Sunday, December 23, 2012

Start off the New Year Singin' Shanties - Join us January 3rd for our 1st Anniversary Celebration!

T'was a year ago January that we began gathering once a month to sing maritime songs. Mike James led us off with a rousing good time of singin' shanties and other songs about the sea. This January 3rd we invite you to start off the new year with Mike James leading our song circle once again!

Bring friends, family and your favorite dish - we are having a potluck to celebrate our one year anniversary gathering together to sing maritime songs as part of the community that desires to enjoy, revive and preserve maritime music and culture.

Thank you to Deborah Gottleib Lewis, Friends of the Arts, Northwest Maritime Center, Crossroads Music and Port Townsend Community Center for your support in 2012. Thank you to the Port Townsend Arts Commission, the City of Port Townsend, Cross Roads Music and the Port Townsend Community Center for your support in 2013.

If you are new to this blog, we invite you to go back through our archived posts to see what we've enjoyed and accomplished this past year.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas at Sea by R. L. Stevenson

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94).

Musical adaptation by Charlie Ipcar "Christmas at Sea (on a Lee-Shore)" MP3 Sample.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Into the Storm

   On November first, we added an impromptu raffle to our Sing Shanties Song Circle in order to benefit the sailors injured and displaced when HMS Bounty sank in Hurricane Sandy. During break several people ask me for more information about the loss of the historic replica: why she sailed out into the storm’s path, where the sinking had occurred, could she be re-floated, and could we ever know the whole truth? All the questions were good ones, but difficult to answer in simple terms. I attempted to make a few analogies, but felt that they were insufficient in conveying the whole of what the tall ship community was experiencing, both in coming to terms with Captain Walbridge’s decision to sail in such weather and the terrible loss now that so much had gone wrong. The following account is a detailed attempt to improve on my of-the-cuff remarks.

   You may want to put on the teakettle and settle in. There is no way to distill something like this, to boil it down into a cute post on Facebook, held by kittens.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas at Sea - I

"For most of the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving outranked Christmas as New England's premier holiday. On shipboard, festivities usually centered on food, sometimes limited to the captain's table, sometimes available to all hands. As Christmas became popular, families on whalers reproduced the on-shore celebration by decorating the cabin, hanging stockings, exchanging gifts, and eating well.

Good cheer sometimes spilled over to the crew. On the John P. West in 1882, Sallie Smith made popcorn balls to help her husband's men celebrate Christmas. William B. Whitecar, who spent several Christmases on a New Bedford whaler, wrote that one year the captain observed the day by sending a cheese to the crew. Another year, there was no change in the day's routine. Yet another year, all hands received mince pie.
The last whaling ship left New Bedford in 1925.
Crews were resourceful about providing their own festivities for holidays and other moments when a celebration seemed in order. They toasted each other, sang and fired guns. Whaleboat races were common on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, especially when two whaleships met. But despite these efforts, accounts of holidays at sea, especially Christmas, have a recurring theme - how much the seafarer misses his family."
An excerpt from the Whaling Museum's "Life Aboard" page, an overview of North American whaling and life aboard ship: Holidays and Festivities on a Whaleship.

Some sailors had something to flee, nothing to leave behind or no one dear to bid adieu, but many left behind families, loved ones, friends and all that was pleasant and familiar to make what living they could crewing aboard cargo ships and whalers, not know if they would ever see them again. Filled with hopes and longings to be home for the holidays, the following two songs poignantly express their yearnings and prayers as they were homeward bound and the fate of others to spend their Christmas at sea.

Does anyone have the music for this forebitter by Ann Matthews titled Christmas Shanty?

Christmas Shanty

Look lively lads, haul on those ropes
At last we're homeward bound
With a following wind we have high hopes
To be home before Christmas comes around.

CHORUS: Pray God fill the sail with a favourable gale
Give us fine fast running seas
And we'll make it home for Christmas boys
To our wives and our families.

We've sailed across the seven seas
Such sights we all have seen
But now we long for our families
To tell them where we've been.

