“Women in boats are bad luck. I’m sure you’ve heard that. [The reason:]Just distract sailors, yeah, because there’s always something that goes on and someone falls in love and love triangles or… Nothing against women, that’s just… Tempers flare very quickly. Um, ‘It’s not gay if you’re under way.’ Hahaha. ‘It’s only queer if you can see the pier.'”
The informant is one of the captains of the Miss Christi, the boat that ferries people to the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Catalina island. He came to the island a couple of years after graduating from high school in San Diego. He worked at the general store in Two Harbors, then as a housekeeper at WIES. Twelve years later he became a captain. Originally, he wanted to study marine biology, but fell in love with the island when he came there and has never looked back. He still enjoys marine studies, and he is a certified scientific scuba diver. He has loved the water his whole life, but did not start boating until he came to Catalina. An avid spear fisherman, he has a lot of contact with the other fishers on the island, and many of his friends are involved in sea life in some way.
The informant was asked if he knew any superstitions of mariners, what is good luck or bad luck for a ship. He had heard of this folklore from his friends, who are boaters and fishermen.
Women not being permitted on boats is probably the most well-known seafarer superstition. Many boaters who are going on long trips out to sea consider it horrible luck to have a female on board. This belief has continued to present day: women were not allowed on submarines until a few years ago. This belief has also made its way into popular culture. It is often a part of any pirates or sailor movies, like in Pirates of the Caribbean and the fear the dress creates for the ship. This superstition is incredibly well-spread, if not fully followed.
There are some good reasons for this belief. Most sailors are just men like any other and are prone to falling in love or lusting after members of the opposite sex. If more than one man develops feelings for the same woman, then things can get ugly fast. As the informant says, love triangles can form, and feelings can get hurt—and unlike normal love triangles, there is no hope to avoid the other members of it as all are stuck on the same ship for months or maybe years at a time. Because the working of a ship requires such steadfast teamwork between sailors, any hard feelings between team members can put the entire ship at risk. This guideline of not having women on ships to complicate things soon progressed to women bringing bad luck to the ship.
Sailors, boaters, and fishermen are notoriously superstitious. Most groups who are the most superstitious are those who have a trade that is heavily reliant on nature. Farmers are one example, as the success of their crops relies on variability in the weather. Seamen, similarly, rely on currents, winds, and weather to take them from place to place. All it takes is one storm, and their ship could sink. Because they have so little control over their trade, they attempt to create good luck through superstitions. Things become associated with good or bad luck, and all sailors must follow these superstitions for fear that their boat will sink. Women is one such source of bad luck.
Men do get lonely after a long time away from wives and women company, so men have been known to turn to their fellow sailors for company. They may also prefer male company in the first place. On land, any male-male relationships would not have been acceptable even 20 years ago, but out to sea, with little societal constraints, then men could have relationships with each other and not be shamed the same way they would on the mainland. Seafarers even have sayings about this, as the informant shares, that prove this is not an uncommon occurrence.