Seafaring Lore and Legend [NOOK Book]


"A valuable and lively resource. Jeans sorts truth from fiction with a sure hand and does full justice to both." —Peter Stanford, President Emeritus, National Maritime Historical Society

“A veritable sourcebook of nautical history, beliefs, and heritage. Every true mariner will get lost in this book.”—Boating

Seafaring Lore and Legend is a storehouse of wonders for those who love the sea. From Noah’s Ark to Thor Heyerdahl’s raft, from Atlantis to the Northwest Passage, author ...

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Seafaring Lore and Legend

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"A valuable and lively resource. Jeans sorts truth from fiction with a sure hand and does full justice to both." —Peter Stanford, President Emeritus, National Maritime Historical Society

“A veritable sourcebook of nautical history, beliefs, and heritage. Every true mariner will get lost in this book.”—Boating

Seafaring Lore and Legend is a storehouse of wonders for those who love the sea. From Noah’s Ark to Thor Heyerdahl’s raft, from Atlantis to the Northwest Passage, author Peter Jeans scours the ages and the seven seas for fanciful, inspiring, and bizarre tales of sea monsters, ghost ships, lost continents, castaways, pirates, explorers, superstitions, and customs.

Discover the surprising truths behind:

  • The origins of naval salutes and the Beaufort Scale
  • Flogging a dead horse and other oddities of nautical custom
  • Sea chanties, scurvy, and the hardships of life at sea
  • Infamous and noteworthy sea captains and their ships
  • Famous wrecks and mutinies
  • Mermaids, sirens, and sea nymphs
  • Nautical superstitions such as the albatross and Fiddler’s Green
  • And much more

This is a book you can open anywhere to savor for a few minutes or an afternoon. But be careful: it's easy to lose track of time at sea.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071508780
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
  • Publication date: 2/7/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 382
  • Sales rank: 461,328
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Peter D. Jeans is the author of Ship to Shore: A Dictionary of Everyday Words and Phrases Derived from the Sea.

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Read an Excerpt




The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 International Marine
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-148656-9




When people first emerged from the long dark night of their savage and brutal lives as predatory hunters and gradually became more or less contemplative beings, increasingly aware of themselves as but a very small part of what seemed to be a very big picture, doubtless the two questions they asked themselves would have been: Where did we come from? Why are we here?

We have been struggling with these fundamental issues ever since.

Ancient civilizations—such as the Greeks, the early inhabitants of Mohendro-Daro in what is now Pakistan, the Maya people on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, the Aztecs of Central America, the Australian Aborigines (the proud inheritors of a continuous culture at least sixty thousand years old), and many others who peopled the "long-ago"—all of them found answers of a sort to explain what otherwise seemed inexplicable.

This chapter deals with some of the myths, stories, and legends that our ancestors gradually accumulated in an effort to make sense of the world about them.


"In the sixth hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were open. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights."

Genesis 7:11–12

This biblical flood, also called the Deluge, is very important to all seafarers, past and present. It is the great flood that covered the earth as a mark of God's wrath toward man for his sins and general iniquity and a sign of God's regret at having created him in the first place: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually ... And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air."

This biblical account is in fact a fusing of two traditions from which a continuous story emerges; for example, in one version the beasts fit for ritual sacrifice are taken into the ark by sevens and the remainder by twos, and it takes seven days for them all to enter the ark; the other tradition lists all the beasts alike in twos, and seemingly these all embark in one day.

Only the pious Noah and his wife and Noah's three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) and their wives were to be spared, along with a male and female animal of each species, by means of a great ship or ark that God ordered Noah to make. This ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high, the Hebrew cubit being about 22 inches long—a large vessel even by modern standards. According to legend, Noah's wife was unwilling to enter the ark and she and her husband, or so the story goes, had quite a quarrel about it. Chaucer refers to the quarrel in "The Miller's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales:

Hastow not herd, quod Nicholas, also The sorwe of Noe with his felawshipe Er that he mighte gete his wyf to shipe?

