Aside from swallows, who adorn their arms and chests, sailors have a strong association with another animal who brings good fortune – the ship's cat. Daniel's Ship's cat design is available as a greetings card, art print and as a part of a set of four cat coasters.
As previously blogged, this animal brings very practical good fortune in the form of rodent control. But the ship's cat has also been believed to be portent or even controller of weather – which can be very literally life or death for sailors. Some believed cats could summon a storm with their tails, and would do so if it fell or was thrown overboard. The cat's behaviour can be a good weather forecast, licking its fur against the grain meant a hail storm was coming, sneezing meant rain and frisky behaviour predicted wind. There may be something in this, as cats' inner ears are highly sensitive allowing them to always land on their feet – as well as possibly know the weather before us hardy humans.
But the ship's cat also has other benefits. A playful feline is a good morale booster, particularly for weary wartime sailors. Tales of ship's cats' bravery during wartime are plentiful, when the dangers and horrors of seafaring were heightened.
Unsinkable Sam was a famous seacat, previously known as Oscar. He started off on the German ship Bismark which was sunk on its maiden voyage in 1941. The cat was the 117th survivor of a crew of an original crew of over 2000. Found on a floating plank among the wreckage, he was picked up by the British.
Not being a German national as such, the pussy cat swiftly swapped sides and crewed the HMS Cossack. As the war raged, this too was sunk a few months later. Again, the cat survived and, by now known as Unsinkable Sam, he thought he may have better luck on an aircraft carrier and joined the HMS Ark Royal.
When a torpedo hit his third vessel, the cat found himself yet again was among the survivors. He used his experience floating on a plank where he was found 'angry but unharmed'. Three shipwrecks in one year - no wonder he wasn't happy!
This time the Royal Navy decided he should be put on land duty – after all, he'd not exactly brought good luck to his boats. Unsinkable Sam then devoted himself to keeping the Governor of Gibraltar's residence mouse-free, before retiring to the UK in a home for sailors where he lived out his days. A portrait of him is kept by the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, honouring this unsinkable sailor.
Daniel's Ship's Cat design is available as a greetings card, art print and as part of a set of four coasters.
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In Greek mythology, Halcyone and Ceyx were lovers who incurred the wrath of the god Zeus by mocking him and his wife. Angered, Zeus killed Ceyx.