Superstitions: Albatross and Backstay

Published on December 21st, 2022

Never Say P*G – The Book of Sailors’ Superstitions is the nautical reference book you never knew you needed. Compiled by R. Bruce MacDonald, he goes through the alphabet detailing on what provides good and bad luck at sea. Here’s a sampling from A and B:

Albatross are thought to carry the souls of dead sailors and it is therefore considered unlucky to kill one although seeing brings good luck. The albatross superstition was made famous by Samuel Tayor Coleridges’s poem from 1798, ‘The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’:

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

“Scratching the backstay” is said to give you a favorable wind. A sailor seeing a cat’s paw ruffling the water’s surface would stroke the backstay as one would pet a cat in order to bring forward more wind.

For more sage advice, click here.

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