Around the world we all did roam
Many girls in many ports
But now at last we're headed for home
And our wives are in our thoughts.

And in our last few ports of call
When we've had our runs ashore
We've sought out gifts for one and all
And who could ask for more.

So weigh the anchor, set those sails
Don't slack along the way
With this good wind, unless luck fails
We'll be home for Christmas day.

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard and they cut the naked hand,
The decks were like a slide where a seaman scarce could stand,
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea,
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee,

They heard the surf a'roaring 'fore the breaking of the day,
But t'was only with the peep of light we saw how ill she lay,
We tumbled every hand on deck, instanter, with a shout,
We gave her the main topsail and stood-by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North,
All day we hauled the frozen sheets and got no further forth,
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared,
But with every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard,
So's we saw the cliffs and houses and the breakers running high,
And the Coastguard, in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs, as white as ocean foam,
The good, red fires were burning bright in every 'longshore home,
The windows sparkled clear and the chimneys volleyed out,
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with mighty jovial cheer,
For it's just that I should tell you how, of all days of the year,
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn',
And the house above the Coastguard's was the house where I was born.

'Tis well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My Mother's silver spectacles, my Father's silver hair,
And well I saw the fire-light, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing 'round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea,
And, oh, the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high-sea light, the dark began to fall,
"All hands to loose t'gallant sails!"; I heard the Captain call,
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it!"; our First Mate, Jackson, cried,
"It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson."; he replied.

She staggered to her bearings but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward, just as though she understood,
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board - but me,
As they saw her nose again, pointed handsome out to sea,
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home - and my folks were growing old.

 Words: R.L. Stevenson. Music: Tom Lewis
(Recorded by Tom Lewis on 360° All Points of the Compass)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A wee bit about Dreg Songs

This morning, my friend Bob Walser, posted a photo to his Facebook feed with a picture of some artifacts from last summer, with the caption "Remembering Scotland last June, and the wonderful people who brought Dreg Songs back to life."

Of course I had to inquire what Dreg Songs were and I thought you might like to know too.

Until the late 1800s the Firth of Forth was well known for it's Oysters, Dreg Songs were the songs that were sung to Charm the Oysters into the nets. It was thought these songs were lost until the day when a collection of early recordings were handed in to the Library of Congress here in America.

The following video is a must see and will tell you much more than I could ever hope to. It can be found on the Caledonia Mercury site.

For more information you can visit Bob Walser's site and follow a few other links to learn more about these fabulous songs! Enjoy :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Join us for December 6 Song Circle with Award-winning Storyteller, Captain Dano Quinn

Climb aboard with award-winning storyteller Captain Dano Quinn as he leads us in song and maybe spins one of his colorful and original seafaring yarns, collected over 30 years at sea! 

When asked to share his bio with us, Dano writes, "I was born at a very young age, in fact I was an infant at the time, to two parents; my Mother & Father... I grew up in Mystic, CT. I fell in the water while crabbing when I was 5 years old and never came back out! I'm a licensed Captain of both sail and motor vessels and have been working aboard ships for over 30 years. The first half of my career was all in tall ships so I come by my shanty singing honestly. I'm also a story teller with a unique spin. I recite original humorous sea stories in ballad style. I've performed at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria for the past 6 years, I've won the Seattle Maritime Festival "Stories of the Sea" Contest 4 times, and have also won the Northwest Folklife Festival Liar's Contest."
For more about Dano Quinn, here's the link to a recent article about Dano on Three Sheets Northwest by Deborah Bach: Salty stories and tall tales on Dano Quinn CD.

Please share this link and flyer with your family and friends. Holidays are a busy time, so be sure to save this date, Thursday, December 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to join us at the Uptown Community Center for a fun and festive gathering. Please bring your favorite holiday finger foods and sweet treats to enjoy with hot cider, coffee and tea. 

Already thinking about your Christmas gift list? Consider giving our Sing Shanties and Songs About the Sea songbook as a very special gift from Port Townsend. We will have them available for purchase.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Tall Ship in Distress

W.N. Ragland
From the log of the Schooner Ragland: Postion: 43*11.2 N 126*12.1 W

"I am sad to report that at 2045 last night we were dismasted. Miraculously all aboard are alive, well, and relatively unscathed.

