Tag Archives: Nautical

Breaking Bottles

This folk practice is breaking a bottle on the neck of a ship. This practice is a tradition performed whenever a ship was leaving on a voyage and sometimes was the first voyage that boat had made. Sailors and seamen are typically very superstitious because of the randomness of the ocean conditions. Therefore, many created small rituals such as this in order to create good luck and good weather for the upcoming trip. It was always performed before the ship launched and a bottle, typically champagne, was smashed across the foremost part of the boat.

The informant grew up on the East Coast in a sailing/nautical community. Because of this, he was constantly surrounded by much of the lore and traditions that accompany this culture. He did not learn it from any one person but was merely part of the set of customs. It was not done that frequently because it is typically done for a large trip but is still certainly part of the lore. They remember it because of their interest in sailing from an early age, meaning that the subject spent every day for parts of the year within that community.

I believe that this practice was probably old when technology wasn’t as sophisticated as today. Because of this, bad weather could spell disaster and there was sometimes little way to predict it. The conditions at sea were likely harsh and it was important to keep morale up, explaining the use of traditions and superstitions such as this.

A Captain must go down with his ship

Main Story: 

The following was a conversation between myself and the informant. The topic was on nautical traditions. I will be labeled as MH and the informant will be CP. 

MH: So what is it about the phrase “the captain will go down with its ship” ? It is always said in movies and books, but is it a real thing  ? 

CP: It absolutely is a real thing. There is a sense of pride for the captain. The ship is your ultimate partner at sea. Yes you have your crew, but the thing that keeps you safe is your ship. She shelters you, gives you a pace to sleep, a place to eat. And most importantly your ship is what lets you sail the seas freely. 

MH: So the captain going down with the ship is a sense of duty to the ship? 

CP: Sort of. Letting the ship sink alone is a sad moment. But also, the captain is the last person off the ship, well a good captain at least. For safety reasons, the captain is in charge of the ship so he is also in charge of evacuating the ship incase of emergency as he knows it best. Because of this, it ends up that in a lot of shipwrecks it is too late for the captain to escape by the time all crew and passengers are off. 

MH: So a good captain remains on the ship, and a poor one jumps ship early and lets people fight for themselves? What if the captain has a family?

CP: Pretty much. But a good captain will also view the crew as family and he is in charge of their safety and making sure they get home to their families as it is his job to get the ship from A to B safely. A good captain would not be able to go home to his family knowing he did not do everything to save his crew. 


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. And he maintains that even though he loves his kids more than anything, he would have to go down with his ship if it came to that as that’s the promise he made. 


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: 

A I can see how there is a sense of duty to the ship and to the crew. It does make sense that the leader goes down with the ship. I think initially the tradition sounds antiquated and dramatic. But when hearing him explain the reasoning behind it makes sense. Simply based on evacuation the procedure, if the captain is the last person to evacuate he can’t always make it off the ship in time.

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. 


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. 


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” 


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. 


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. 

Rings out of Quarters

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.”

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.”

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.