This Week a bit of Fun – Top 20 Sailing Superstitions

Because of the dangers faced by sailors and fishermen, there are countless superstitions around safety and luck on the sea. Some seem a little strange today. While most no longer apply, we’re guessing that some still linger in sailors’ minds.

20. Re-naming a boat
It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.

19.  Tattoos
When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore.

18.  Blood
It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.

17.  Fishing nets
When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number 

16.  Caul
Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).

15.  Hat overboard
Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.

14.  Eggshells
Eggshells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.

13.  Personal grooming
Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.

12. Feet
Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.

11. Women
Women were bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts. 

10. Non-sailing days
It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself).

9. Watch your mouth
Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including “drowned”, “goodbye” and “good luck”. Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church,  pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.

8. No whistling 
Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”

7.  No farewell
It was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.

6. Stirring tea
Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck

5. Turning a loaf of bread upside down
Turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut brings bad luck too. These two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea!

4. Red-heads
Like flat-footed people, red-heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.

3. Salt
It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.

2. Fishy
In order to encourage fish to be caught, Scottish fishermen would begin their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on 

1. Bananas
No bananas on board. They were believed to be so unlucky they would cause the ship to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.

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Avoid Sailing Mistakes

An important ingredient to winning a yacht race is to make fewer mistakes than your fellow competitors.

Because of sailing’s complexities, even the best sailors will make mistakes but it is the avoidance of the major ones that are the most telling, minor mistakes will make a difference but should not be sweated over.

I have listed below things which will ensure that you avoid major mistakes. You need good planning, execution on the course and staying alert whilst racing to guarantee you avoid a disastrous result.

  • Read and absorb the sailing instructions before heading out and where possible carry a copy to refer to if time and circumstances allow.  If you are on a crewed boat have at least one other team member do the same. Write the most important or unique instructions on your boat with a Chinagraph pencil.
  • Constantly check the wind direction both before the race and during the event, this will help you to identify persistent or oscillating shifts and assist you to modify your strategy if necessary. Head out of the boat.
  • Constantly look around the course for differences in wind direction and strength. To head to the wrong side of the course in changing conditions because you were not constantly observing changes can be extremely costly.
  • Choose your lanes carefully to avoid sailing in dirty or disturbed air and tack or gybe away to stay clear.
  • Check current direction and strength and read tide tables to see if there is a likely change of direction and strength as the race wears on. What was correct on the first time round may, in fact, be very different the next time around.
  • Have a race plan before the start but be prepared to modify it if conditions or your position in the fleet changes, a constant re-evaluation may be necessary.
  • Sometimes even if you have rights in a mark rounding or crossing situation you may be better off not to force the issue. Avoid collisions, these could finish your day and by taking your right of way you could be pushed to the wrong side of the course. It is important to plan in each situation, this will avoid snap decisions which could end in disaster.
  • Don’t arrive at the course with minutes to spare, get out there early to settle the team and get their heads in the race. This also allows you to set the boat up for the prevailing conditions ensuring that you get off the line in as good a shape as possible. Having the setup wrong and the subsequent messing around to get it right will mean that you will probably not recover.
  • Don’t head out with an item of equipment that you haven’t used before. Try all new gear during training or two boat testing to evaluate its suitability or whether it is better than what you already have.
  • When rounding a mark, locate the next one as soon as you can. It makes little sense tactically, to blindly follow the fleet if you are behind and if you are in the lead, locating the next mark is fundamental in planning your strategy for the leg.

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Read Your Helm

What you feel in your tiller or wheel gives you an indication as to what is right or wrong with your sails and the balance of the boat.

What the helmsman feels is dictated by sail trim, centreboard position, mast rake, heel and crew weight placement. With excessive helm, the steerer is working against the boats natural course.

By eliminating excessive helm you decrease rudder drag and thus increase boat speed.

Sail Trim

The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail when pulled in moves the bow up towards the wind.

On a boat that is mainsail driven like a 505 or Etchells, you should focus more on the mainsail as it contributes the most to the helm and constant adjustment will affect the helm you experience.

The mainsail should not be cleated or at least the cleat should be placed in such a way that it is hard to engage and easy to uncleat.

Have a mark on the mainsheet as a reference so you can repeat a setting when you tack or adjust for an increase or decrease in wind velocity.

The same goes for marks on your vang, fine-tune and traveller so that you can replicate settings when powering up and de-powering.

Heel and Balance

In a dinghy the rule is, always sail the boat flat because if you don’t, the rudder becomes a brake and an easy way to find if the boat is flat is where the helm goes from windward to leeward helm.

One exception, especially in lighter winds is where you might want to generate a little windward helm to gain hydrodynamic lift off the blades and a slight amount of heel will generate that.

When sailing slightly heeled and you feel an increase in the helm, flatten the boat to re-instate neutral helm and reduce drag.

Centreboard Position

Obviously, not all boats are the same, but if you pull the board up, this moves the centre of lateral resistance back, thus reducing helm.

Most classes have tuning guides which give you those settings and the centreboard is integral to the helm balance so mark it so that you know exactly where to set it for a given wind range.

Don’t slavishly follow the tuning guides though, merely use them as a starting point, there is no substitute for two boat testing to find out what works best for you.

Knowing where to have the board set in all conditions and then fine-tuning it from there is really important and in many one-designs, the centreboard is integral to helm balance and as an example, when sailing in waves, you might need a little more board up to free up the helm to drive around the waves.

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Your Fitness and Sailing

 

Most people sail to enjoy it and reach a level of fitness that allows them to race each weekend.                                                                      

On the other hand, if you are trying to get to the top whether it be in a dinghy, one design keel-boat or ocean racer, the long hours that you spend on the water honing your skills will demand additional physical training.

Full time sailing can be an excellent way to improve your physical fitness but you should not rely on this alone.

Additional on land training not only provides variety but it also allows you to work on aspects of your fitness that you need in an intense racing situation that may not be gained from a full year of sailing.

Exercise ashore can be made interesting, enjoyable and helps you to avoid too much time on the water for the wrong reasons. Exercises can be developed to make your body adapt in a very much more controlled and efficient manner than you could ever hope for on the water.

Fitness is a relative term and the type and level of fitness will vary depending on the type of boat and sailing that you do and it is important to strike a balance between the fitness and all other aspects of your sailing.

Fitness encompasses stamina, speed and skill and the mix and relative importance of each is essential for you to ascertain which aspect you need to work on for your particular type of sailing.

Think about weightlifting, sprinting and sailing, what do you think the mix would be for each of these for the roles you need to fulfill on your boat?

As with most things to do with achieving greatness in any pursuit I recommend that you find a coach or fitness professional to write you a program so that you can achieve your desired results. They will able to watch your progress and make adjustments to the program if necessary.

There are plenty of ex-Olympians and high achieving sailors who have made a profession in this space and who are more than qualified to guide you to get to where you want to be.

I remember once asking Mike Holt, a multiple world champion in the highly competitive International 505 class, what was the main factor that made him stand out from many of the other high achieving sailors in that fleet.

His answer was “fitness”, he went on to qualify that statement by saying that at the end of any race I am able to sail my boat as hard  as any one else in the fleet was able to at the start”

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