Shortly after sundown we notice an opening in a seem going up the length of the foremast. We call “all hands” to douse the fore course. We are sailing along with just the foresl’e, broad reaching in 20kts of breeze and 6-8ft swell. Not 5 minutes later, with the fore boom prevented over, we suffer a partial crash jibe which spits the foremast open. It totally delaminates. We fire up the engine and once again call “all hands” to drop the foresl’e. We wrestle the sail down, but not in time to save the mast, the hoops of the sail and gaff saddle are the only thing holding the mast together. As soon as we have tension off the sail, like a slow motion lightning strike. “CRrrrrrrACK” the 100ft foremast comes crashing down. Everyone runs for cover. We barely have to time to realize what has happened and mutter “Holy Shit” when again with that ear-peircing, gut wrenching CRACK! The main-mast followed suit, simply not able to hold itself up with the weight of the foremast pulling it down. And just like that, the Schooner W N Ragland was dismasted.

Not a moment was lost, nor a beat un kept, as the entire crew rallied in to action. We took a head and injury count. All accounted for. One bloody lip. Amazing! Flash lights, headlamps, knives, bolt cutters, wrenches, plyers, wire cutters, hack saws and anything else that seemed useful was pulled up on deck as the crew worked tirelessly to cut the rig free. Every single last shroud, stay, halyard, sheet, brace, and sail had to be cut. Everyone worked in unison. It took us two horrifying hours. I simply can’t describe the horror of seeing the jagged, splintered stalk of the foremast thrusting out of the water with every passing swell or the sound of the mainmast crashing again the hull each time the boat rolled.

When the task was done, not a trace of the masts to be found upon scanning the surrounding waters, and all lines on deck coiled and tidy so as to not wash over board and foul the propellor, our only mode of transport left to get us safely home, we put the engine in gear and began motoring south.
In silence, we convened. Some went straight to the liquor cabinet, others went straight to bed, 3 unfortunate few stayed up to take watch for the next four hours. Most importantly, we were all still there. And no one was hurt.

So we’ve plenty of diesel and a reliable Caterpillar engine. We’ll motor the rest of the way to San Francisco.

It is a true tragedy we have had to endure, but as Emyl so aptly put it… “some books need only begin with a tragedy.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

One More Day aboard the Lady

Just this last weekend, Hank Cramer and friends joined Lady Washington for a glorious sail. Kit Cramer shot this excellent video of the trio performing One More Day, on the foredeck, at the windlass.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Liberty Cuffs" A Navy Tradition

This morning my attention was caught by a facebook post by one of my friends that is currently serving in the US Navy. He said...

"So, a while back my mom sent me a couple of small, rectangular pieces of cloth with mermaids embroidered on them. I set them aside after admiring them for a bit, and forgot about them.

I recently learned that these little bits of cloth are called "liberty cuffs," which old-school Sailors used to sew into the inside of the cuffs on their Dress Blues. They'd flip the cuffs when out on liberty, since all Sailors had to wear Blues on liberty until the 1970s or so, when the Navy quit making Sailors wear Dress Blues on liberty. I had no idea!"

This instantly piqued my curiosity. As singers of Shanties and Maritime songs we learn a lot of history and tradition of the sea, but here was a tradition that I'd not come across before.

I delved into the interwebz to see what else I could find out about this tradition. The information is scarce, but here is the basic story.

Liberty Cuffs first appeared approximately the late 1890s. They were found all over but were most commonly made in Asian ports or may have been individually embroidered. The cuffs would be sewn inside the dress blues, using hidden stitching, so the uniform appeared regulation from the outside. As soon as the sailors were allowed to leave the ship and go on "Liberty" they would flip their sleeves or roll them up a little, displaying the Liberty Cuffs instead.

Common designs for the cuffs were Dragons, mermaids, Nautical themes such as Neptune, and various other designs.

