Mysterious Waters: Revisiting Some Old Sailors' Superstitions

Whether it's a charmed spot to fish in, a beat-up hat you wear fishing, or your pre-launch rituals, many of us have our quirky good-luck charms for area waters. Sailors' and fishermen's superstitions about what causes bad luck are a staple of ancient folklore. We dissect a few:

1) It's bad luck to kill an albatross.

In the Samuel Taylor Coleridge epic, the slaughter of one of these birds brings down unholy hell on an ancient mariner and his crew, but if you skimmed this one in 10th-grade English, no worries. There are no albatrosses in East Tennessee waters. You will, however, encounter the wrath of area wildlife protection agencies if you flout fishing-limit regulations or break laws against harming protected bird species. Those include migratory birds protected under the 1900 Lacey Act, still in full force, and laws against harming bald and golden eagles. Although eagles are no longer an endangered species, violating the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act carries not just a potential fine of tens of thousands of dollars, but can also involve actual jail time. Wouldn't that be a terrible way to spend a beautiful summer?

2) Rename your vessel, doom it to the sea.

If you buy a boat called the Suzie without telling your wife, whose name happens to be Marie, well, we guess you'd have some 'splaining to do. But do we think that the sea god Poseidon will curse all your voyages if you don't engage in a sunset ceremony to ask him to bless the new name? Not really. In fact, we would suspect some intrepid new-boat salesman made this one up, except that it dates back to the ancient Greeks. Also, the area's most trusted dealers for new boat inventory are also the most trusted sellers of used ones. When you purchase your previously loved vessel from a dealer, ask about customization and cosmetic services you can purchase with it. You'll also want to ask about extended service contracts. Just in case.

3) Christen your new vessel with Champagne for the gods.

This is Poseidon, being demanding again. Although the tradition of christening vessels in this way does date back to an attempt to appease the old Greek gods, we're happy for any excuse to open a bottle of good Champagne or white wine. If you don't have your own beverages handy for a toast, point your vessel to one of the area's numerous lake- and riverside restaurants, which range from barefoot-on-the-deck casual to elegantly upscale. Any alcoholic beverages for boat riders only, not captains, please, and within moderation. An inebriated passenger is a serious threat to safety on the water, and a boat's captain should follow the same designated driver guidelines as for a motor vehicle.

4) Rain while the sun is shining is good luck on the water.

Of course it is. The barometric pressure loosens its muggy grip, you get a refreshing afternoon cool-down and there's likely to be a rainbow coming up on your horizon. While we endorse this superstition, we strongly disagree with one that often goes with it, which is that "thunder on a cloudless day" is also lucky. In fact, we would bet a whole field of four-leafed clovers on the good advice from the National Weather Service: If you hear thunder, you are within range of being struck by lightning. Take no chances. Head for shelter immediately, and wait 30 minutes from the last clap before venturing out again.

5) Sailing on a Friday is bad luck.

Not necessarily. Playing hooky from work on a Friday is probably bad luck, particularly if your sniffles or tummy bug always coincide with a three-day weekend. But tournaments and other special water events that take place on Friday are announced enough in advance for you to arrange time off, and we also humbly suggest that you reserve a couple of your vacation days for some unstructured summer weekdays on area waters. Even if you do have to hit the office Friday, you can always kick off your weekend celebration on Thursday night, with live music and late summer hours at the bars and clubs at local marinas (check out for one list) and area restaurants.

6) A woman on board is an invitation to misfortune.

No. Not even if you have to bait her hook for her.

And one ritual we welcome:

Last month, for the first time in local waters, BoatPro, with Marine West, introduced the "blessing of the fleet," inviting boaters to join a group with area clergy to receive a blessing that invoked smooth sailing and clear skies. This tradition dates back to European commercial fishermen heading out for long trips that pitted their lives and livelihoods against the unforgiving sea. For amateur boaters and weekend anglers on our calm waters, it's a ritual that's just as appreciated.

Here's our blessing to you: safe travels, sound vessels and a long, happy and sunny summer. We'll see you on the water.