Seven days later the rain began, lasting for forty days and forty nights in the story that is familiar to many of us (in the parallel tradition the flood doesn't end until after 150 days), a thundering downpour that must have exhausted virtually all of the atmospheric moisture in the heavens at the time. Underground water was caused to flood the earth along with the heavy and continuous rain from above; this flood "prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days" until all the land was inundated and every living thing had perished—except, of course, Noah and his companions in the ark.

When the rains stop and the ark comes to rest on the summit of Mount Ararat, Noah sends out a raven, then a dove, but they both return repeatedly, showing that there was still no dry land they could alight on. A week later he lets the dove go again, and this time it returns with an olive leaf in its beak, a sign to Noah that "the waters were abated from off the earth." God then instructs Noah to leave the ark, whereupon Noah builds an altar on the newly dry ground and sacrifices animals to show his thankfulness to the creator, who in turn promises that never again would there be such punishment inflicted on mankind ("I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth"), and as a sign of this a rainbow appears in the heavens (see The Rainbow in this chapter).

Finally Noah and his family and the cargo of livestock are blessed by the creator and given the instruction, in that famous biblical phrase, to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth."

The ark of Noah derives from the Latin arca, chest, related to arcere, to keep off; hence the ark of Noah that "kept off" the flood. An interesting suggestion for the source of "Noah" is Nuah, a moon goddess from Babylonian times, with the subsequent ark being used to ferry men from one world to another, as when Osiris, a principal Egyptian god, ferries the dead to the Otherworld; when Charon ferries his cargo of souls over the River Styx to Hades; and when King Arthur is taken by barge to Avalon.

Similar stories of a universal flood that wipes out an errant mankind are to be found in many other cultures. The best-known of these is perhaps the biblical account, briefly summarized above, this being but a variation of the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, a story so old that it predates Homer. In 1853 twelve clay tablets were discovered in the excavated library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. On these tablets, some of which date back to 2000 B.C., were a number of ancient Babylonian stories and myths, the central hero of which was Gilgamesh, legendary king of Erech or Uruk.

Gilgamesh learns that the god Ea has told Utnapishtim, an ancestral being, to build a boat and fill it with his family and relatives, his valuables, and animals both wild and tame; this ark is cube-shaped and measures some 120 cubits along each side (about 220 feet). A storm rages for six days and nights; on the seventh the ark comes to rest on Mount Nisir, whereupon Utnapishtim sends out a dove, which returns, then a swallow, which also returns, followed by a raven, which does not.

Greek myth asserts that Deucalion, one of the sons of Prometheus, and his wife Pyrrha both survive the deluge in an ark and become the ancestors of the renewed human race by means of the novel method of casting stones behind them, which then turn into human beings. Yet another Greek legend, the Ogygian Deluge, has the great flood occurring during the reign of King Ogyges, some two hundred years earlier than the flood that beset Deucalion (see Island of Ogygia, chapter 2).

In the Indian Rig Veda (Sanskrit rig, rich = praise; veda, knowledge)—a series of psalms comprising perhaps the oldest document extant among the sacred scriptures of the world's living religions, dating back to at least 2000 B.C.—the ark of Manu (the ancestor of mankind) is towed to safety by a giant fish that Manu had earlier preserved from death when it was small.

The Norse epic Edda (a word related to the Sanskrit veda) relates the death of Ymir, the first being (a giant, in this case). He is killed by the god Odin and his blood swamps the world, destroying all other beings except Bergelmir and his wife, both of whom survive in a boat and who later bring forth a new race.

The Hopi people of Arizona tell how the creator-god Sotuknang destroyed with a flood the inhabitants of a former civilization, the Hopi themselves reaching safety on rafts made from reeds. Maori legend relates how the god Tawaki vented his anger on humanity for their persistent sin by releasing all the waters of heaven on them, only some selected individuals being permitted to reach safety on rafts.