In the late 1950s machine made mass produced Liberty Cuffs appeared but the cuffs started disappearing in the early 1970s when the lower pay grade, enlisted personnel were allowed to wear civvies from shipboard liberty.

Visit Navy Dress Blues, Taylor Mades and Liberty Cuffs  for more information or to see pictures of many examples of Liberty Cuffs.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Join us! Sing Shanties with Mark Olson at Port Townsend's Community Center, Thursday, November 1

Ahoy mateys,

We're changing things up a bit for the month of November. 

Since the Northwest Maritime Center rented their meeting spaces out the evening of Thursday, November 1, and the cafe (Velocity) inside the Chandlery, under new management, closes at 2:00 p.m., we found ourselves homeless this coming month. To the rescue, Port Townsend Senior Association's Eleanor Stickney, manager of the Port Townsend Community Center, has reserved the main meeting room (capacity 130) of the Port Townsend Community Center for us to gather November 1st. Thank you!!

Although inconvenient to those who arrive on foot by ferry, it's a great location and meeting space. For those traveling via the PT ferry and walking, simply email us at singshanties(at)gmail(dot)com to request a ride from and to the ferry. Several of us are available to transport you from the ferry landing to the Community Center in Uptown. We will make sure you leave the song circle in time to catch the ferry, although the song circle goes until 8:30 p.m.

If  you don't know where the Community Center is located, it's in Uptown Port Townsend at 620 Tyler Street, bordered by Lawrence and Taylor streets; across from Aldrich's and Printery Communications. 

Here's the November Song Circle flyer to print and post or email to family and friends  - the small print in the flyer is Mark Olson's bio, our November's song leader, whom many greatly enjoyed leading our Sing Shanties Song Circle this past July:
When Mark Olson was seventeen years old, the sea tried to claim him. A deal was struck with Poseidon on the deck of that smoldering wreak that has held for thirty-three years. Always just one step ahead of Davie Jones, Mark has navigated the waters of the West Coast in everything from a rubber raft to a traditional square-rigger. It was during his many adventures that Mr. Olson found himself using shanties as part of everyday life. He has had the fortune to ship with several of the world’s renowned shantymen and maintains the unique perspective of using music not only as a tool to motivate and keep a working rhythm, but additionally - to keep our history alive.

Here is the photo enlarged. The expanded caption - "Mark Olson (on the bowsprit) welcomes the Chinook Nation aboard our State Ship, brig Lady Washington for song and trade."

Keep on singin' shanties! See you Thursday, November 1, at the Port Townsend Community Center in Uptown at 6:00 p.m. Remember, we have new songbooks for you to borrow during our song circle and to purchase.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Two and a Quarter Centuries Ago

Columbus sailed the deep blue sea in fourteen hundred and ninety three. That’s what we all learned in school. Except it isn’t. Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety two. And just what did he accomplish on that fateful voyage? He settled America - right? Oops, no - that’s right - he discovered it. Except he didn’t. To the people already living here it was no great surprise that the land they inhabited was already there under their feet. Okay then… but it’s safe to say that in 1492 he was the first person to come from sailing from the east and land on the continent of what would become known as North America… Except he wasn’t and he didn’t. The Vikings preceded him by many years and poor tardy Columbus actually only made landfall in what is now known as the Bahamas, Cuba, and Santo Domingo during his first voyage west to “India”.

History is a fickle thing. When you have nothing more than a schoolhouse rhyme to attach an event to it is easy to loose all perspective on the past. Thankfully, we have more than that. We have vessel logs, journals, public records, bills of lading, and by golly - we have shanties.

Like this one:


Come all ye bold Northwestmen, who plough the raging main,
Come listen to this tragedy, while I relate the same;
'Twas on the Lady Washington at Cowper where she lay
And by Queen Charlotte's Islands in North America.

'Twas on November the 2nd day, in 1791,
The natives of this country on board of us did come;
And then to buy their furs of them, our captain did begin,
But mark what followed after, before it long had been.

Up upon our quarter deck, our gun chest there did stand,
The keys they being left in them, by our gunner's careless hand;
The natives they perceiving, thought our ship to make a prize,
Thinking we had no other means for to protect our lives.

