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Fishermen can be a Rather Superstitous Bunch

Local advice

Lobster Couple

Herman & Monique Coombs

Herman and Monique Coombs and their two children live on Orr’s Island, living the exciting life of the lobster family. Herman is a lifelong lobsterman, tending to his 800 homemade traps in just about every weather condition. Together, they make a powerhouse team, dedicated to life on the coast. They are Mainers to the core.


Fishermen can be a rather superstitious bunch. I'm not sure where that trait comes from. Perhaps way back in the day, the first fishermen believed that if they did this one thing that they would catch more fish, and it just developed over time from there.

Superstitions on boats are fascinating though, and not based totally on whims or random connections in sequences of events. For example, many fishermen do not allow any type of pig on their boat: no ham, no bacon, no pork product whatsoever. And the reason? Simply, pigs can't swim, and why on Earth would you want something that can't swim on your boat? (That's sort of interesting considering that there are actually a great number of fishermen who can't swim. I guess you just don't want to push your luck!)

Many superstitions are personal or develop gradually. Most fishermen would never wish each other "good luck" or something as cursing as "have a good day." When I call my husband on the boat I never ask him about the weather or wind. I did that once or twice and learned quickly that I was personally responsible for bringing on the wind. We keep our phone conversations short when he's on the boat and I'm on land.

You're not allowed to whistle on a boat, fishing or otherwise; whistling brings on the wind. Hatch covers—lids that cover up lobster tanks on the deck of the boat—are to remain upright. On many lobster boats it's considered bad luck for a hatch cover to be upside down. My husband believes that blue on a boat can be bad luck because the ocean is blue, so you don't want to lose something blue in a big blue something. A lot of fishermen have good luck colors, bad luck numbers (Thirteen? Nay! Twelve plus one, you mean!), favorite sweatshirts, or specific spots where they keep their sodas or cigarettes.

Routine is also part of superstition and getting the day started, or completed, on the boat. When a fisherman gets on the boat, there is usually a specific order in which he or she does something. Later that day, if something is to go wrong, they can look back on their morning routine and blame whatever they did out of order for the day's problems. But really it is routine that ensures everything gets taken care of in order, correctly, and well.

Fishermen also have many personal superstitions in regards to the name of the boat. My husband thinks that if you want something to last forever, don't do something too permanent to it. For example, if you want your marriage to last, don't name your boat after your wife. (I guess this could also go under "don't jinx it.") Many lobstermen name their boats after their wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, and even sons. Though, some lobstermen believe it is good luck to name a boat after a woman and that you should never name a boat after a man. This is also kind of old school though, and goes back to the days when it was bad luck just to have a woman on board. There are now almost 500 licensed lobster-women in Maine. (Most of these women still choose to be referred to as lobstermen.)

Side story: My husband, Herman, bought his boat from a wonderful older gentleman, Ed. The boat was named F/V Shirley M. and it remained that name for the first couple of years he owned it. But then he took it out of the water and got a new engine, painted it, and did a few other things, and changed the name to F/V Jocelyne K, after our daughter. He decided to christen the boat with a bottle of champagne broken over the bow by me. Now, some superstitions say you shouldn't change the name but others say that you can as long as you write the original name somewhere in the boat. Herman was very lucky and the man that sold him the boat also gave him all of his tools. And the tool box and all of the tools are still in the bow, and still have Shirley M. written all over them. So, that counted for us. FYI: No one scored that bottle of champagne and I looked like such a dumbass trying to break the bottle. Only took about ten tries and it bounced a bunch of times. Not as easy as it looks, folks!

So, there are a lot of superstitions. Some silly: No bananas because banana peels are slippery. Some that make sense: Don't stick your knife point in the deck. Heaven forbid it caused damage or a hole. Some based in common sense: Don't untie your boat from the mooring 'til the boat has started. I think one too many fishermen untied their boat on a very cold day and then tried to start it to no avail, and a new superstition was born. Some are private and personal between fishermen friends or husbands and wives. The thing about superstitions is that they give us a sense of security and control over a lifestyle and career that is usually uncontrollable and sometimes scary. Mother Nature, unpredictable engine problems and even pure luck can get the better of fishermen when they are a hundred miles offshore. So as silly as some may be, and as clever as others seem, thank goodness for superstitions. Gosh. I hope I didn't just jinx anything.