April 12, 2009

It’s for good uck

I ONCE ASKED my wife what kind of coin we should place under the mast of an old sailboat we were refitting. “Don’t ask me,” she said, “I don’t believe in it.”

She maintains that placing coins under masts perpetuates a despicable ancient tradition of payola and subservience to petty tyrants—the gods of the wind and sea. She accuses me of being hopelessly superstitious.

Superstitious? Hah! Not me. At least, not compared with some. I once knew a sailor so superstitious that he wouldn’t even pronounce a four-letter word ending in “uck.” In a Rotary Club speech about his ocean crossings, Dr. Earle Reynolds listed the essential requirements for safe passages as: 1. A well-found ship; 2. A good crew; 3. Adequate preparation and maintenance; 4. Seamanship; 5. the Fifth Essential.

He never disclosed what the fifth essential was. He just gave examples of how, er, fortunate some famous round-the-worlders had been. Harry Pidgeon, for example, fell asleep and grounded his boat on the only soft sandy beach in miles of rock-strewn shoreline. Joshua Slocum escaped from pirates when their mast fell down in a squall. And so on.

The smarter Rotarians soon figured out that the fifth essential was the “uck” word, which you never say out loud for fear it will desert you.

Quite right. That’s why, despite scoffing from the vice-admiral, we always have a coin under our mast. It’s for good uck. And so far, knock on wood, we’ve been very ucky.

Today’s Thought
We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?
—Jean Cocteau

“Don’t you think George dresses nattily?”
“Natalie who?”

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