Up upon our quarter deck, our captain there did stand,
With 12 of those bold savages with knives drawn in their hands;
All pointing at his body, ready to run him through,
If we should offer to resist--Great God! What could we do?

Then into our cabin, straightway we did repair,
But to our sad misfortune, no arms could we find there,
Except it were two pistols, one gun and two broadswords,
And immediately it was agreed; "fight them off!" it was the word.

Our powder we got ready in our gun room openly,
Our souls we did commit to God, our bodies to the clay;
All standing in one cabin waiting for a sign,
But there could no sign be given for fear we should be slain.

Then with what few arms we had, we rushed on them with main,
And by our being spirited, the quarter deck did gain;
And the number that we killed of them was seventy and odd,
And as many more were wounded, as since we've understood.

Come all ye bold Northwestmen, wherever you may be,
Trust not an Indian savage in North America;
For they are all so desirous, your shipping to obtain,
That they never will leave it off till most of them are slain.

But what’s this? Didn’t I see a reference to Lady Washington in the first verse? Could it be that our fair Lady played a part in history?

You can bet your sea boots she did. It was two hundred and twenty five years ago today that Lady Washington and Columbia Rediviva left Boston to voyage around Cape Horn to the west coast. They would become the first two vessels carrying the flag of the newly-independent colonies to do so, and because one out of every pair has to be in front, the Lady takes the prize as being the first U.S. vessel to succeed in rounding the Horn.
Of course that was back in 1787. It wasn’t until 1791 that the Haida stole Captain Kendrick’s cloths - and when he tarred and feathered a few of those pesky indians to teach them manners - they tried to seize his vessel. Except, (yup, here we go again) that’s not what happened. That’s only what the song tells us. Any historian who is worth his salt can tell you that it was a long-standing tradition for the Haida to attended a trade gathering with every intention of taking away any items that caught their eye. This would allow the entire tribe to see those items and make offers in trade. Then those goods would be returned, along with items of value to purchase them, back to the vessel and the haggling would commence. An honor system used by an honorable people.

Captain John Kendrick either did not know, or did not agree with this arrangement, and called it stealing, so he retaliated - against nothing. Now the words of our song take on a different, more sinister, hue. Now it’s possible that Kendrick had shown up, played the bully, and when those folks had stood up to him, he had ordered them cut down.

So my advice to you is to take a hard look at the songs you sing. They can teach you - a lot. They can also lead you astray.

Oh, and happy Columbia and Washington Day! (No kidding, they celebrate it in Boston.) And now you know why they don’t call it John Kendrick Day. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shanties at the Wooden Boat Festival

Did you make it to the stage during the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival last week? For those that didn't here are a few snapshots of Saturday's line up. Our very own stars Mike and Val James opened the show (well.... they did for me anyway), followed by the comedic antics of the Whateverly Brothers and then a fab performance by Tom Lewis.

By far the best moment of the afternoon had to be when the Whateverly Brothers began singing Tom's song "Sailor's Prayer", only to have Tom at that very moment appear by the side of the stage!

It's rumored that a certain well known pirate was on stage Friday and Sunday too, but he managed to evade my camera.

Our own Mike and Val James

The Whateverly Brothers, Always a fun show!

Tom Lewis joined the Whateverly Brothers on stage

"If we ever need a fourth Whateverly Brother..."

Tom's solo show followed, and was a fantastic as always.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Join Tugboat Bromberg for our October 4th Song Circle!

Welcome back Tugboat Bromberg, who returns to lead our October Sing Shanties Song Circle. Our new songbook Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea is available through October 4 at the NW Maritime Center Chandlery and the evening of our October Song Circle (cash/check only) at a special 15% discount to shanty enthusiasts. So don't miss this opportunity to purchase a songbook for yourself at our introductory price. We do have songbooks to loan out during our shanty sings as well. We want everyone to be able to sing from our songbook - and all be on the same page, thanks to the grant we received from the Friends of the Arts. Take a look inside. Enter our contest to win a songbook!

