Tag Archives: ship

A Ship Must be Christened

Main Story: 

The following is a conversation between the informant and myself. The informant will be CP and I will be MH. 

CP: Before a ship’s maiden voyage, a woman has to christen the ship. 

MH: What does that mean? 

CP: The tradition of christening or blessing a ship before its first voyage started centuries ago, when sailors would ask the gods for protections and make offerings of sorts. Eventually it evolved into a woman being named sponsor of a ship. And now it is tradition for her to break a bottle of champagne in the stern of the ship before it goes off. 

MH: Why a woman though? 

CP: The sea is often compared to women. The sea is beautiful and mysterious but also dangerous and fickle. The stereotypes of women being beautiful yet difficult transferred to the seas. Yet they are so engaging you always find yourself back with her no matter what. 

Background: 

The informant was a yacht captain for his whole life, like his grandfather. He grew up on the water and he says it is the only way of life he can accept. He maintains that the sea is his first love and will always have his heart in a way that nothing would be able to, except for his children. 

Context: 

The informant is a family member of mine, and we had the conversation over dinner while I asked him about odd nautical traditions.  

My thoughts: 

The sea being gendered as a female seems extremely antiquated to me and misogynistic in nature. However, there is also the narrative of the earth being a mother and the sea is tied into that. The Earth gives to the world and the seas give a lot. The ocean gave food to people, learning how to sail the seas meant new lands could be explored and new goods and foods could be found. It allowed for a strategy of escape incase of attack or incase of famine. But I also kind of like the fear and reverence for a strong female is so great amongst men that they made the sea female. 

Davy Jones’s Locker

Main Story: 

The following was a story told to me by the informant. 

“So there is a legend called Davy Jones’s Locker. In reality it is just the bottom of the ocean, some think it is Marianas trench and some just think it is the general bottom. It is where all the shipwrecked sailors and their vessels go to rest. It is where the sailors who die live an afterlife on the sea. While the legend varies, as most sailor stories do, it is largely believed that Jones captains the Flying Dutchman. The Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship whose crew is made up of the sailors who have been laid to rest there. They are forced to sail the seas at night for eternity since they can never ever make port. Going to Davy Jones’s Locker is not the worst thing for a sailor, it’s actually the best death for a sailor outside of dying naturally of old age. It is something sailors are taught about and joke about from their first moments on the sea and it always remains a very realistic possibility that a sailor will end up there” 

Background: 

The informant was a yacht captain for his whole life, like his grandfather. He grew up on the water and he says it is the only way of life he can accept. As a captain, he says there have been many moments in his career sailing the world that he was convinced the sea would indeed send him to Davy Jones and that would be that. Although he was never scared about it, because if that is how he died then that was a death he could accept. He also said his ideal way of being buried is to be put in a bag and thrown over the Marianas trench, so he can spend the rest of eternity in the sea. 

Context: 

The informant is a family member of mine, and I grew up on these legends as my bedtime tales and tall tales over dinner. The story was retold to me by the informant upon my asking for a proper recounting of the story. 

My thoughts: 

I think the concept of Davy Jones’s Locker is a way to keep sailors a little less terrified about what is at the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is dangerous and largely unpredictable for a very long time, even now with technology rogue waves still appear out of nowhere. The concept that there is a resting place for all the lost sailors at sea to continue their passion is not only an ease for them when waters are rough, but also a way for their family members to validate the disappearance as most all shipwrecks at sea are never rediscovered. 

Sailor Superstition: Dolphins swimming in the wake are good luck

Content:
Informant – “Dolphins are considered good luck when they swim with the ship. And it’s bad luck to kill a dolphin.”

Context:
JK – “Where does this belief come from?”

Informant – “I just think that dolphins are friendly to humans. They have a long history of…there’s stories of them chasing sharks away and swimming with humans. They are sweet creatures and really intelligent. That level of intelligence demands respect.”

JK – “Where did you hear it from?”

Informant – “I just grew up with that. My father would tell me about dolphins. And there have been a couple of times in my life where I’ve actually seen it. They’ll play in the wake of the ship. It’s really neat.”

Analysis:
There seems to be very logical reasons for this superstition. So much so, that it hardly seems superstitious. Dolphins are historically friendly/helpful creatures, so a pod following your ship is definitely a good thing. It’s hard to think of a valid reason to kill a dolphin, so it makes sense why doing so would be seen as bad luck.

Rings out of Quarters

Content:
Informant – “Sailors used to make rings out of quarters. They would set the quarter on a hard surface, standing up on it’s edge. They would tap the edge, rotate the coin, tap the edge, rotate the coin. Then they would drill a hole through the center.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard this from a navy friend of mine. He said they would tap the quarters with spoons, but I’m skeptical. I’ve made rings like these before, but I’ve always used hammers. But my friend swore they used spoons. I guess it makes sense. When you finish your chores on a ship, you have a lot a free time and nothing to do. My friend said they used to wear through spoons making these rings.”

Analysis:
Having made a ring like this myself (using a hammer), I can say that it is a very contemplative experience. There is a comfortable zen to the robotic monotony. It’s an easy task to perform on auto-pilot. You can zone out – a wonderful cure for boredom. Also, my informant’s friend was in the Navy in the 60s. There were still silver quarters in circulation then, so any ring a sailor made would be far more valuable than the quarter itself.

