Boating has its fair share of quirky superstitions, but none are stranger than the forbidding of bananas on a vessel. It’s a familiar refrain – we even saw it on a customer’s transom this season at Ferry Point Marina and decided that it was high time to dig a little deeper into the origin of the belief. The most comprehensive account, by author, Lee McClellan of Kentucky, explains:
Theories abound as to the origin of this powerful superstition. Banana boats held the reputation for being cheaply constructed, top heavy and overpowered for speed. They needed the bananas on the market as quickly as possible to avoid spoilage.
When one of these boats wrecked and sank, a common occurrence, the bananas in the hold would float to the surface, leaving a debris field of nothing but bananas. People saw this as a bad sign and associated bananas with bad luck.
In one wreck off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1903, The Brighton ran aground; forcing the crew to dump 26,000 bunches of bananas overboard. They washed up on Atlantic City Beach and enterprising locals scooped them up and sold them on the streets.
Can you imagine?
From the Northeast…
With the sweet fruit (technically a berry) now being grown in over 135 countries, one of the most distant accounts hails from the northeast coast of Scotland, with the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) reporting that the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival had preemptively “imposed a prohibition” of bananas in 2015. Whether from angler friends on the Chesapeake, or down through the Florida Keys, as with this Bud ‘n Mary’s video shared by The Weather Channel below, bringing bananas aboard is said to be way-bad Mojo – and there have been many reports of fishing tournament mischief-makers and saboteurs stealthily hiding the dreaded fruit on competitors boats so as to sway final weigh-in results.
Through the Tropics…
Even the late, great Capt. Jim Brincefield (of the Chesapeake Bay, and in his later days, North Carolina) wrote of reports passed down through the years:
Back in the days of the transatlantic crossings by wooden sailing ships many hazards would befall the captains, crew and passengers. Disease, pirates, shipwrecks, storms, etc., claimed the lives of a good percentage of the captains, crew and passengers attempting the dangerous voyage. Needless to say, a transatlantic crossing in the 17th and 18th centuries was a very risky endeavor. Often the vessels would stop along the way in tropical islands to gather provisions such as food and water. There the passengers and crew would often purchase wooden crates of bananas from the locals and bring them aboard the ship. These crates would have all manner of critters in them such as bugs, spiders, vermin and snakes.
These critters would make their way into the bilges of the ships, multiply, and then find their way into the captain’s quarters. The captains circulated the rumor that bananas were bad luck in an attempt to keep the critters off the ship and out of their cabin.
In the event of a lethal bite, certainly the crew could readily accept the banana cargo as a bad omen. Another threat was that the quickly fermenting fruit would produce toxic ethylene fumes when kept too long in the hot ship’s hull.
A reader responded to Jim’s page with a colorful post about Hawaiian fishermen and their disdain for the fruit:
While spending time in Hawaii fishing I spoke with some “native” Hawaiians who clued me in to the origins of Bananas and bad luck. Back before fiberglass and powered boats the Hawaiian men would go out in dugout canoes and fish for weeks at a time. They would always take Bananas. Well it happens that the bananas would rot about the same time they would get too far out to really catch any fish. So they associated bananas as bad luck. I learned this the hard way when I took Banana Boat sun screen out fishing. We were not catching anything and I was baking in the hot sun. I was putting the sunscreen on when the 1st mate saw it was Banana Boat. He immediately grabbed it from my hands and threw it overboard. Not 5 min later we hooked into a 950# marlin.
As with any serious journalistic endeavor, we felt that it was our solemn responsibility to do little fact-checking with our friends over at Snopes.com. Indeed, they heartily corroborate that the superstitions are wide-ranging and have many varied origins. Some feel that the oil and scent from the banana peel transfers to the monofilament and spooks the fish. Go figure!
In conclusion, if you feel that you have erred and greatly offended Konpira, patron saint to sailors and sea transporters, we offer this short poem of contrition, courtesy of the good folks at MiamiFishing.com:
Oh great Konpira
please, hear my plea
I am sorry for my mistake
A banana I brought to sea
it was an honest gesture
a noble means of nutrition
I had no ill intent
I brought fruit of my own volition
Please forgive my idiocy
I meant my friends no harm
We just want to go fishing
and go home with a sore arm
We beg of you to release the curse
upon which I have brought
In your honor I consume these bananas
a sacrifice all for nought