Please print and share this flyer and link with others you suspect might be or have the potential of becoming a shanty enthusiast too!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Group Singing - the Immersion of Self into the Community

Well said! Thank you to Helen Gilbert for sharing this lovely explanation by Brian Eno of why we need, should and love to gather to sing together. For the full NPR This I Believe essay by British musician Brian Eno, The Key to a Long Life, click here.
"I believe in singing. I believe in singing together. 
A few years ago a friend and I realized that we both loved singing but didn't do much of it. So we started a weekly a capella group with just four members. After a year we started inviting other people to join. We didn't insist on musical experience — in fact some of our members had never sung before. Now the group has ballooned to around 15 or 20 people. 
I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing. 
Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness. And then there are what I would call "civilizational benefits." When you sing with a group of people, you learn how to subsume yourself into a group consciousness becausea capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings — to stop being me for a little while and to become us. That way lies empathy, the great social virtue...." - Brian Eno, NPR This I Believe

A Look Inside the Sing Shanties Songbook

We thought you might like to take a look inside our 6"x9" spiral-bound Sing Shanties songbook to check out the style and format of the book and lyrics. You are viewing pages 18 A Note about Song Formats and 19 the maritime song According to the Acts. 

Our Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea songbook is 141 pages, which includes tributes to Port Townsend shantyman Stephen Gottleib Lewis (1941-2011), an alphabetical list of lyrics, a familiar verse index and glossary. Contributing writers include: Jake Beattie, Mike James Phimster, Wayne Palsson, Vern Olsen and Capt. Norm Stevens. Among the traditional shanties and maritime songs there are a few contemporary songs included by permission from Tom Lewis, Matthew Moeller, Vern Olsen, David Lovine and Gordon Bok. 

Our Sing Shanties songbook is Wire-O bound. The cover is Cougar Natural 80# paper and the text and lyrics are printed on Cougar Natural 60# paper.

Songbooks are available at the Northwest Maritime Center Chandlery at a 15% discount through October 4. You can order online by emailing us at singshanties (at) gmail (dot) com. Retails for $11.95, plus shipping and handling. We will also honor 15% discount via email order.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where can I buy meself a songbook, maties?

Our new 141 page Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea songbook of sea shanties and maritime song lyrics is currently available at the Northwest Maritime Center Chandlery, Crossroads Music, the Jefferson County Historical Society, Wandering Angus Celtic Traders and the Mad Hatter & Co. The Chandlery is offering an extended Wooden Boat Festival discount of 15% through October 4, as well as songbooks being available with the same discount at our October 4th song circle at 6:00 p.m. or emailing us at singshanties (at) gmail (dot) com (cash or check only). 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

No "Sing Shanties" Song Circle during WBF - Support the Two Scheduled as Festival Events

Reminder - no Sing Shanties song circle tonight at the Maritime Center as is usually scheduled on the first Thursday of the month, during the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. Every years there are two shanty sings during the Wooden Boat Festival hosted by shantyman Wayne Palsson from Northwest Seaport. We encourage all shanty enthusiasts to support and attend one or both of these free, family-friendly song circles. Both sings are held in the Marina Room at Port Hudson Marina. 

Keep on Singin' Shanties!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Songbook, Song Circles and Wooden Boat Festival

Ahoy Mateys,

Lots of great news to share with you today with the Wooden Boat Festival coming up next week with our new book of maritime lyrics available in the Chandlery at a special discount from September 7 thru Oct 4!

September Song Circles and Our Long-awaited Sing Shanties Songbook

A friendly reminder that we will not be having our monthly, first Thursday, Sing Shanties Song Circle in September, during the week of the Wooden Boat Festival. Instead, we encourage everyone to support and attend one or both of the two, free and fun song circles held annually during the WBF on both Friday and Saturday nights, see more information below.

We've all very much appreciated having multiple copies of several of Steve Lewis' notebooks to circulate amongst our song circle to sing from these past months, filled with many of his favorite shanties and maritime song lyrics, but now we will quite literally "be on the same page" - singing from one songbook with a collection of over 100 song lyrics.

