Common Ground: Bananas on board? Better not

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

An inventory of international good-luck symbols is a list like none other: laminated clovers, pennies, alligator teeth, rabbit feet, plastic replicas of patron saints, red Chinese lanterns, horseshoes, wishbones, stray eyelashes, fuzzy dice, a naked woman at the helm of a ship — the list goes on and on.

There are as many signs of bad luck as there are of good luck, but the bad-luck signs are a little bit more situational: a mirror breaking, a black cat crossing your path, walking under a ladder, spilling salt, a bird flying into your window, a mushroom cloud on the horizon, etc.

The luck business can be very confusing to interpret, especially when there are conflicting messages. Deciphering the amount of luck I have on any given day is much like figuring out story problems in math — a girl is traveling at 100 miles per hour on a train, the train hits a leprechaun … .

For the fisherman, nothing is unluckier than a banana brought aboard the boat. The source of this superstition is unclear but attributed to everything from a lesson in transatlantic crossings where the banana brought with it exotic pests from tropical islands, to the haunting image of floating bananas surrounding sunken ships.

Like many signs of bad luck, context means nothing. The bottom line is a banana cannot be brought aboard a boat whether it is in the ocean, river or lake. It doesn’t matter if it’s an organic banana or a dehydrated banana. If you’re on a boat, banana cannot be an ingredient in anything you have with you.

I’ve been on boats where even mentioning a banana causes a hysterical reaction in other fishermen. Banana-phobia includes six degrees of separation. For example, you cannot mention something that is related by six connections to a banana. No Gwen Stefani music because she helped the world to spell banana more than four times in a single song.

Here is a short list of qualifying banana faux pas:

  • Bringing aboard a product with “banana” in its name, like Banana Boat sunscreen or Banana Republic clothing. Some guides will attest that Fruit of the Loom removed the banana from its label as a favor to fisherman the world over.
  • Bringing aboard a food item which has banana as an ingredient or flavoring. This includes banana bread, banana muffins and the ever-sneaky banana taffy.
  • Mentioning a banana or a banana-related item. Be careful when pronouncing “bandana.”
  • Possessing the likeness of a banana either graphically or in a small graven image.
  • Singing, “Yes! We Have no Bananas.” It might seem funny at the time, but I assure you, it is not.
  • Wearing a banana mascot costume of any kind.
  • Spelling out of the word banana.
  • Musing about bananas.
  • Saying that anything is shaped like a banana — the object will immediately be thrown overboard.
  • Writing a column about bananas being unlucky during fishing season.

Although many people have refuted the bad-luck banana theory, and some fishermen have a liberal “bananas welcome aboard” attitude, I can’t help but be a little bit afraid. In a sport that requires so much aligning of the universes, a place where “the way you hold your mouth” could make or break the day’s catch, I don’t want to have a mouth full of banana.

For that matter, believing in luck — good or bad — is comforting. It gives the illusion of control to the uncontrollable element. Luck is more predictable than the weather. It’s intuitive, so therefore requires no skill or ability. Crediting outcomes to luck relieves you of all personal liability and allows you to wear dirty socks with impunity.

Most of all, luck doesn’t make or break the game of life, but it’s a talisman to the indefinable element confusing all success stories — you don’t win because you’re lucky, you win because you played.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. She can be reached at She has an article on grouse hunting, “The Scouting Year,” in the July issue of Alaska Magazine.


1 Comment

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One response to “Common Ground: Bananas on board? Better not

  1. Roy Corral

    Thanks for the wonderful article about bananas on board. I had to read it again because of a recent incident that some believe can be attributed to having bananas aboard the boat. The events that followed were a bit disconcerting: the skipper slipping and nearly breaking his leg; the boats dragging anchor at night and nearly grounding; the boat’s heater failing; and, of course, poor fishing. I’m now a believer about not having bananas on board a boat!

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