Keeping Old Gooseberry Ashore

Keeping Old Gooseberry Ashore

Is Beelzebub in your bilge? A gremlin in your galley? Here’s how to banish nautical superstitions.

By Capt. Ken Kreisler — May 2001

 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Keeping Old Gooseberry Ashore
• Part 2: Old Gooseberry continued

 Related Resources
• At Sea Index
• Spectator Index

Edmund Burke, the 18th-century British political writer, said, “Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.” In speaking of a ghost and how to get rid of him, Shakespeare’s most melancholy Dane cogitated, “All is not well; I doubt some foul play.” On the other hand, a crusty captain I once fished with dismissed the subject with, “Horse hockey!” Truth is, poets, scientists, scholars, and others have debated the roots of superstition throughout the ages, and of these people, none seems more under its spell than those who go down to the sea in ships.

While you may ascribe to some Neptunian superstitions, I have chosen to arm myself with a salty interpretation of Newton’s Third Law of Physics, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” to dispel Old Gooseberry, Mr. Scratch, or the Devil, as he’s customarily known, of coming my way. And in order to share my so far unbroken lucky streak in dealing with these waterborne perturbations, I offer the following solutions.

It’s bad luck to change the name of a boat. Well, what if you don’t like the name of the boat you’re buying? If you really can’t stand Tripe Stew, Muck & Mire, Regurgitation, Skid Marx, and others I’ve seen that are way too blue to be printed, you can change it without fear of reprisal, but only in the following manner. First, you must obliterate the old name everywhere you find it. For example, run a piece of sandpaper once across any surface where it is festooned, including the transom, bow, superstructure, tender, ship’s log (logs are often retained by new owners for their maintenance schedules), life ring, life raft, salt and pepper shakers, and so on. Then draw a single line through the name everywhere it appears with a marker.

Now write the soon-to-be-exorcised name on a piece of paper, fold the paper, and place it in a small cardboard or wooden box. Burn the box. Scoop up the ashes and throw them into the sea on an outgoing tide. If you live on a lake, do it at night and only during a new moon. River dwellers should send the ashes downstream. You may now change the name everywhere on your vessel without fear of irking any mischievous water sprite. But of course the monogrammed towels will have to go.

In olden days becalmed sailors whistled, whether at the wheel, while swabbing the decks, or chained in the fo’c’sle. Such warbling was believed to bring up the wind. Of course, centuries later, the last thing powerboaters need is a blustery day, so trilling aboard is absolutely verboten.

If you happen to forget yourself and by chance do pucker up and blow, merely spit overboard in the direction from which the wind is coming, and any errant gust will quickly disappear. There’s a more salty approach, but again, this is a family publication.

Next page > Evil Friday and more! > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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