The former prime minister, Edward Heath, in his book “Sailing” (1975) revealed that he too had experienced the warnings of ill omen. At the launch of the “Morning Cloud 1” the bottle twice refused to break, and at the same ceremony for the “Morning Cloud 111” the wife of a crew member fell and suffered severe concussion. This yacht was later wrecked off the South coast with the loss of two lives, and in the very same gale the “Morning Cloud 1” was blown from the moorings on the island of Jersey, and also wrecked. Meanwhile, the Morning Cloud 11” had been launched without incident and was leading a trouble free life with the Australian to whom she had been sold.
As recently as December 1987 a strange case came to light as a result of a Department of Health and Social Security enquiry into why members of a Bridlington trawler crew were spending so much time unemployed. In explanation, Derek Gates, skipper of the “Pickering”, said that putting to sea had become impossible: on board lights would flicker on and off; cabins stayed freezing cold even when the heating was on maximum; a coastguard confirmed that the ship’s steering repeatedly turned her in erratic circles and in addition, the radar kept failing and the engine broke down regularly. One of the crewmen reported seeing a spectral, cloth-capped figure roaming the deck, and a former skipper, Michael Laws, told how he repeatedly sensed someone in the bunk above his, though it was always empty. He added: “ My three months on the Pickering” were the worst in seventeen years at sea. I didn’t earn a penny because things were always going wrong”.
The DHSS decided that the men’s fears were a genuine reason for claiming unemployment benefit, and the vicar of Bridlington, the Rev. Tom Wilis, was called in to conduct a ceremony of exorcism. He checked the ship’s history, and concluded that the disturbances might be connected with the ghost of a deckhand who had been washed overboard when the trawler, then registered as the “Family Crest”, was fishing off Ireland. He sprinkled water from stem to stern, led prayers, and called on the spirit of the dead to depart. His intervention proved effective because the problems ceased, and furthermore the crew began to earn bonuses for good catches.
Sailors used to be very superstitious – maybe they still are – and greatly concerned to avoid ill-luck, both ashore and afloat. Wives must remember that “Wash upon sailing day, and you will wash your man away”, and must also be careful to smash any eggshells before they dispose of them, to prevent their being used by evil spirits as craft in which to put to sea and cause storms.
Luck was brought by:
a gold ear-ring worn in the left ear
a piece of coal carried
a coin thrown over the ship’s bow when leaving port
a feather from a wren killed on St. Stephen’s Day
a hot cross bun or a piece of bread baked on a Good Friday
The last three all preserved from drowning. David Copperfield’s caul was advertised for sale in the newspapers “for the low price of fifteen guineas”, and the woman from the port of Lymington in Hampshire offered one in “The Daily Express” as recently as 23 August 1904. One Grimsby man born with the caul has kept it to this day. When he joined the Royal Navy during World War 11 his mother insisted that he take the caul with him. Various other sailors offered him up to L20 – a large sum for those days – if he would part with it, but he declined.
For over two hundred years now a bun has been added every Good Friday to a collection preserved at the Widow’s Son Tavern, Bromley – by –Bow, London. The name and the custom derive from an eighteenth – century widow who hoped that her missing sailor son would eventually come home safely if she continued to save a bun every Easter. Some seamen had their own version of this, and would touch their sweetheart’s bun (pudenda) for luck before sailing.
Other things had to be avoided because they brought ill-luck.
- meeting a pig, a priest or a woman on the way to one’s ship
having a priest or a woman aboard
saying the words: pig, priest, rabbit, fox, weasel, hare
dropping a bucket overboard
leaving a hatch cover upside down
leaving a broom, a mop or a squeegee with the head upwards
spitting in the sea
handing anything down a companionway
sailing on a Friday
finding a drowned body in the trawl (in the case of Yorkshire fisherman)
Although many of these beliefs are obscure in origin, others can be explained.
For example, the pig had the devil’s mark on his feet – cloven hoofs – and was a bringer of storms; furthermore the drowning of the Gadarene swine was a dangerous precedent. Then the priest was associated with funerals, and so taking him aboard was perhaps too blatant a challenge to the malign powers – if he were to be designated in conversation he was always “The gentleman in black”. The pig was curly tail, or in Scotland “cauld iron beastie” since if it were inadvertently mentioned the speaker and hearers had to touch cold iron to avoid evil consequences; if no cold iron were available, the studs to one’s boots would do. The other four animals were taboo because they were thought to be the shapes assumed by witches who were notorious for summoning storms.
Ðåôåðàò îïóáëèêîâàí: 20/10/2006