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A History of Ship Launches and Their Ceremonies (Hardback)

Maritime > Naval Maritime > Seaforth Publishing > Seaforth: ShipCraft Transport

By George Hodgkinson
Imprint: Pen & Sword Transport
Pages: 344
ISBN: 9781399049450
Published: 6th November 2023

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Throughout history, man has been performing rituals at the launch of a new ship to seek supernatural or divine protection for his ship and those who will sail in her. The form of the ritual varies according to local custom and religion: from the breaking of a coconut, to the release of doves, to the role of astrologers in choosing an auspicious day for the launch. But the sentiment that lies behind all launching ceremonies is fear. At the moment of launching a new ship a seafarer is alert to any sign that his ship is not sound. He is superstitious and seeks reassurance that his ship and those who will sail in her will be protected. The rites of blood sacrifice and libations performed by the ancient Babylonians and Greeks are well evidenced. The evolution of this practice into today’s tradition of breaking a bottle of wine against the bow of a ship before launch, still symbolising sacrifice, is explored as well as the now widely practised custom of inviting ladies to name and launch new ships.

"Hodgkinson illustrates his points with reference to a whole range of unusual and historic ship launches, and goes into the evolution of all kinds of different customs associated with the phenomenon."

Nautilus International - Nautilus Telegraph, March-April 2024

"This is an interesting and informative book about a shipbuilding process that might be considered routine. Far from it. This fine book is full of centuries of launching methods, ceremonies, superstitions and mishaps."

Powerships Magazine - Winter 2024

Featured in

Sea Breezes Magazine - January 2024

"An astonishingly comprehensive study of ship launches around the world from ancient times to the present day. The author combines wealth of detail with thematic analysis. Superstition has long accompanied launching rituals and, even in a more rational age an unsuccessful ceremony is still seen by some as a bad omen. The role of a female naming ‘god-mother’ is revealed to be relatively new and, while a religious element is central to some launching traditions, this is by no means universal. Altogether a fascinating, well illustrated and readable book."

Sarah Palmer, Emeritus Professor of Maritime History at University of Greenwich

About George Hodgkinson

George Hodgkinson, a qualified lawyer, spent 30 years in the City of London practising in the field of international ship finance. In this capacity he was privileged to attend some 50 ship naming and launching ceremonies in different countries. His thirst to know more about the origin of the rituals performed at such ceremonies resulted in extensive research, which is shared in this book.

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