Maritime/Sailing

…and Women

The figurehead Nannie from the clipper Cutty Sark, is the witch from Robert Burns's poem. She is reaching out for the tail of Tam o' Shanter's mare. Photograph © 2015 J. Covington

The figurehead Nannie from the clipper Cutty Sark, is the witch from Robert Burns’s poem. She is reaching out for the tail of Tam o’ Shanter’s mare. Photograph © 2015 J. Covington

According to Julian Stockwin in his book “Maritime Miscellany: A Ditty Bag of Wonders From the Golden Age of Sail,” women were NOT welcome aboard a ship. They were considered bad luck; however, a female form as the figurehead of a ship, preferably with one or both breasts exposed, was believed to have the power to charm a storm at sea.

As a personification of the ship’s spirit, figureheads were never to be desecrated. According to Stockwin, when the wooden hat of the Duke of Bruswick figurehead on the HMS Brunswick was shot off, the captain handed the ship’s carpenter his own hat with orders to hammer it into place on the duke’s bald head.