When I was a brownie, not the chewy chocolate brownie but the pre-Girl Guide brownie we played a game called Clear the Decks. We learnt the nautical directions and ran to which ever way was called. Clear the decks was when we had to jump up on furniture as quickly as possible. The slowest one was always eliminated from the game. Those were the days. Shrieking for joy and running madly at the call of a direction.
I remember the game well, okay, not so well. I have always confused port and starboard until now. Now it is necessary and a life skill if I am to be serious about living on a boat. There may not be traffic lights and motorways but you need to know which side of the harbour to be on to enter and leave. And then there is the commonsense rule which is applicable at all times.
Imagine yourself levitating prostrate on the boat with your head at the bow end, and say bow, stern, port, starboard and point with your hand as you say the words out loud. Isn’t that in the same order as if you crossed yourself? I found this fascinating and wondered if this was how religion, faith, superstition at sea has survived, hidden in plain sight? A prayer said at the start of a voyage to wish for safe passage?
If I followed superstition I wouldn’t be let on a boat.
“Women on a boat make the sea angry.”
“A naked woman calms the sea.”
That is why there is a carved naked woman placed at the bow of the old boats.
Update: The carved decoration at the bow of a boat is called a figurehead. It is not always a naked woman, there have been unicorns. The Dutch placed a carved figure of the scholar Erasmus on the stern of the boat De Liefde.
St. Erasmus or St. Elmo is the patron saint of sailors.
So there is no hard and fast rule.
I see I have much to learn…