Trow, the mythical ancestor of the Dyak people in North Borneo, finds salvation by crouching in a feed trough until the waters dry out; the Arapaho nation in North America tell of their god Rock being preserved in a vessel made from spiders' webs and fungi; while the ancestors of the Lithuanians were saved by sheltering in a nutshell; and the forebears of the Chane people of Bolivia floated to safety in a clay pot.

Hawaiian legend tells of Nuu who, with his wife, his three sons and their wives, waited out a world-destroying flood by seeking refuge in a huge ship that he had built; when the waters had subsided their vessel came to rest on Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in those islands (the similarities between this legend and that of Noah are striking). Venezuelan lore records the "Time of the Great Water" in rock carvings on very high cliffs, chiseled there by long-gone artists working from their canoes floating on once-high waters.

Scholars have long known of the broad agreement between many flood myths found in many different cultures, especially details concerning the size of the raindrops that fell from the open heavens and the heat of the water released upon the earth. For example, amongst North American Indians the Sacs and the Fox peoples relate that each drop was the size of a wigwam; Saint John describes the hail that rained from the sky as "every stone about the weight of a talent." (A talent was an ancient weight, and also a sum of money, of varying value among the Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, etc., the later Attic people putting it at about 57 pounds troy weight; Gordon, Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends, suggests that Saint John's talent was equal to about a hundredweight, some 112 pounds.)

The Zend-Avesta of ancient Persia mentions raindrops the size of a man's head; the Makah tribe of Washington State and the Vugul people of Finland speak of rain that is boiling hot, as does a Jewish account of the Flood myth and that of the Ipurinas of Brazil. In like manner, Syrian legend tells of huge volumes of water being thrown out from the earth followed by torrential rain pouring from above and drowning everyone, as does also the Koran, wherein quantities of hot water burst from an "oven."

Many of these myths share the common belief that man's sinful nature was the cause of the Flood that destroyed all life on the planet, except for those few who were chosen by the creator to replenish the earth with people.

Such a common stock of worldwide beliefs has led various researchers to the notion that the catastrophic deluge that annihilated virtually all living things on earth at some time in the distant past is less myth and more a race memory of an actual event. If it is in fact only myth (so the argument runs) one is left wondering the obvious: how is it that so many disparate and unconnected peoples on the face of the earth persist in relating legends of mass global destruction, legends that all share many points of similarity?


"The water of this red see is not redde of his owne kynde, the colour of it is by reson of the costes and the botom of it which be redde ground ... this is the trouthe."

Roger Barlow, A Brief Summe Of Geographie

The Red Sea is of course the location of the miracle that permitted the children of Israel to escape the wrath of the Pharaoh (its name is a translation of the Latin Mare rubrum). One explanation for "red" is that it is a "sea of reeds"; others are that it takes its color from the red coral on its bed or that the water reflects the color of the eastern sky. The more likely reason for its color is that this narrow strip of water, extending from Suez in the north to the Strait of Bab el Mandeb to the southeast, was named from the blue-green algae common to its waters, the algae having also a red pigment that occasionally colors the surface waters.

Moses (Egyptian = "a son") liberated the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage and was their leader for the many years of their desert wanderings to Palestine. During their captivity in Egypt the Israelites increased greatly in number, thereby causing concern among the authorities, who then put the people to forced labor and set out to kill all first-born male children. The child Moses is saved by being placed in a basket made from bulrushes and then hidden among reeds in a stream; ironically, he is rescued, named, and raised by the Pharaoh's own daughter, no less—although the Egyptians are not aware of this—and eventually he finds his way into exile. God reveals himself to Moses as a burning bush and commissions him to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. These events are thought by most scholars to belong to the period around 1500 B.C.

