August 2, 2012

Hail to our patron saint

ACCORDING TO ALEX TREBEK, host of the TV show Jeopardy, there is a patron saint of yachtsmen. His name is St. Adjutor and he was an 11th-century Benedictine monk who was bitten by the travel bug in 1095. He joined the First Crusade and witnessed “many miraculous occurrences,” none of which, however, involved yachting.

Mr. Trebek didn’t mention it, but St. Adjutor has rival in St. Elmo, a legendary martyr who has been around much longer than St. Adjutor, keeping busy looking after mariners in general, not just yachtsmen. He is famous for his fiery balls — glowing discharges of static electricity seen on ship’s spars during electrical storms. They’re known as St. Elmo’s fire.  He also used to be the one to turn to if you had cramps, colic, or intestinal trouble. He was a sort of general-purpose runny-tummy saint.

Old-time sailors had quite a few gods and helpful saints to appeal to when they were in trouble. Poseidon (Neptune) was regard as the top boss of the sea from about 1600 BC to AD 400, and Aeolus, a son of Poseidon, was controller of the winds.

Nike was highly respected, too. She was not the owner of a Japanese shoe factory but the goddess of victory, to whom all racing skippers needed to pray.

And then there was Vulcan (Hephaistos) the god of fire, a superb blacksmith with the power to install magical qualities in metal objects. When your engine breaks down, Vulcan is your man.

Thor, in Scandinavian mythology was the god of thunder. Thor had a magic hammer called Mjollnir, which he hurled like a lightning bolt at all who displeased him.  I mention this so you’ll be forewarned. The less you have to do with Thor, the better.

Finally, let’s not forget Bacchus (Dionysus). He was the god of inspiration and ecstasy, two things every sailor thrives on. He represented the irrational impulses that humans are subject to, such as the desire to go sailing. And, of course, he was the god of wine, the consumption of which explains (to some extent) our irrational impulses.

Today’s Thought
All people have their blind side—their superstitions.
— Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia: Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist.

“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
(21) “One moment, sir, and I’ll call the spider.”

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


Lan Yarbrough said...

Another maritime patron saint is St. Cuthbert. He was a medieval Irish monk so anxious to prove his faith and dedication that he would sit in icy streams up to his neck in winter. This peculiar desire to suffer wet, cold, ice and outdoor winds made him the Patron Saint of Offshore Racing. 'strooth!

Anonymous said...

From the East, the Bodhisattva Guanyin is known as the patron saint of sailors (and fishermen).

s/v Windward said...

I thought St. Brendan was the patron saint of sailors. Something else to look up in my spare time, I guess.