Cats have been friends of mariners for centuries.
They had an important job on ships – to keep the vessel free of rats and mice that not only ate food supplies, but gnawed through the ships’ ropes. Cats were also common along waterfronts where they controlled rodents in warehouses and helped clean up the remains from fish processing.
Mariners had a high respect for cats, often believing them to have special powers. Although considered unlucky in some places, having a black cat on board a ship was believed to offer protection from dangerous weather. Even fishermen’s wives kept black cats at home in hopes that they would protect their husbands at sea.
Polydactyl cats (with more than the usual number of toes) were popular sea cats because they were thought to have more balance and be better mouse-catchers. Some people believed storms were stored in cat tails, as evidenced by the static electricity that appeared when a cat was petted, making it taboo to pet a cat. If a ship’s cat fell overboard, the ship might be hit by a terrible storm, and if the ship didn’t sink, it would be cursed with nine years of bad luck. Some other feline superstitions concerning weather included – if a cat licked its fur against the grain, a hailstorm was coming; if a cat sneezed, it meant rain; and if a cat was frisky, expect windy conditions.