Moses returns to Egypt and demands repeatedly of the Pharaoh that his people be allowed to journey into the wilderness to worship Yahweh, God. The demand is just as repeatedly refused, whereupon Yahweh afflicts the Egyptians with a series of plagues, culminating in the death of all first-born Egyptians and beasts. Sensibly, the Israelites flee, pursued by the Pharaoh's forces, who overtake the fugitives on the banks of the Red Sea. What happened next has been much debated.

The Israelite host cross the sea safely

by means of unusual but natural causes, such as the combination of a very strong wind and a very low tide, so that the Israelites might scramble across to the other side; this was apparently an early tradition ("And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided").


by a miracle, whereby the sea parts, the Israelites pass across safely, and the sea then reunites of its own accord; this is a later tradition.

In both scenarios the Egyptian soldiers follow hard on the heels of the Israelites but are swiftly drowned by the rapidly returning waters. The Israelites make their way to a sacred mountain variously called Sinai or Horeb, where they adopt Yahweh as their God and then spend the next forty years trying to reach Palestine from the south (this is the period when they are often sustained in the desert wastes by quail and manna, a wild sweet edible root). Finally they leave the wilderness and successfully enter Palestine by approaching it from the east. Just before they cross the River Jordan, Moses dies.

The parting of the Red Sea has remained as one of the more dramatic of oceanic disturbances in the literature, rivaled perhaps only by the supposed upheaval, then disappearance, of Fabled Atlantis (chapter 16).


"I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth."

Genesis 9:13

The biblical account of the Deluge (Great Floods above) relates how the creator made a promise to mankind, telling Noah that he would set a rainbow in the sky as an enduring sign that never again would there occur such a draconian punishment of mankind as the Flood: "And the bow shall be in the cloud."

But not only is the rainbow of significance to Christians, it is also an element in a number of other world myths. In Greek mythology the rainbow goddess is Iris, messenger of the gods and daughter of Thaumas and Electra, both deities of the sea (the colored portion of the human eye takes its name from Iris; the flower of that name does, also). The Norse regard the rainbow as a manifestation of the bridge, known to them as Bifrost, that connects the world of humans with that of the gods; in parts of Africa and India it represents a serpent slaking its thirst in the sea; for the Chinese it is the sky-dragon that joins heaven and earth; and some North American peoples regard the rainbow as a ladder by which they might make contact with the realms of the departed spirits of their dead.

The Bakongo people of central Africa look upon the rainbow as one of the manifestations of the protector god Lubangala, whose function it is to guard their villages and the graves of their ancestors, as well as being protector of the sea. European folklore, with a touch of the whimsical if not the practical, also maintains that if one looks carefully enough one will find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The sailor's view is perhaps as useful as any:

Rainbow to windward, foul fall the day; Rainbow to leeward, damp runs away.


"Was this country [New Zealand] settled by an Industrus people they would very soon be supply'd not only with the necessarys but many of the luxuries of life."

Captain James Cook, Journal, 1770

Maui is one of the great heroes in Polynesian mythology, featured in many tales told by the Maoris of New Zealand and the early Hawaiians and by other Polynesian groups scattered throughout the Pacific (see Kon-Tiki Expedition, chapter 3).

He was born prematurely to his mother Taranga, who immediately wrapped him in some of her hair (some accounts say her apron) and abandoned him to the sea, but a jellyfish protected the child with its mantle. Maui's father Tama, the sky, saw the boy in the sea and took him home, placing him on the roof of his house so that the child would be warmed by the fire in the hearth below. From the spirits around him Maui learned a wide variety of skills, hence his reputation as a wily, resourceful, and mischievous figure who takes great delight in tricking others.

