that the moon has on us mere mortals when dealing with keeping good luck aboard and bad luck at bay. When in doubt, or if you need an extra push, it couldn’t hurt to wait for the proper time in the lunar cycle to get things done right.
Well friends, that’s it for now. There are legions more to deal with but this is all I have room for in this edition. Spurred on by my terminal wanderlust, I will be scouring the Seven Seas and visiting every atoll, island, port-of-call, harbor, wharf, quay, marina, town, seaport, and mooring in my watery travels to uncover not only the sources of other ills not dealt with here, but more of the spells, incantations, charms, potions, concoctions, remedies, cures and treatments for all that ails ye. If you have a hex that needs dispelling drop me a line here at the site and I’ll see what I can do. Hopefully I’ll be able to help you free your boat of any bad mojo that you may have unwittingly conjured up.
If you have a salty cure of your own for what ails us poor unfortunate souls, please send it on in. If it’s truly worthy of a posting–this is some serious business after all–I’ll send you two dozen of my world famous, hand-made, chocolate chip cookies. You’re gonna love ’em. I promise. (Make sure to let me know if you have any food allergies, especially to nuts, so I won’t load them up with any macadamia, walnuts, or pecans.)
In the meantime, don’t leave any hatch covers lying upside down on your deck, if a redheaded person is getting aboard your boat always be the first to speak to them before they speak to you, and never, absolutely never mess with an albatross. Now, if I can only find that Fijian talisman that my good friend Capt. Bill Pike gave me I just might be able to go fishing again.
Fair Winds Shipmates
If you have your own SALTY LIFE experience and would like to share it with us, please send it in, along with any images, drawings, illustrations, maps, or photos. If it gets posted, I will send you two dozen of my world famous, hand made, chocolate chip cookies. Promise. And don’t forget to let me know if you have any food allergies, like with nuts, so I won’t load them up with pecan, walnut, or macademias. You’re going to love ’em. Fair winds shipmates! -Capt. Ken