Historical Superstitions at Sea

30th July 2015

Star Clippers

Throughout history, superstition has played a significant role. The idea of one event causing another without natural process linking the two has led to many believing in supernatural possibilities such as astrology, religion and witchcraft. Seafaring was historically one of the most treacherous trades, and many sailors have their own superstitions when it comes to traversing the seas of the world.

Whilst the Royal Clipper, Star Flyer and Star Clipper tall sailing ships will all carry you in safety and comfort, many sailors still adhere to these superstitions. It is most likely that the superstitions are linked with the dangers of sailing, with certain occurrences thought to bring bad luck, whilst others bring good luck. This week, Star Clippers takes a closer look at a few of the historical maritime superstitions that you may hear during your time on the seas.


Bananas are one of the world’s most popular fruits and are readily available in almost every country. However, if you see a banana on a ship, be wary that some seafarers would consider it to be bad luck. This is superstition is likely to have surfaced as a result of the Spanish South Atlantic and Caribbean trading empire during the 18th century.

At the time, an observation was made that nearly every ship carrying a cargo of bananas did not make its destination. Some consider this suggestion to be supported by various theories. One theory suggests that lethal spiders hide in bunches of bananas, whilst another theory suggests the bananas carried on board would eventually ferment and give off methane gas.


Whilst a black cat seen onshore may be considered unlucky, sailors considered the sight of a black cat on board a ship to be good luck. Cats would eat rodents and other pests that could chew away on the ropes. They would also create a sense of home for sea-captains spending significant time at sea.

It was also believed that cats had mystical weather powers that could protect a ship in adverse conditions. However, some believed that this could also result in a number of consequences. If a cat licked its fur, it would mean a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed, rain was on the way; and if it fell overboard, the ship would endure a terrible storm.


The old saying: “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning” can also relate to sailors who have a keen eye on the weather. Whilst some say this relates to a particular verse from the Bible, there is also some meteorological foundation behind it. This can all come down to the amount of cloud cover present in the morning or evening.

In the UK, the weather comes from the west. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. When the skies are cloudier, the sun will reflect off of them to create a display of red colours. Cloud-cover is a way of determining how good the weather will be – but if the clouds (and respective red sky) are present in the evening; it means the adverse weather has already passed. Likewise, if there is significant cloud cover and a red sky in the morning – the weather has yet to pass.

Whether you decide to traverse the Mediterranean, Caribbean; Star Clippers can take you to a range of destinations in comfort and safety. Our three tall sailing ships can take you to fantastic locations such as Cuba, the Panama Canal and, as of December 2016, Asia.

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