Excerpted from SEAFARING LORE & LEGEND by PETER D. JEANS. Copyright © 2004 by International Marine. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Note to the Reader Introduction 1. In the Beginning Great Floods Moses and the Red Sea The Rainbow Maui, Creator of New Zealand Oceanus King Neptune Poseidon Amphitrite Aphrodite Portunus Castor and Pollux Nereus Hero and Leander Scylla and Charybdis Manannan, Celtic Sea God 2. Fabled Lands Pillars of Hercules Colossus of Rhodes Ultima Thule The Hesperides Tarshish Taprobane Distant Ophir Magnetic Islands Hy Brasil Island of Ogygia Island of Delos Lemuria, Lost Continent Lost Land of Lyonesse 3. Legendary Voyages Sindbad the Sailor Gulliver’s Travels Hanno the Navigator Prince Madoc of Wales Voyages of Saint Brendan Voyages of Gil Eannes Polynesian Seafarers The Kon-Tiki Expedition 4. Sea Quests of Old The Argosy The Argonauts The Odyssey Vinland USA The Northwest Passage The Great South Land Moby Dick 5. Maritime History The British Royal NavyNaval Salutes Plimsoll Line Lloyd’s of London P&O Shipping Line Beaufort Wind Scale 6. Nautical Custom The Bucentaur Crossing the Line To Flog a Dead Horse The Getting of Grog Traveling POSH 7. Life at Sea Ocean Waves Trade Winds The Sargasso Sea The Seven Seas Cape Horn The Cape Horners On the Spanish Main Prize Money First Rate Of Knots and Logs Scurvy Deep-Sea Diving Sea Chanties 8. The Captain and His Ship Ship Types The Age of Sail The Clipper Ships The Windjammers Christopher Columbus Lord Anson Captain James Cook John Paul Jones Lord Nelson 9. A Murmuring of Men The Batavia Wreck and MutinyHMS Bounty Mutiny HMS Hermione Mutiny Spithead and the Nore Mutiny The Press Gang 10. Big Ships and Battles RMS Titanic HMS Ark Royal RMS Queen Mary HMS Dreadnought The Spanish Armada The Battle of Copenhagen The Battle of Jutland The Sinking of HMAS Sydney 11. Death and Disaster USS Scorpion HMS Royal George The Gilt Dragon HMS Birkenhead RMS Lusitania SS Waratah The Whaler Essex The William Brown Wrecker’s Coast 12. Navigable Waters The Amazon River The Panama Canal The Suez Canal 13. Castaways and Survivors Robinson Crusoe Icebound by North Poon Lim Herbert Kabat John Caldwell Tropic Island Hell 14. At Odds with the Law Pirates Buccaneers Earrings for Cutthroats Henry Every William Kidd Edward Teach (“Blackbeard”) Anne Bonny Mary Read 15. Sea Fancies Mermaids Sirens The Lorelei Selkies Halcyon Days King Canute 16. Myth and Mystery Fabled Atlantis The Bermuda Triangle The Flannan Isles The Flying Dutchman The Mary Celeste The Schooner Jenny USS Cyclops 17. Sea Monsters Monster Caddie Captain M’Quhae’s Monster Haiphong Monster Monster Kraken Loch Ness Monster Rattray Head Monster Cape Cod Monster Cape São Roque Monster Halifax Monster Whaler Daphne’s Monster Nahant Beach Monster Jonah and the Whale Orcs, Whales, and Leviathan The Bunyip of the Billabongs 18. Wraiths of the Sea Capes of Virginia Phantom Gulf of Saint Lawrence Ghost Ship Long Island Sound Ghost Ship New Haven Ghost Ship Ghosts of Dead Men The Vikings of Solway Firth Phantom Pilots 19. Superstition and Belief Launching a Ship Coin Under the Mast Ships’ Names Ships’ Figureheads Departures The Eyes of Her Guiding Star The Lodestone Unlucky Ships Women Aboard Ship Whistling Aboard Ship Ringing Glass Aboard Ship Sharks Astern Ship’s Cat Coffins Aboard Ship Flowers Aboard Ship Flags, Bags, Bells, and Rags Umbrellas Aboard Ship The Albatross Our Flat Earth Saint Elmo’s Fire Priests Aboard Ship Ebb Tide Wren’s Feather Death by Drowning Davy Jones’s Locker Fiddler’s Green Sources and Notes Select Bibliography Index
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