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Bananaphobia: Legend of the Mariner’s Curse

The legend of the Banana Curse has plagued fisherman and mariners for centuries. For those yet to hear this superstitious sea lore, bananas on boats are believed to cause bad luck. Missing fleets, sunken ships, dead sailors, freak weather, near misses and many ‘fruitless’ (I couldn’t resist) fishing trips have been attributed to the presence of bananas.

Bananaphobia has evolved into a global epidemic, its sufferers being otherwise sensible people. Even seasoned boat skippers known for practical minds and sharp bull$!# detectors will erupt into a fit of rage on sight of the yellow fingers coming aboard, bellowing the rule to which is there is no exception: “No bananas!”

The legend of the Banana Curse has several origins. The most fanciful is the story of the God of the Sea and God of the Banana. It’s fabled that both gods fancied the same hot chick and the competition to claim the foxy lady’s heart was fierce.

The God of the Banana was apparently a smooth operator and won her love. My research didn’t uncover the successful pick-up line, so I’ll assume he used fancy footwork on the dance floor, flowers, chocolates and surely the promise of anything she could ever want. He was a god after all. Maybe his offer of love included a Lifetime Supply* of bananas. (*Lifetime Supply offer is limited to spouse and immediate family only.) Perhaps she was the Goddess of the Monkeys. Whatever he did worked and they married.

The God of the Sea was furious that the God of the Banana had cut his seagrass. The God of the Sea first made a mental note to try the Lifetime Supply of bananas line on the next girl (guys, write it down, as a back-up). He then swore revenge, vowing to curse with bad luck any sea goers carrying bananas.

There is obviously no cooling-off period with these godly declarations of threat. He must surely have had better ideas for revenge after this initial choice, something that would more directly harm the newlyweds. But he’s the God of the Sea. It’s his call. Alas, this bizarre threat didn’t play on the mind of the God of the Banana during the honeymoon but banana-munching mariners have been the crying victims of this curse ever since.

Another origin to the legend of the Banana Curse dates back to the early explorers. It’s more realistic than an ancient god love triangle. As Europe set sail in search of the end of the (then flat) earth, ships often docked at tropical islands to secure provisions for the next leg of their journey. Bananas were among the regular foods sailors carted on board.

Banana bunches make good hiding spots for spiders, disease carrying bugs, insects and even snakes. The theory is these vermin were unknowingly transported onto the ships to later cause illness, disease and even deaths. Over time, powers of deduction eventually established a correlation between bananas and the outbreak of medical issues and bananas were deemed cursed, convincing sea captains around the globe to ban bananas on their ships.

The third Banana Curse origin I stumbled upon is related to banana gas. No, not the intermittently released evil your mate brings aboard after a dose of his wife’s banana cake; albeit a wretched curse in its own right. ‘Banana gas’ refers to the ethylene gas a banana produces as it ripens.

This gas causes other perishable food to spoil quicker, if stored close-by in a confined area. All foods were stored in common areas of the ships, so the ripening bananas would cause ruin to surrounding fruits and vegies. Meanwhile, the bananas would last the normal amount of time. This phenomenon only occurred with bananas on board, so it was an obvious conclusion for the ships’ highly-educated scientists: the bananas are cursed! It’s the work of the devil! Throw them overboard at once!

Regardless of how it started, the Curse started a ‘no banana’ protocol that seems to live in all ports around the world, especially among fisherman.

I’m not superstitious. I believed the banana theory to be an excuse for unsuccessful anglers and a few years ago decided to prove the Banana Curse to be a myth, partly for fun but also to gather material for a fishing magazine article I had in mind. So we loaded bananas alongside our fishing gear and launched at Townsville, North Queensland, heading north with a plan to arrive at Lucinda a few days later with stories of great fishing along the way, thereby destroying the myth once and for all.

I couldn’t help but smile when on the first day one engine broke down completely and the other was reduced to coughing along like a century-old pack-a-day smoker. My amusement turned to curiosity after we managed to limp to a safe anchorage inside FantomeIsland, only to be battered all night by terrible storms. Soaked, chilled by the roaring winds, and at 2a.m. a bit nervous about the nasty skies approaching, I admit to wondering about the banana’s powers; but we kept them onboard.

The weather was glorious the next morning and we enjoyed a hot session at a spot outside HinchinbrookIsland, catching impressive coral trout, tuna, mackerel and various trevallies before we crawled into Lucinda, having called off the remainder of the trip for safety’s sake. Despite the semi-happy ending, I haven’t packed a banana since. I still don’t believe bananas are cursed but good fishing luck is hard enough to find without encouraging the mysterious powers of the universe to have fun at your expense. And apples taste just fine.