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You’ve all heard it- “Bananas are bad luck, get them off the boat!” As many times as I have heard it, even said it, never have I heard the history of WHY. That’s where high school friend, Navy veteran, and passionate surf angler Paul Vancelette comes in. He did the research, even came across a 1964 college thesis, written by a New York veterinary student. It seems that WAY back in the day-16th & 17th centuries to be exact- colonial trade routes were established between European naval powers, their colonial territories, and their allies. The tools of navigation were in their early days and nautical charts were being updated and improved frequently based on exploration. Longitude measurement had become a reference to time, but often, the charts and maps were drawn distorted, and poor timekeeping aboard the ships led to not tracking their dead-reckoning accurately. This caused land masses to be distorted particularly as to width. The end result was voyages often taking longer, and often resulting in damage to cargo too due to the longer, rougher trip. I know you’re saying “what does this have to do with fishing and bananas?”.

As vessels aged, they got slower due to swollen hull timber, barnacles and seaweed adding weight to the ships. Countries and merchants that had larger budgets could afford a certain standard of ships and sailors, while others with more limited means often had ships that were less seaworthy and sailors who were even less trustworthy. Along the major trade routes, transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables and was never considered cost efficient, and cargo would often spoil due to the length of the voyage. If merchants were going to undertake this challenge they needed the best ships and crews. Merchants pressured the captains of their ships to try to keep expenses low. One of their discoveries- you might call it “a fruit of low-cost necessity”- was that bananas could be picked green, and would be ripe and marketable just as they were offloaded.

Aristocrats in Europe marveled at the taste of bananas, and merchants could make a good profit by successfully transporting bananas from Africa or Central and South America. However, to increase profit margins, these banana merchants would typically buy old ships, and sail them with skeletal crews. There are tales of poorly manned “banana boats” sinking in rough seas, after which the merchants would simply buy another cheap boat and hire a few hands to sail it. Pirates also took their toll on these slow moving, unarmed targets that turned out to be of little interest other than impressing the crew become pirates or be killed. Some ships, such as the Dutch East Indies ships, would actually hoist a banana flag to advise potential attackers of their low value.

The conclusion here is that bananas in and of themselves had nothing to do with bad fishing luck, but could be bad luck for the old, poorly maintained ships with skeletal crews- in which they were being transported. So, theoretically, you should feel free to fish and peel. Nevertheless, Paul was a licensed Master, and charter boat captain. Bananas were never allowed on his boat- not because of any superstition, but out of respect for the old days, the old ways and the ancient waters that can too easily draw a banana-laden boat into Davey Jones Locker. Everyone gets to have their own opinion, and make their own decisions, but as with Paul, on my boat, as the song goes, “yes, we have no bananas”.


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