Perhaps women were also shunned because they were considered potential witches, although a good way to make a storm abate was for a woman to expose her naked body to the elements. Bare - breasted figure – heads were designed to achieve the same result. Nevertheless, during HMS “Durban” ’s South American tour in the 1930s the captain allowed his wife to take passage on the ship. Before the tour was halfway through there were two accidental deaths on board, besides a series of mishaps, and feeling amongst the crew began to run high. At one port of call a group of men returning to the ship on a liberty boat were freely discussing the run of bad luck, attributing it to “having that bloody woman on board”. They did not realize that the captain was separated from them by only a thin bulkhead and had overheard the whole conversation. But instead of taking disciplinary action, he put his wife ashore the next day; she travelled by land to other ports, and the ship’s luck immediately changed for the better.
Fridays were anathema – “Friday sail, Friday fail” was the saying – since the temtation of Adam, the banishment from the Garden of Eden, and the crucifixion of Christ had all taken place on a Friday. One old story, probably apocryphal, tells of a royal navy ship called HMS “Friday” which was launched, first sailed and then lost on a Friday; moreover her captain was also called Friday. Oddly enough, a ship of this name does appear in the admiralty records in 1919, but the story was in circulation some fifty years earlier. This fear of Friday dies hard. A certain Paul Sibellas, seaman, was aboard the “Port Invercargill” in the 1960s when on one occasion she was ready to sail for home from New Zealand at 10pm on Friday the thirteenth. The skipper, however, delayed his departure until midnight had passed and Saturday the fourteenth had arrived.
Whistling is preferably avoided because it can conjure up a wind, which might be acceptable aboard a becalmed sailing ship, but not otherwise. Another way of getting a wind was to stick a knife in the mast with its handle pointing in the direction from which a blow was required – this was done on the “Dreadnaught” in 1869, in jury rig after being dismasted off Cape Horn.
In 1588 Francis Drake is said to have met the devil and various wizards to whistle up tempests to disrupt the Spanish Armada. The spot near Plymouth were they gathered is now called Devil’s Point. He is also said to have whittled a stick, of which the pieces became fireships as they fell into the sea; and his house at Buckland Abbey was apparently built with unaccountable speed, thanks to the devil’s help. Drake’s drum is preserved in the house and is believed to beat of its own accord when the country faces danger.
DENIZENS OF THE DEEP
With the mirror and comb, her ling hair, bare breasts and fish tail, the mermaid is instantly recognisable, but nowadays only as an amusing convention. However, she once inspired real fear as well as fascination and sailors firmly believed she gave warning of tempest of calamity.
As recently as seventy years ago, Sandy Gunn, a Cape Wrath shepherd, claimed he saw a mermaid on a spur of rock at Sandwood Bay. Other coastal dwellers also recall such encounters, even naming various landmarks. In Corwall there are several tales invilving mermaids: at Patstow the harbour entrance is all but blocked by the Doom Bar, a sandbank put there by mermaid, we are told, in relation for being fired at by a man of the town. And the southern Cornish coast between the villages of Down Derry and Looe, the former town of Seaton was overwhelmed by sand because it was cursed by a mermaid injured by a sailor from the port.
Mermaid’s Rock near Lamorna Cove was the haunt of a mermaid who would sing before a storm and then swim out to sea – her beauty was such that young men would follow, never to reappear. At Zennor a mermaid was so entranced by the singing of Matthew Trewella, the squire’s son, that she persuaded him to follow her; he, too failed to to return, but his voice could be heard from time to time, coming from beneath the waves. The little church in which he sang on land has a fifteenth – century bench – end carved with a mermaid and her looking – glass and comb.
On the other hand, mermaids could sometimes be helpful. Mermaid’s Rock at Saundersfoot in Wales is so called because a mermaid was once stranded there by the ebbing of the tide. She was returned to the sea by a passing mussel – gatherer, and later came back to present him with a bag of gold and silver as a reward. In the Mull of Kintyre a Mackenzie lad helped another stranded mermaid who in return granted him his wish, that he cpuld build unsinkable boats from which no man would ever be lost.
Ðåôåðàò îïóáëèêîâàí: 20/10/2006