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