Long before passenger ships were taking people on amazing holiday cruises, watercraft of all kinds sailed the seven seas. Dugout canoes are presumed to be the first vessels used in the stone age, progressing through sailing vessels, advanced navigation, steam and motor engines to the variety of boats which grace harbours and seas around the world today. Of course, with such a long history of maritime activity, many traditions, folklore and superstitions have popped up to surround those who take to the world's oceans.
Sailors are superstitious people
Ocean travel, before the technology of today, was a risky venture - much like almost any other kind of travel! This has meant that endless practices and beliefs aimed at protecting mariners from the gods of the deep. The list is long and changes from region to region, but here are a few of the most common superstitions, lore and traditions:
Bad luck omens - A few no-nos cropped over the hundreds of years of sailing the ocean blue. They include beginning a voyage on a Friday, killing albatrosses, bringing bananas on the ship, and whistling. At one point in history it was also considered bad luck to have women onboard, especially on military vessels.
Good luck omens - Black cats have a pretty bad reputation overall, but mariners have long considered them good luck and would often adopt one to join the ship's crew. They also are handy in that they eat rodents. Mythical mermaids and mermen are also thought of as lucky, as is touching the collar of a sailor's suit. There are at least two patron saints dedicated to the wellbeing of Catholic sailors.
Nautical notions - Stories and folklore handed down from sailor to sailor include the tale of Davy Jones who welcomes drowned sailors in his locker, and the legend of the kraken sea monster with suckered tentacles which may have been inspired by sightings of giant squid.
Other practices - Tattoos have a strong association with sailors, who get them as talismans to appease the fickle sea. It is also a tradition to have a "line-crossing" ceremony to commemorate an individual's first crossing of the equator.
Cruising and maritime tradition
Although cruise lines and crew remain mostly unaffected by the more superstitious aspects of maritime lore, they certainly don't disregard nautical tradition altogether - and the industry has some important traditions of its own.
One of the major ones is the godmother tradition, explained more fully in the linked blog post. Godmothers are a big deal for cruise lines, and influential women are chosen to christen every new cruise ship.
The beginning of a cruise ship construction is marked with a steel-cutting ceremony, and they will often have "good-luck" coins welded in place. Toasting with champagne is considered a good way to ensure a "bon voyage."
Holland America recently launched its brand new Koningsdam, and captain Emiel de Vries shared one of his superstitions: "When a ship starts to float, the water that first touches the ship is caught in a bottle and it's sealed. Later it is typically displayed in the captain's office near the bridge. You walk in and think, 'Ah, there's the bottle. Everything is good" Captain de Vries explained. "If I would walk on a ship and it's not there, I would find that odd."
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 has its own tradition. Officers use a toy ship on the bridge to mark their progress during a transatlantic crossing. They move the ship a little further along its symbolic journey each day. The line also names all onboard crew bars "The Pig and Whistle" after the pub nearest to the Cunard ships' historical dock in Liverpool.
Naming ceremonies are very important for all cruise lines - and it's bad luck for a ship to enter service without a name! Meghan and Sarah of the Cruise Sale Finder recently witnessed this time-honoured cruise tradition for the Ovation of the Seas in Beijing, China.
Should you be worried?
Superstitions do tend to make people nervous. However, we like to look at it this way: if you've ever broken a mirror, stepped on a crack, accidentally opened an umbrella inside or had a black cat cross in front of you, you're stuffed on land anyway so might as well take your chances at sea.
In all seriousness, these are not things that passengers need to concern themselves with, even if they are superstitious. The captains and crew will see to any little traditions or ceremonies that need to be taken care of - after all, they are the sailors at the mercy of the sea gods, not their guests.
If you are extremely cautious, we would suggest avoiding cruises which depart on a Friday, or killing albatrosses - and perhaps getting a nice anchor tattoo before setting sail!
If you feel that the gods of the deep are sufficiently appeased and you can set sail, Cruise Sale Finder is here to help you find a cruise!