On our travels to New Zealand, Dooley and I got to talk about boats. A lot. At some point I mentioned to him that I had been disappointed not to find a gold piece under Leda’s mast.
Now, whether tradition was for the coin to be gold or not, it has long been a tradition to place a coin under the mast when it is stepped. It is supposed to bring good luck. Most likely the original coins placed under masts would have been silver, as this was the preferred metal to pay the ferryman to take your soul across the River Styx. Apparently this is more or less how this tradition started. Should the ship sink the crew would have money to pay their toll into the afterlife. But they’d have a hard time stealing it while they were alive.
Regardless, I hadn’t found a coin, and mentioned it to Dooley. He gave a bit of a bark and said “If we’d had anything left, ‘twould have been no more than a penny!”. We all had a good laugh over it, but Dooley hadn’t actually been joking.
I later shared this bit of black humor with Erica while visiting her in Auckland and we searched for a penny at coins shops, but couldn’t find one. Later that year, a Christmas card arrived from Erica and with it where two 1949 New Zealand pennies that she had sourced so that we might have a coin to put under our mast.
I suppose a gold coin might bring more luck than a copper one. This is assuming that you can actually buy luck, which in itself sounds like a bad idea. But sticking to tradition for the sake of tradition seems like a good idea. That and in my mind copper is the perfect thing to put under a wooden mast.
When Leda’s mast went back in during the spring of 1998 I used a Forstner bit to cut a bit of a recess in her keel, just large enough to house one of the coins. And there, bedded in beeswax (well actually a toilet ring) is a 1949 New Zealand penny.
It’s there for luck. It’s there for tradition. It could even be there as a biocide. But mostly its there to remember.
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