Tag Archives: Sailing

Opening Day Cannon

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (DS).

HS: So for opening day, your yacht club fires off a blank cannon shot?

DS: Yessir

HS: And is this tradition particular to your club?

DS: Not really. A vast majority of clubs do it. It’s basically signaling that the club is open for the year. What is interesting, though, is that, because we’re in southern California where there’s good weather, our club is open all year. So our opening and closing day kind of happen at the same time if that makes sense. It’s nothing like that on the east coast. There, water freezes over and they have to bring their boats in and all of that. So for clubs on the east coast, the tradition makes a lot more sense. Because we don’t have to do any of that in southern California, opening and closing days are just symbolic and give everyone an opportunity to be together and have a good time.


My informant is a friend that I went to high school and now college with. His family is part of a yacht club and he has been sailing since he was young. He is involved with his club and has been a sailing instructor there before.


We were out with a few other people on a Duffy when we docked at my informant’s yacht club so that some people could use the restroom. While we were waiting, I asked some questions about the club out of curiosity.


I am not a member of a yacht club, so it was cool to learn and be exposed to some traditions that I had not experienced before. I find it interesting that opening and closing day at most clubs in southern California are symbolic. It made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where there’s good weather and there’s no need to prepare for the winter in any way. The fact that a blank cannon round is used to signal opening day leads me to think that the tradition is hundreds of years old, harking back to a time were ships were fitted with cannons as they crossed the treacherous Atlantic from Europe. It’s crazy to think that no matter how much we progress as a society in terms of technology, we still find comfort in the unique traditions of our ancestors.

No Bananas on Board

Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (LW).

HS: You have a very particular superstition regarding bananas on your sailboat is that true?

LW: Yeah. Ever since I started sailing when I was young my instructors have told me to never bring a banana with me when I sail.

HS: And why is that?

LW: They would always say that it was bad luck. Like for instance one time I remember my mom packed a banana in my lunch as a snack at one of my regattas and I took it out to eat. My instructor, although somewhat jokingly, told me to make sure I didn’t take it on my sabot because it was bad luck. Just small situations like that.


My informant is a friend from high school. He has been sailing sabots and CFJs since his childhood and is a member of one of the local yacht clubs in his area. He sailed for both his high school and his local yacht club.


My informant’s little brother had his coach and team over for a team dinner. The team coach told me about the superstition and my informant elaborated upon it.


My immediate question to the superstition of bananas in boats was, why does this superstition exist? I found that there are a variety of proposed explanations for the superstition surround bananas. For instance, bananas give off a certain gas that causes other fruits to ripen and thus spoil faster. Perhaps these negative traits of bananas are what caused this superstition of bad luck to become commonplace amongst sailors. There are other explanations also, such as the fact that boats had to travel a lot faster in order to get their banana-filled payloads to their destinations before they spoiled, which prevented fishermen from being able to land the catches they were waiting for. I think that this superstition goes to show how reasonable grievances towards bananas that are now outdated have evolved into the superstitions that we still carry to this day.

Shellback, Golden Dragon, Golden Shellback

This is folk speech that is found in the maritime world. They are names that are given under various circumstances when sailing around the world. A shellback is a name given to someone who crosses the Equator for the first time while aboard a ship. A golden dragon is someone who crosses the dateline. The dateline is the imaginary line that runs North-South through the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the globe as the prime meridian. Finally, a golden shellback is someone who crosses where the international date line meets the equator for the first time. These names are given to sailors to recognize their global travels. Sometimes, this is accompanied by hazing if it is the first time the sailors have received this name, such as treading water in the ocean. The informant has not crossed any of these lines by ship but was involved in the sailing community growing up and associated with people that had done this.

The informant learned about this folk speech from his uncle when he was growing up. They remember it because they had always been interested in making these achievements and traveling the world by ship. The informant always looked up to people that had done this because he thought they were hardy and real seamen/adventurers. There are other terms used for some of these accomplishments, such as a son of Neptune. There are names for people who have done none of these, like tadpoles, as well.

It is certainly an achievement to have accomplished this, but the navy and other similar organizations are notorious for hazing and rites of passage, being secluded on a boat with just other sailors. It is interesting to think about in comparison to other rites of passage within different branches of the military. Although this is a general sea term overall, it is often used frequently in navies across the globe.

A Sailor’s Proverb: Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning

The following is CL’s interpretation of the proverb, “Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight,” in a conversation.


“Red Sky at Morning, Sailor Take Warning; Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight”:


CL: The reason why [it’s called this] is [the following]. So, think sailors setting out to port at the first daylight; if the sky was red in the morning, that meant there was a lot of dust in the air and there was a chance that as you got out to sea, you’d get rained on because of the thickness in the air. So, if you got into a storm, it was bad for the sailor. Red sky at night meant it would be safe sailing because it would probably rain that night, and in the morning, you could set sail; you’d be safe to leave the port.


EK: Interesting, so where did you learn this from?


CL: That is an old, old story, and I think it probably goes back to the middle ages or before. I don’t know if it’s European in nature or if it’s something that was developed here. I learned it from my mother, though, who for some reason knew everything about sailing and sailing stories.


EK: So, what does this story mean to you, then?


CL: Well I’m not really much of a sailor, I just know the proverb exists. The closest tie I have to it is from my mother, so I guess it connects me to her in some way. I’m not sure if it’s still implemented today, but I’d imagine it is or was a pretty big superstition for sailors.


My Interpretation:

I’ve never heard this proverb before, most likely because I’ve never come in contact with a sailor. It could be true, or maybe it was something only used back in the day, before new technology has allowed us to set sail during a little rain or thunderstorm. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a red sky; it’s possible that the redness could be from pollution- I’ve heard that the deeper the sunset, the more particles from pollution. However, it is interesting to me that this is/was such a superstition for sailors. I can only assume that in past times they would have had to be more careful when setting sail because they didn’t have the knowledge of the seas or technology that they do today that could have given them more peace of mind and less uncertainty in their travels.

Red Sky at Night, Sailors Delight; Red Sky at Dawn, Sailors Take Warning

Informant – “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at dawn, sailor’s take warning.”

Informant: “This is an old sailor’s saying. Sailors are deeply superstitious people. I’m not sure where I heard it from, it’s just always been around. I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe it’s because the jet streams blow west to east? The general idea though is that if the sky is red in the morning, that means a storm is coming your way. If it’s red at night, then the next day will be clear.”

There is actually truth to this saying. A red sky at night means that the sun is being refracted through a lot of dust and moisture as it sets. This indicates that a high pressure system is passing, moving west. Good weather will follow. A red sky in the morning however, means that the pressure system is arriving, moving east. This indicates bad weather.