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Ever since the first sailing vessels were built, sailors tried to guarantee safe passage by attempting to please mystifying and unpredictable gods with symbols of faith. The ship's figurehead took many forms over the centuries and human figures began to appear in the late 1770s. Shortly thereafter everything from statesmen to Indians to Greek figures appeared on the fronts of ships.
Soon female figures began to appear
and were used on a great number of commercial ships after 1800. Often ship owners' wives were used as models.

There are records telling how the figureheads of new vessels were consecrated by the superstitious with splashes of wine to guarantee that they would give the vessels good luck when they were launched. We still practice this ritual today.

This figurehead is on the Tall Ship "HMS" Surprise. The ship, a replica of the original built in 1794, appeared in the movie Master and Commander: Far Side of the World. It is now part of the Maritime Museum collection in
San Diego California. ----- Sandy Thomas

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