The Well of Lost Souls

“My second ghost story umm happened just only a few years back, maybe about three years ago. When my children and my sister decided to take a visit to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. Umm it was around Halloween time and they do a umm haunted ship or a haunted Queen Mary tour. Umm I’m kind of a scaredy cat and a chicken, so I went ahead and I sent my sister, who loves to be frightened and scared, with a portion of my family and I went ahead and decided to take a tour of the ship by myself with my two younger children.
So as we went ahead, and we started walking up and down the different floors, we decided to catch the end of a tour on one of the upper decks. So, as we were walking through, I guess it was the main deck to the back side of the ship, or which I believe is called the stern. We saw the tour enter this back umm entrance of the ship, so I -we- happened to be held back, because I think one of my children, her shoe was untied, so I went ahead and tied that. In that lapse of time, we kind of lost the group that we were following, but we know what area that they were going to go ahead and tour.
So we started walking down these red steel steps and my daughters were first and I was following behind them and as I made it to the bottom of that landing, I look up to my left and I see a sailor dressed in, I guess, its nautical clothing or a sailor’s outfit, but very dated. And he looked like he was behind a boiler, so I kind of shook my head and continued to walk through this what looked like an empty office with a lot of windows, a panoramic view basically of the bay. As I was walking through this area, I had a very uneasy feeling and at the same time, my middle daughter, she turned to me and she said “we need to get out of here and we need to get out of here now.” So I asked her “what happened, what happened?” And she says” we just need to get out of this place right now.” So we left that area of the ship and we went back to the main deck to catch some air. And when we arrived up at that upper deck, I asked her what happened and she said while she was there and even though we were the only ones now that were touring that area, because we had lost the other group. She said that there was a hand that or this pressure that came across her neck and was squeezing her neck very tightly and making sure that she understood that there was a presence there with her, but not a good presence, a bad presence. So between my daughter’s incident and what I saw and the sickening in my stomach, I was convinced that I needed to go and either find a historian or talk to somebody who knew of the sightings of the Queen Mary.
In my head, I kept on hearing this… this… I don’t want to say a voice, but I kept on hearing “the well of lost souls.” It was repetitious in my head. And the more this was happening the more I was desperate to find somebody who had answers for the way I was feeling and the incident that happened to my daughter. So when I finally got to the entrance, mind you, of the Queen Mary, which is also on the main deck, but kind of I guess it’s the lobby, they directed me to a historian who was in the bookstore. And I had told him of my account and what I had seen and what my daughter had seen. They had confirmed that yes the sailor that I saw is a frequent spirit that is always there and is always seen. That the ill feeling I had in my stomach and this word of “the well of lost souls” umm because what happened in that area that we were touring happened to be behind the – in front- of the infirmary umm and below that was the morgue. They had told me also that their main offices was in that portioner that area of the ship, but because there was so many sightings and incidents they had to relocate all the Queen Mary corporation offices off of that area and actually on to the main land. So, that was a little strange.
They also told me that the ship in itself had actually 49 deaths that happened on the ship and it was also called the Grey Ghost. Because Not only was it a luxury liner, but in World War II, it was a transport ship, so that’s why it was called the Grey Ghost, because they had painted it grey. During that time that it was a transport ship, there was an incident in the atlantic as it was crossing the atlantic with a sister ship, where the sister ship was sinking and the Queen Mary was zigzagging through the debris of this fallen ship and they had left behind 300 survivors in the water, of shark infested waters. So here you have also a guilt I guess, of these 300 people -I’m sorry- ya 300 people that were suffering in freezing cold water with sharks that were left at sea and either got eaten by the sharks or drowned. So since then, I do not go back to the Queen Mary and will not go back to the Queen Mary even though it is a tourist attraction, because I will never want that experience or wish that experience on anybody. I hope you enjoyed my second story and thank you for listening.”

Analysis:

Firstly, this story shows a harmful and unfamiliar ghost. In the sighting and incident, the ghost appeals to the senses. In the case of the storyteller, she sees him. In the case of her daughter, she feels a pounding on her neck. It is important to notice that ghosts can be perceived in different ways and not solely through sight. Secondly, this story draws a line between official and unofficial history. Most people are not aware of thew massive and horrible 300 person death in the seas. The Queen Mary tries to bury this secret and the ship is haunted by its guilt in a sense, because the ship has frequent sightings. Lastly, it is important to notice the way in which the Queen Mary staff talk about these stories, because it shows that ghost storytelling is a business in which money can be made.

When you flip the fish say “neighbor”

Informant Background: The informant is originally from Hong Kong. She now lives permanently in the United States but travels back once a year to visit her relatives in Hong Kong. She speaks both Cantonese and English. Her family practices many of the Chinese traditions, folk-beliefs, and superstitions. She celebrates many of the Chinese holidays through cooking of special “holiday food.”

 

A lot of Hong Kong people used to be fishermen back in the day. So you know when you eat a whole fish on a plate, you have the flip the fish when you finish one side to eat the other…So…when you flip you are supposed to say “neighbor” or “other boat” because the fish is like your own boat and it is bad luck if you flip it you know ‘cause it’s like you’re flipping your own boat. That is why you put the curse on someone else’s boat so your boat is safe and the bad luck will go to other people.

This was taught to the individual by her mother as a common table-side manner. According to the informant, this is still a common table side manner among many fisherman and people who operate at sea. She said it still practiced in her family as well.

 

I think this practice or folk belief is similar to how people “knock on wood” to feel better about what they said even though it will not create change. It shows the effect on belief as an idea where it does not have to be proven but it is done so the individual can “feel better.”

This folk belief is also similar to the idea of homeopathic magic where “like” creates “like.” Similar to how whistling while you are at sea is bad because it will create strong wind; in this case the magic is in the action of flipping the fish where it would be similar to a boat flipping at sea.

This superstition reflects how folklore can be geographically and culturally tied to its context. In this case the tie is occupation. This belief would exist in different form if the people in Hong Kong used to be farmer or miner. It also shows how belief is contextual. If one is not eating near the ocean or on a boat, the fear would be much less in comparison to eating and flipping the fish on a boat in the middle of the ocean.