Legends of the Sea
Some Truly Interesting Stuff You Never Knew!
law once required fishermen to wear a gold earring, which was used to pay
for funeral expenses if they were drowned and washed ashore.
• An old custom dictates that any sailor who sails around Cape Horn is
entitled to a small blue tattoo in the shape of a five-pointed star on his
left ear. Five times around earns a star on the right ear as well, and two
red marks on the forehead is the sign of a great voyager who has rounded the
Cape ten times or more. According to one sailor, who himself sports a star
on his left ear, there are only two red-star men in the world. Both live in
Liverpool, where no pub would charge a red-star man for a drink.
• Wine poured upon the deck before a long voyage represents a libation to
the gods which will bring good luck. "Christening" a ship by breaking a
bottle of champagne across her bow at the time of launching arose from this
Photo by Kerrie Best
• It was in the early days of the British Navy that guns were first fired in
salute. Since they could not be reloaded quickly, the act of firing a gun in
salute assured those receiving the salute that those who fired had disarmed
themselves, and could do no harm. The more guns that were fired, the greater
the assurance of disarmament, and the higher the respect offered to those
being saluted. The largest ships of the fleet held twenty-one guns along one
side, therefore the highest mark of respect was a twenty-one-gun salute.
• During World War II. the United States Navy instituted a system for naming
various classes of ships, including the following:
o Ammunition ships: for volcanos or names suggesting fire and explosives;
o Battleships: after states of the union;
o Destroyers: in honor of dead persons associated with the Navy or Marines;
o Hospital ships: with "synonyms for kindness" or "other logical and
o Ocean tugs: for Indian tribes;
o Provision storeships: for astronomical bodies;
o Submarines: after fish and other sea life.
• "What the sea wants, the sea will have," according to the traditional
wisdom of the British Isles and many maritime cultures. Thus fatalistic
sailors of the past--and some of the present--never learned to swim.
• Legend has it that an umbrella aboard ship is unlucky.
Source: The Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Planet exhibition and from
the book Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea, by Peter Benchley and
Judith Gradwohl (published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., 100 5th Ave., New York,