Bananas to Blame: Why Sailors Ban the Banana
To paraphrase something that Jerry Seinfeld might say: “So what’s the deal with bananas? I mean, they’re small and neat and come with their own packaging. Why don’t sailors like them on boats?”
This question has come up yet again, so time to peel back some insight. It’s true that a ‘no bananas on board rule’ is followed without fail in Hawaii. A Florida firm, No Bananas Fishing Charters, insists the fruit remain verboten. Yet when I asked a few racer pals about bringing a banana onboard, only one skipper was adamant that it remain in absentia.
Most sailors know about the bad luck banana myth, but how did the fruit get such a bum rap? Is it because a peel dropped on deck could cause a trip or fall? Or that bananas might give crew members the runs? How about the reference that fruit as cargo attracts vermin, snakes and insects?
A Bunch of Slippery Sailor Myths
- Bananas spoil fast so sailing vessels had to get to their destination quickly, perhaps leading to hasty mistakes at sea.
- During transport in the heat of a storage hull, bananas rapidly fermented and gave off deadly toxic fumes.
- A species of deadly spider would hide inside banana bunches. One lethal bite would cause a crew member to die suddenly.
- In the 1700s, during the heyday of trade between Spain and the Caribbean, most ships that disappeared were laden with a cargo of bananas.
- When a tall ship sank, little more than the carried bananas would be found floating on the surface. This induced some to believe that it was the fruit’s presence that caused the accident.
- Oils from a banana would rub off onto the hands of a fisherman, and that oil would spook the fish.
- Fisherman did not catch fish if a banana was onboard.
Diving deeper, these days it seems to be the angler who is more superstitious than the sailor. One unlucky banana causes the fish to not bite or to cause a mechanical malfunction. Lore has it that early food gatherers of Hawaii would set sail on lengthy fishing trips in dugout canoes. For sustenance, they provisioned with various items including bananas. If a good catch was not made soon, they were induced to spend more days paddling farther from shore. Fewer schools of fish were resident in open waters, so the probability of landing catch lessened the farther they journeyed. That act of spending more time on the water, and still not landing catch, could be contributing to the bad banana lore.