And Thus, the Oporto Was Lost

Marina da Afurada, Porto, Portugal | © sstefan, Google Maps

All superstitions had been observed for the journey, even the ‘spilling of blood’, which conveniently occurred on its own when the bosun and cooper came to blows over the affections of a blue-eyed whore at a brothel in Matosinos.

A plump gray kitten was secured to bring the journey luck. The quartermaster even purchased a caul from a local midwife. They’d waited to set sail until the first day free of rolling clouds and red dawns. They’d even brought a priest to accompany them on the journey.

Portuguese sailors were notoriously uneasy about weather, and the winds blew ill in the North Sea even in the best of times. Thus, they were reassured by the priest’s presence and the promise of daily mass.

But when the storm came, the fools ran to the quarterdeck for a holy water blessing instead of manning the sails. And thus, the Oporto was lost.

150 words

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw. To read more stories inspired by the prompt or to submit your own, click here.


  1. They don’t sound like experience mariners to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John Nicol typified this attitude when he wrote:
      The Portuguese are the worst sailors in the world in rough or cold weather, and we had plenty of both, but worse than all we had a black fellow of a priest on board to whom the crew paid more attention than the captain. He was forever ringing his bell for mass and sprinkling holy water upon the men. Whenever it blew harder than ordinary they were sure to run to the quarterdeck to the black priest. We were almost foundered at one time by this unseamanlike conduct.[14]
      To Nicol, the Portuguese praying with a priest and engaging in the sacraments instead of working to change their fate was ‘unseamanlike conduct.’

      Liked by 2 people

  2. With all their precautions… they forgot to learn how to sail…
    Well done, Karen!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story. I think the bosun should have plied his rope’s end to chase the lubbers into the rigging and remind them of their duty, but he was doubtless preoccupied.
    Maybe this is why later generations of mariners considered priests, parsons, cats, and white-handled knives to be unlucky. They were also particularly hard on anyone they considered to be a Jonah, since Jonah invited God’s wrath.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I like the detail of “came to blows over the affections of a blue-eyed whore at a brothel in Matosinos”. That sort of detail supporting a seemingly throwaway line adds great verisimilitude.


  5. […] thanks to Karen and Josh for keeping this challenge […]


  6. Dear Karen,

    I couldn’t help thinking of a video I watched earlier about flat earthers. All those precautions and not a true sailor in the lot. Well done.




  7. Great details, Karen – really brings the story to life! And what a great example of misplaced priorities. People always ask, why does it matter if people believe in superstitions that aren’t true? Well, it matters if it keeps them from operating on principles that *are* true, which may be important for saving their lives!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is a time a place for everything, and the middle of a storm, when waves are threatening to capsize you, might not be the best time or place to stop and sprinkle some holy water.

    Ive heard of walking meditation–how about working prayer?


  9. Abhijit Ray

    Too much faith in supernatural for their own good. Too bad.


  10. Ah, I love this peak into the Portuguese sailors’ mindset – all those things to remember before setting sail, all those rituals they relied on to keep them safe. It gives a real sense of period and place to hear all of that. Just a great snippet of history. Would love to read more 🙂


  11. peterkirsch

    A great story. And a subtle message, well-delivered.

    I feel bad…for the cat.


  12. Like Penny, I marvelled at your throwaway delivery of minute but important and telling details. Poor cat. A cat is more sensible than a man. A cat would run for its life, not for priestly anointings. Wonderful writing.


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