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“None of You Guys Have Any Bananas On You, Right?”
In 2010, I went shark fishing for the first time with my dad and my brother. We were vacationing in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and wanted to get some saltwater fishing in before we returned home.
When we arrived at the harbor, our captain shook our hands, introduced himself, and joked around with us a bit. He seemed friendly, knowledgeable, and super entertaining. In my mind, this was going to be a good trip.
Before we stepped onto the boat, however, the Captain’s tone became very serious. He look at us, and asked, “None of you guys have any bananas on you, right?”
In the moment, it seemed like a strange question.
Was he hungry?
Was he allergic?
Why did he care?
After we assured Cap’ that we weren’t bringing bananas on to his boat, he relaxed and went back to his natural demeanor. We had a fun day out on the water and pulled in some nice sharks.
Exploring the Myth: Is it Considered Bad Luck to Bring Bananas on a Boat?
Over the next decade, we went saltwater fishing with the same captain three more times.
And each time, it was the same question: “you’re not bringing any bananas on my boat, right?”
Each year, in typical seafarer style, he told us that bringing bananas on to your boat — especially at sea — was considered bad luck.
But is there any truth to this myth?
To date, there are plenty of theories as to why fishermen are so skeptical about bringing the long, yellow fruit on boats. Most of these theories can probably be relegated to the realm of legend, but it’s equally likely that some combination of stories may account for why bananas and fishing are not a good combination.
So, why do bananas get such a bad rap? Here are some potential reasons.
Creatures Live in the Bundles
An old-but-possible reason for the ban-on-bananas may be that undesirable shipmates may have been living in the bundles containing the fruits.
During extended stays at sea, the last thing you would want to share your ship with are venomous snakes. Or rodents. Or spiders. Or any other creature that may enjoy nestling around in (and eating) a massive supply of potassium-rich fruits.
As disease prevention was not as advanced as it is today, a bite from a poisonous snake or spider may mean guaranteed death for one (or several) crew members on a large ship.
Bananas Hijacking the Ship
Sometimes we take for granted the fact that we can look almost anything up on the internet. Before the days of search engines (or even encyclopedias), superstition ran high.
Heck, the fact that we are talking about people not bringing bananas on their boats shows that is still a factor.
Many ships in the 16th and 17th centuries were poorly constructed, traveled with considerable damage, or were overloaded. Given poor navigation and the uncertainty of conditions at sea, many ships would be wrecked.
If the ship was carrying bananas — a fruit that happens to be less dense than water — there was a faulty belief that the bananas themselves may have capsized or even hijacked the ship.
Bad Fruit: A Different Type of Sea Sickness
If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store and picked up a large assortment on fruits with the intention of cleaning up your diet, then you already know how quickly fruits can go bad.
Now, imagine you are headed from the Caribbean to Europe with an entire load on fresh fruit. Meals were scarce at times, and crew members often found themselves digging into the available cargo is rations ran low.
If you’re hungry, you’ll eat what’s available. But if the food you eat has rotted, it might have been better to starve. It was not at all uncommon for crew member to find themselves getting sick from eating bananas that were well past their expiration date.
Banana Oil Spooks the Fish
We all have that friend who is ultra-sensitive to any sensory issues that might spook the fish.
“Don’t be too loud, you’ll scare the fish!”
“Hey! Don’t use that hand sanitizer then touch your line. The fish are gonna smell it!”
“You’ve gotta use fluoro, man! The fish will see the other stuff!”
There is a more-modern belief that the oils from a banana can leak onto our hands and repel any potential fish we might catch.
Bananas Can Give You Gas… Literally
One of the most commonly suggested theories is that because bananas emit the gas ethylene (sometimes called ethene), they are more likely to cause other fruits to ripen at a faster rate.
Going back to our hypothetical scenario about taking a cargo load of fruit across the Atlantic, you would want to avoid bringing one particular type of fruit that would possibly ruin the rest of the haul, right?
Seeing as fruit trade was a major industry for quite some time, this may be the most likely reason why so many fishermen avoid bringing bananas on their boats.
The Finals Verdict: Is it Safe to Bring Bananas on a Boat?
This is the type of question that may never really have a straight answer. A lot of factors have to be considered, including the type of boat, where you are taking the boat, and what you are taking on the boat.
I will say this, however: a few weeks ago, I ate two bananas before going fishing and it was the only time I have gotten skunked all year.
Take it how you will….
If you want to snack on something safer while you’re on the water, we suggest some of the following snacks: