The Banana Curse…. I was always a freshwater fishing guy growing up and was hypnotized with the allure of the Largemouth Bass as many kids were back then. It was so easy to grab your bike and run down to the local pond looking for the next world record bucket mouth! Back then, riding your bike a few miles to go fishing wasn’t taboo, so I would ride down to the local pond and/or stream every day as my appetite for fishing could not be quenched.
It wasn’t until I was about 10 when my father took me out salt water fishing on one of the local party boats looking for fluke and weakfish. It was a strange and new experience in all senses… The sour smell of diesel along with a bitter smell of the salty low tide mixed with an almost sweet smell of fresh bait being cut for our first stop. I vividly remember a passenger taking out a banana for breakfast out of his cooler when the passenger next to me said to another “Tell the mate, someone’s eating a banana!”.
Sure enough the mate came around the stern and grabbed the banana right out of the patron’s hand and tossed it into the sea while yelling “What are you doing!?!? Looking to jinx the boat or get us all killed?!?!”
Now I was puzzled and asked my dad what was going to happen to us since the banana was such a bad thing. His response was nothing more than “Just a silly superstition boat fishermen have”. My dad didn’t seem to care, but I needed to know why there was such a reaction to the banana on board and what would cause a stranger to rip a banana out of another man’s hand and just toss it out to the big blue sea! I hunted down the first mate and questioned him why a banana was such bad luck to make him do something like that. His response did not actually answer why he did such a thing, but it left a lasting impression on me. To paraphrase, he said “One day you may work on a fishing boat, if you are lucky enough, and come to find out there is something bad lurking behind every wave in the ocean. Every sailor and captain knows the words of wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight…. red sky in the morning, sailor’s take warning and the worst of them all… NO BANANAS ON BOARD!!!!
It didn’t take much more than that to be etched into my brain that bananas are bad for all boaters.
As time went on I never questioned the banana curse and eventually started working on party boats and private 6-pack charters. Each Captain was firmly rooted in the banana curse. I was instructed to throw any banana overboard that I saw and to check the coolers as we were heading out. I have to say that I have had many close calls with fist fights over this, but thankfully the majority of the passengers all knew the rule and I had enough people to back me when disposing of that vile musa fruit back into the sea.
Funny enough, the internet didn’t arrive until after I was out of college and all of a sudden an entire barrage of information was at my fingertips! I needed to know why this was now burned into my brain and why so many people were aware of this curse when it didn’t seem possible that so many anglers/boaters could be on the same page over all of these years.
My research led me to two distinct scientific reasons and a bunch of superstitions to why it was bad luck. I came across a hundred reasons why, but I found the two most logical and best known reasons stemmed from transatlantic crossings by wooden sailing ships as many hazards would befall the captains, crew and passengers. Disease, pirates, shipwrecks, storms, etc., claimed the lives of a good percentage of the captains, crew and passengers attempting the dangerous voyage. Needless to say, a transatlantic crossing in the 17th and 18th centuries was a very risky endeavor. Often the vessels would stop along the way in tropical islands to gather provisions such as food and water. There the passengers and crew would often purchase wooden crates of bananas from the locals and bring them aboard the ship. These crates would have all manner of critters in them such as bugs, spiders, vermin and snakes..
A similar twist on this hypothesis is when a fishing boat would head out to fish for a few days, they would load up with plenty of fruit and salted foods for the trip. Bananas were one of the most prolific food in the area, and would also carry these unsuspecting killers on board. Being on the boat with no way to escape, the spiders and deadly cargo could easily bite someone and the boat would have to return to port with a severely injured captain or crew.
The second most common reason for bananas being a curse was that all of the food and fruit would go bad in a short time while on the boat compared to that on land and there was no logical explanation. This caused fishermen having to return early from a good bite because of lack of food and even starvation from this putrification. Little did they know that bananas, apples and other fruits give off a gaseous hormone ethylene that ripens fruit in a quickened state. This is similar to putting an apple in a bag with un-ripened avocados and having them ripen much quicker.
Whatever the reason for the superstition may be, 33 years after that first boat trip from the 10 year old boy, I am a full on believer. I have first hand seen the curse in action time and time again with non-believers who now are fully believer’s in such a banana curse. There are some however that tempt fate and use them for bait and purposely bring them on board to buck the system claiming it as only a silly superstition. It’s fine for them as it hasn’t affected them yet, but my question to them is “Why tempt fate?” I love that I am passing down this time piece to future boatmen as it will always be lore in the life of a fishermen, whether you believe in it or not. I am generally not a superstitious, except in this case where I respect the curse… The curse of the BANANA!!!!