The Sing Shanties Songbook Committee is very pleased and excited to announce that the songbook our committee has been working on this past year Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea - Special Expanded Collection of Stephen Gottlieb Lewis will be available during this year's 36th Annual Wooden Boat Festival at the Northwest Maritime Center Chandlery and before, during intermission and after the two free song circles hosted by Northwest Seaport shantyman Wayne Palsson, Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. in the Marina Room at Port Hudson. They are known to be well-attended musical gatherings.

Here are the links for more information and a printable handbill with a special 15% discount valid for a limited time only. After our October 4 Sing Shanties Song Circle with Tugboat Bromberg, the Sing Shanties songbook can be purchased for the regular retail price of $11.95 + tax. To receive the 15% discount through October 4, print out the handbill with coupon and present it to the cashiers either at the Chandlery or at the table set up at the Marina Room where the WBF Song Circles are hosted.

Note: (1) Thank you to Port Townsend's Friends of the Arts for funding our cultural maritime project to make this special collection of maritime song lyrics available to everyone during our song circles. (2) For those who are unable to or prefer not to buy a songbook, our Sing Shanties Songbook Committee will have songbooks to loan out during both WBF song circles and at our own monthly song circles. (3) A songbook has also been donated to each of our local, public and maritime libraries. The Jefferson County Historical Society and both Jefferson County high schools will each receive a copy for their library as well.

After Oct 4, songbooks can also be purchased online using PayPal. Songbooks are also available wholesale to retailers with a UBI number. We appreciate your financial support by buying one or more songbooks and participating at song circles to revive and keep alive the tradition of maritime music and the working songs of the sailor. 
Contest to Win a Songbook

Tell us, What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor? 

Submit your original, family-friendly response(s) to this popular song's question by emailing them to singshanties(at)gmail(dot)com, to be eligible to win a Sing Shanties songbook. You have as many chances to win as the number of entries you submit. Deadline is October 3. Type "Drunken Sailor" in the subject line with one or more entries in the body of your email along with your Name and Phone Number. Winner's name will be drawn and announced at our October 4 Song Circle.

For details click here.

Tune in to KPTZ 91.9FM

If you have your car, business or home radio tuned to our local community radio station KPTZ 91.9FM, tune in to Phil Andrus' show Tossed Salad at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, September 7 during the Wooden Boat Festival. Broadcast live from the Station, Phil will be talking with shanty singers Wayne Palsson, Helen Gilbert, Tugboat Bromberg, Mark Olson and Mike James about maritime music with an opportunity to sing some of their favorite shanties, and chat with Lee Erickson about the release of our songbook. You can also stream KPTZ ( live from your computer.

Please share this post with other shanty enthusiasts far and wide.

Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook and join us on Twitter (right sidebar links) to stay connected. 

Keep on Singin' Shanties!

Friday, August 24, 2012

15% Discount on New Songbook for Shanty Enthusiasts thru 10/04/12

Ahoy, mateys! Get your 15% off coupon to purchase your very own copy of our newly published Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea songbook, valid through October 4th at the Northwest Maritime Center and at our October 4th Sing Shanties Song Circle at the Northwest Maritime Center (6:00 p.m.). 

This handbill, with our special offer, is available to save as a file on your computer and print here at, and available to pick up at the Port Townsend's Wooden Boat Festival and the NWMC Chandlery in Port Townsend (8/26/12-10/04/12). Our songbook will be available to purchase online at the retail price of $11.95 with PayPal after October 4th (applicable tax, shipping and handling not included). If you see this announcement on our site, but live out of area, and wish to purchase a copy at the introductory discounted price thru 10/04/12, send us an email at "singshanties (at) gmail (dot) com" with "Limited Offer" in the subject line before October 4th.

Don't forget to enter our What Do We Do with a Drunken Sailor contest to win a FREE copy of our songbook!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor - win a songbook!

Calling all shanty enthusiasts to enter our contest to win a copy of our new songbook Sing Shanties and Songs About the Sea - Special Expanded Collection of Stephen Gottlieb Lewis!

