Why Fishermen Won't Paint a Boat Blue
Jud’s New England Journal
For November 2012
Welcome to the November 2012 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H
Why Fishermen Won’t Paint a Boat Blue
It’s not that they’re superstitious.
No, no, heavens no…
Most of the fishermen in the picturesque village of Port Clyde, Maine, are descendants of the English, Finnish, and Swedish stone cutters who came to Maine to quarry paving blocks for the streets of New York and Philadelphia. They became fishermen when the cobblestone streets went the way of the horse and most of the quarries went out of business.
“These Port Clyde fishermen are a wonderfully lovable, superstitious and rowdy bunch,” a retired businessman friend of mine wrote me after permanently moving from New York to the town of Saint George, of which Port Clyde is a part. So a few months later, Yankee writer and photographer Larry Willard and I moseyed down the Maine coast to fill out a story we were planning to do on New England superstitions.
“We’re not any of those things,” a fisherman we found on the town docks told us when I read him that portion of my friend’s letter. “People may think we’re rowdy because we go up to Rockland and have a few drinks on Saturday night. Or maybe once in a while during the week, if the weather report is bad and we know we won’t be going out on the trawler the next day. And what do you mean by ‘superstitious’? In what way are we supposed to be superstitious?”
There was nothing for Larry and I to do but tell him a few of the many things we’d heard about New England fishermen’s beliefs that denote some sort of ill fortune–such as painting a boat blue, mentioning the word “pig”, having an umbrella onboard ship, or leaving a hatch cover turned upside down.
For several minutes after our brief explanation, the fisherman worked silently on the net he was repairing. Finally, I prodded him with: “For instance, it doesn’t look to me as though there is a blue fishing boat in this whole harbor.”
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t paint a boat blue myself. I don’t like the color. I don’t know of anyone that does, either. But that’s not necessarily a superstition.”
Then I told him I’d always been led to believe that most fishermen simply do not allow the word “pig” to be used around or on their boats and that some fishermen won’t even eat pork. He seemed a little uneasy as I went on to say that I’d heard about a young boy in Port Clyde who’d made an “oink” sound near a fishing boat the previous summer and had been punished by his parents when the boat returned from its next trip with nets destroyed in some sort of mishap at sea.
“I don’t eat pork myself,” he responded after a pause, “but it ain’t that I’m superstitious about it. I just don’t like pork.”
“What about your friends?” I asked.
“I’ll admit a few of them won’t use the word ‘pig’,” he said, “but it don’t bother me none…so long as I’m clear of the boat.”
“What about having an umbrella aboard ship or leaving a hatch cover bottom side up?” Larry asked, entering the conversation for the first time.
Visibly relieved and feeling on solid ground once again, the fisherman turned to Larry and fairly shouted, “Why in tarnation would anyone want to bring an umbrella onboard a ship? And as to leaving a hatch cover bottom side up–that’s no superstition. Only a Goddamn fool would leave a hatch cover bottom side up!”
With that, he left his nets and walked away, obviously somewhat disgusted with the ignorance of writers and editors.
Later that afternoon, as we drove by the Thomaston harbor, we spotted a blue fishing boat. Just one out of the dozens moored out there–but it was definitely blue. We decided it was probably owned by some New Yorker who used it as a pleasure boat. We wished him luck.