Fishermen are a notoriously superstitious band of brothers, and why wouldn't they be? Not only do they have centuries of customs passed down from previous generations of anglers, but they also toil in the world's most dangerous profession up to 10 months a year. So why not a little (or a lot of) juju to help keep their time at sea on an even keel? Open water is an unpredictable and mystical place, after all.
The tenacious captains of Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch" know these traditions inside and out (and make up their own as time goes on), and you better believe that they believe; it's part of their history and their reality.
Preparing a vessel for the fishing season is a stressful but there are some superstition-based precautions that the "Deadliest Catch" crews take to help ensure their safety … they hope.
Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern told Yahoo! TV about numerous customs that have been around forever (or so it seems), such as biting the head off a herring for good luck and making sure none of the hatches are upside-down -- upside-down hatches represent an upside-down boat. (The rebel Hillstrands of the Time Bandit tend to ignore these common practices, they'd like you to know.)
See the Northwestern crew biting the head off a herring:
It's also customary for the Northwestern crew to have a rough couple of weeks before setting out. This includes not getting enough sleep, worrying, and basically maintaining a level of stress. Not stressing is a bad sign of overconfidence: "On our boat, if you talked about having a good season before I leave, I'm gonna get you. I don't like it. ... And when the guys get cocky and start talking about how much money they're gonna make or that it's so good, to me, that's bad luck to me," Hansen elaborated.
Burn, Baby, Burn
And how do the "Deadliest Catch" crews burn off some of that pressure before leaving port? By gathering around the burn barrel! This precrabbing tradition is a customary (and rowdy) way for the fishermen to wish each other luck before setting off to sea -- plus they get to throw stuff into the fire, including fireworks, which results in an impromptu and way-too-close fireworks display. At least they look like they're having a good time!
No Suitcases Allowed
One long-standing superstition among mariners is that suitcases are bad luck, period. "When the ['Deadliest Catch'] cameramen came on our boat the first time, they brought all these giant suitcases and luggage," Hansen said. "And I said, 'You guys can bring all the cameras you want, but the suitcases stay on the dock.' ... And I meant it. It's one of those things where it's your head. You've been raised that way."
Call Them Rituals, Not Superstitions
Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand of the Time Bandit prefer to call them rituals, as opposed to superstitions: Once Johnathan gave Andy an Arturo Fuente cigar, which preceded a successful trip -- thus making it a new ritual. "Once you do something, you don't wanna change it," Johnathan said. Unless it stops working, of course -- which the cigars did. So they kissed that one goodbye.
Some more common rituals that most fishermen, even the defiant Hillstrands, adhere to: No bananas onboard ever, and never leave on a Friday -- unless you know the Hillstrands' secret: Make a left-handed Swedish maneuver upon departure. They are convinced it takes away the bad luck.
The most reliable tradition for these brothers? "Getting hammered," said Andy.
Follow Your Gut
Captain Keith Colburn of the Wizard admits that he's been superstitious since he was 3 years old, saying that despite all the analysis and technology available, fishing has a lot to do with gut instinct: "I tirelessly prepare and examine every possible scenario and past trend. ... At the end of the day, it might come down to a lucky Styrofoam spittoon and a set of dice at the office."
Some of Colburn's tips: Head north until there's no lifts of other boats on the horizon, make sure all the cups face forward, and don't open anything upside down. Also, never, ever whistle in the wheelhouse -- which is a common superstition in the industry.
Just as often as various crews' rituals overlap, though, they vary: "As mariners, what happens is you start to acquire superstitions as you go on," Colburn said. "Don't get on the boat a certain way; don't get off the boat a certain way. ... Change your hat; don't change your hat! ... It doesn't end. It's kinda crazy, but you know what -- you're sitting up there all day by yourself. You need something to keep you company. And if superstitions help you out, well, that's what I use."
"Deadliest Catch" premieres on Tuesday, 4/16 at 9 PM on the Discovery Channel.
- Deadliest Catch