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Fish Factor

Maritime superstitions, Fast Catamaran, and Workers wanted
By Laine Welch


April 14, 2007

Since 1991 this weekly column has been written on Friday­ and this week it happened to occur on April 13th. Friday the 13th -- what better time to search out sea going superstitions!

For centuries, seafarers who face a life of danger and uncertainty have observed a strict set of rules steeped in myth and superstition. Many beliefs are based on the Bible, for example, the well known notion that Friday is the worst day to set out to sea.

Most sources credit that to the belief that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Therefore, this day must be observed and respected and will be unlucky for anyone who attempts to go about business as usual. Similarly, Sunday is the best day to begin a voyage, because Christ's resurrection on that day is regarded as a good omen. Thus the old adage, 'Sunday sail, never fail.'

A traditional view for centuries was that women had no place at sea. They weren't considered strong enough, emotionally or physically, and the men would be distracted from their duties, angering the seas and dooming a ship.

Interestingly, lore has it that a naked woman onboard would calm the seas. That's why many vessels have a bare breasted figurehead of a woman on the bow. Superstition amongst sailors said that the figurehead should have eyes to find a way through the seas when lost, while her bare breast would shame a stormy sea into calm. Pliny, the ancient Roman scientist and historian, first recorded this belief over 2000 years ago.

Since the 1700s, bananas have been regarded as bad luck by mariners. One explanation is that bananas carried aboard slave ships fermented and gave off poisonous methane gas. Another is that crewmen would die from lethal spiders hiding in the bunches of bananas.

Here's a sampler of more maritime superstitions:

Pouring wine on the deck is a 'libation to the gods' that will bring good luck on a long voyage.

Dolphins swimming with a ship are a good omen, while sharks following is a sign of inevitable death. Black cats are considered lucky on board a boat. Not so for flowers, which could be used for a funeral wreath.

It's unlucky to kill an albatross or a gull at sea, as they host the souls of dead sailors. Whistling on the bridge will whistle up a storm. Cutting your hair or nails at sea is a no no. Likewise, don't ever step onto a boat with your left foot, or stir a pot or coil a line counter clockwise.

Finally, marine myth has it that sailors pierced their ears to improve their eyesight. A gold earring was both a charm against drowning and the price paid to Davy Jones to enter the next world if a sailor died at sea.

As for Friday the 13th - modern stories claim that legend began when King Philip of France has many Christian knights arrested on October 13, 1307. Other resources say that although the number 13 was considered historically unlucky, the association of Friday and 13 seems to be an invention from the early 1900s.

A Friday occurring on the 13th of any month is considered to be a day of bad luck in English, German and Portuguese speaking cultures around the world. The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia, derived from the Greek words Friday, thirteen and phobia.

July is the only other month in 2007 in which a Friday falls on the 13th.

Fast cat

Transportation is one of the toughest and most costly obstacles for Alaska's fishing industry. Most of the seafood is caught in remote regions far from any roads and air freight is pretty much the only way to go - if planes aren't grounded due to weather.

The lousy logistics often mean no way to tap into higher end, fresh fish markets for harvesters in Western Alaska, ranging from the Aleutians westward to the Yukon and Norton Sound. But one group believes they have a solution to the shipping problem - a high speed, specially designed catamaran.

The Coastal Villages Region Fund represents 20 villages from Platinum up to Scammon Bay and along the Kuskokwim River. Pacific Fishing reports that Coastal Villages began advertising last year for a builder for the catamaran, a first of its kind for Alaska. The boat would be used to haul fresh salmon and halibut from the westward fishing grounds directly to Homer, the start of Alaska's road system. According to specs by vessel manager Kevin Kennedy, the catamaran would be between 130 to 175 feet long and able to carry three 40' standard refrigerated containers on deck, with total cargo capacity of 200,000 pounds. The vessel would have a range of 900 miles, a speed of 25 knots and be designed to navigate the tight, shallow ports of Bethel, Dutch Harbor, Homer and others. The price tag for the cargo catamaran would be about $4 million, with the cost split between Coastal Villages and a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Coastal Villages Region Fund is one of six regional groups in Alaska's Community Development Quota program, which gets shares of fish and crab harvests from the Bering Sea. The CDQ groups invest money from the catches into local programs and projects for long term gains. See the specs for the Coastal Villages catamaran at .

Workers wanted

The call is out for 1,400 seafood processing workers for fisheries all across Alaska.
"Yardarm Knot, Pederson Point and Togiak Fisheries are recruiting 350 workers now for the Bristol Bay herring fishery that begins in early May. The At-sea Processors Association has a job fair in Anchorage on April 19th. Petersburg Fisheries is recruiting for 300 salmon workers all summer, and Westward and Unisea are recruiting for the pollock season that begins in June," said Laurie Fuglvog, employment analyst for the state Labor Department.

Most of the seafood processing jobs are entry level, but many go well beyond the slime line.

"Right now we have openings for quality control technicians, cooks, electricians, plant managers, production managers, refrigeration mechanics, engineers, machinists, fresh fish coordinators, all sorts of jobs that pay well and lots of them last three to six months or more," Fuglvog said.

"The seafood processing industry is one where you can work your way up to higher paying, skilled and managerial positions. Almost everyone starts at the entry level," she added.

Fuglvog said jobs in the seafood industry provide a great opportunity for high school seniors who are turning 18 and "want to see different parts of Alaska and establish a work history."

Sign up at any Alaska Job Center, or call a seafood employment specialist toll free at 800-473- 0688. Get more information and job applications at .


Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. 2007 marks the 16th year that she has been writing this weekly fisheries column. It now appears in nearly 20 newspapers and web outlets.
Contact Laine at msfish[AT]

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