July 17, 2012

Unlucky Friday

IF YOU’RE at all superstitious, you will know full well that it’s unlucky to start a voyage on a Friday. And yet the logical part of your mind will tell you that any  number of ships sail on Fridays and never come to any harm.

So what’s going on here? Well, it’s simple, really.  It is unlucky to sail on Friday, but if you have saved up enough points in your black box you can overcome the bad luck.

The superstition is very old and very widespread. It is recognized by sailors of different religions in many different countries, and it’s possible that it started with  the crucifixion of Christ, which occurred on a Friday.

It was, in fact, the early Christians who persuaded people that Friday was unlucky. Before that, Friday was regarded as a lucky day, a particularly auspicious day on which to get married because it was named after the Norse goddess Frigga, who was in charge of love and fertility.

With the downfall of poor Frigga came the theory that Friday was a very unlucky day. It affected sailors all over the world. The reluctance of ships’ crews to sail on Friday did not go unobserved, even in countries with large fighting navies. But war doesn’t wait on Fridays, and, as we know, not every ship that sails on Friday experiences bad luck.

I believe the Black Box Theory is at work here. The ships that don’t come to grief are those that have a lot of points in their black boxes, enough to overcome, or at least to lessen, the bad fortune of sailing on the wrong day.

There is also a way around this dilemma. You can set sail on a Friday if you know how. The thing is to start your voyage on a Wednesday or Thursday. You must go a mile or two purposefully, and then return to your slip or anchorage to fix some small problem that seems to have arisen. It is the seamanlike thing to do.  Perhaps a turnbuckle has come slightly loose. Perhaps you forgot to top up the water tanks. I’m sure you get the idea.

When Friday comes, you can set sail in earnest without attracting bad luck because you are merely continuing a voyage, not starting one.  I don’t doubt that the gods know exactly what you’re doing, but they rather admire sailors who demonstrate a little constructive cunning, so they’re prepared to turn a blind eye.

Today’s Thought
Alas! you know the cause too well;
The salt is spilt, to me it fell;
Then to contribute to my loss,
My knife and fork were laid across;
On  Friday, too! The day I dread!
Would I were safe at home in bed!
— John Gay, Fables: The Farmer’s Wife and the Raven

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(14) “Yes, sir, the chef ran out of garlic.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

I have read somewhere ("Two Years Before The Mast", maybe?) that sailors disliked sailing on Friday because the next two days were technically considered "preparing for sea", or some such phrase, and so they'd miss their regular Sunday off. Thursday was ok, and I suppose on Saturday it didn't seem like so long until the following Sunday.

Bill Healy

SailFarLiveFree said...

Wow, thanks John! I had conveniently forgotten about this superstition in preparation for our upcoming voyage, scheduled to depart on a Friday. I may now have to make the short hop from my home marina to the nearby local anchorage on Thursday night just to avoid the wrath you've reminded me of!

LittleCunningPlan.com said...

So here's what I want to know: What if we decide we'll take two trips? On Friday we sail to a spot not too far away. We anchor get off the boat and enjoy ourselves, maybe we decide that this is where we will provision for our real trip. Then the next day we start out. I think that would count, wouldn't it? Or maybe we could just pay homage to the Norse God for protection? I don't know if I want to spend any of my black box points just to be safe on a Friday. I'd rather use them in a critical moment. Got to find many ways around that one!

John Vigor said...

LittleCunningPlan: Yes,I guess that would be OK. You shouldn't begin a passage on a Friday, but if you're just shifting berth over a reasonably short distance, so that you can start the real passage on Saturday, I'm sure that would be fine. It does at least demonstrate to the gods of the wind and sea that you know their rule and are obeying it. And as you say, it's better to save your points in the black box for real emergencies.
Good luck and happy sailing.

John V.