Seafarers are a superstitious lot. I found this out when I earned my living on a fishing boat. My fishing partner was a superstitious freak. At times he made me laugh and at other times he scared me half to death.
One day, we were making our way down to the boat to pull our crab pots when he saw a priest, and that was that, he wouldn’t go to sea that day. Another time we were walking along the shore in thick fog when I told him I could hear a bell out to sea. He stopped walking and grabbed my arm. “A bell,” he said, “I don’t hear it. What’s it sound like?”
“It sounds like a bell on a sea-buoy,” I said.
“There are no sea-buoys out there,” he squeaked, “it means someone’s going to die …”
There was no fishing that day, either.
One argument we had (of many) was over the color we should paint the boat. I suggested dark green. I thought my partner was going to hit me. “Dark green is the most unlucky color on a boat,” he bawled.
“What about the New England fishing boats?” Lots of them are dark green,” I protested.
“Idiots,” he replied.
Things came to a head when I went sailing with him. We were taking part in a race in the English Channel. I didn’t know much about racing back then and I thought we were doing rather well. My fishing partner said our performance was abysmal, although those were not the words he used, and blamed our bad luck on the fact we had two women onboard. Shortly after this discussion, the wind died and we found ourselves becalmed.
My buddy called me to the foredeck out of earshot of the crew. He told me he knew how to evoke the wind, and I thought he was going to suggest we throw the women overboard. But it was worse than that, he asked me for money.
I’m a Yorkshire man and very careful with my cash, but I thought I had better humor him.
I pulled my wallet out of my pocket and he produced a shilling out of his. I had no change but his eyes lit up when he saw a ten pound note hanging out of my billfold. Without asking, he grabbed the note and before I could stop him, wrapped it around the shilling and threw it as far into the sea as he could.
“What the …” I sputtered.
“Buying wind from the direction I tossed the cash,” he said.
I went below to sulk.
Fifteen minutes later the wind came up, ten pounds one shilling’s worth, strong, steady and from the right direction. We went on to win our class and there was much talk at the yacht club about how we were the only yacht that found wind.
My fishing partner later married one of the girls on the crew and went off to live in Maine. The last I heard he had bought a lobster boat and 30 gallons of paint.
Twenty-five years ago this month Teddy Seymour returned to the island of St. Croix thus becoming the first African-American man to sail solo around the world (page 55). It’s also about 25 years ago that I first washed up in the islands. Back then you rarely saw Caribbean people out on the water. And even today there are nowhere near enough islanders involved in yachting. It is changing as more local youngsters take up the sport of sailing and follow careers in the marine industry. For years yachting in the islands was looked on as being rather exclusive and we honor sailors like Teddy Seymour for showing the way.