On page 48 of our Sing Shanties and Songs About the Sea songbook are the most traditional lyrics and common verses sung to Drunken Sailor, as follows:

What shall we do with a drunken sailor (3x)

*Early in the morning

Weigh heigh and up she rises
Patent blocks o' diff'rent sizes
Weigh heigh and up she rises
Early in the morning

Put him in the longboat 'til he's sober (3x)*

Put him in the scuppers with the hose pipe on him (3x)*

Pull out the plug and wet him all over (3x)*

Heave him by the leg in a runnin' bowline (3x)*

Put him in bed with the captain's daughter (3x)*

Make him scrub the bilge with a sawed-off toothbrush (3x)*

Shave his belly with a rusty razor (3x)*


The number of original verses you submit will be how many times your name is entered in the contest. Email your entries to: singshanties(at) Put "Drunken Sailor" in the subject line. Along with your original verse(s), include your name and phone number. 

If you win, but are not present at our October 4 Sea Shanty Song Circle & Sing-Along, we will notify you by phone. The drawing for the winner will take place at our October 4 song circle at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend (6:00-8:30 p.m.) If the winner is present, he or she is invited to lead Drunken Sailor, featuring your original verse(s). A sheet with all the original verses submitted for the contest will be handed out during the October Sea Shanty Song Circle & Sing-Along for a rousing sing of Drunken Sailor with additional new verse options. 

Deadline: Wednesday, October 3.

[Note: the verses you submit must not contain any curse words, inappropriate language or sexually explicit content, as our song circles are family-friendly. Any verses submitted with such content will be disallowed.]

Click here to hear the tune to Drunken Sailor.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea

Sing Shanties is pleased to announce the publication of Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea. First available for purchase at the 36th Annual Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend - September 7-9, 2012. This special collection, compiled by the Sing Shanties songbook committee, has over one hundred traditional and contemporary lyrics about songs of the sea and the working songs of the sailor. The songbook is dedicated to the memory of Pacific Northwest shantyman Steve Lewis (1941-2011). Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea is a beautifully crafted 141-page collection in a spiral-bound 6”X9” formatted book, with a clear Mylar protective cover. The retail price is $11.95 + tax, but for a limited time only, the Chandlery is offering a 15% discount that is valid through October 4, 2012 with the coupon they will have on hand during and after the festival. If you are a member of the Northwest Maritime Center, the September newsletter will link a coupon you can print to redeem at the Chandlery. 

Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea - Special Expanded Collection of Steven Gottlieb Lewis includes the Foreword by Jake Beattie (executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center & Wooden Boat Foundation), the Preface by Lee Erickson (founder of Sing Shanties and songbook project coordinator), an Introduction by Mike James Phimister (local musician and shantyman), Remembering Steve - a conversation with Deborah Gottlieb Lewis, tributes to Steve by Wayne Palsson (host of Northwest Seaport's Chantey Sing) and Vern Olsen (director of the Shifty Sailors), A Brief Port Townsend Maritime History lesson by Captain Norm Stevens (courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society), a familiar phrase index and glossary. 

Sing Shanties & Songs About the Sea will also be available for purchase on this site using PayPal after October 4th. Please check back to order online.

For new visitors to our site, Port Townsend’s Sing Shanties Sea Shanty Song Circle & Sing-Along, is our free, family-friendly, community gathering of shanty enthusiasts, which meets the first Thursday of each month, except in September*, from 6:00-8:30 p.m. at the Northwest Maritime Center. Check our Song Circle Calendar for updates. "Singin' is encouraged by knot required!"

*During the Wooden Boat Festival (September 7-9), circle up and sing history with Wayne Palsson, host of Northwest Seaport's monthly Chantey Sing in Seattle, on Friday and Saturday night. The sing takes place in the Marina Room at Point Hudson, starts at 8:00 p.m. and ends when the last singer warbles. This year's sing remembers Steve Lewis.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wooden Boat Festival Sea Chantey Song Circle

Reminder: In September, we will not be having our regularly scheduled, first Thursday of the month, Sing Shanties Song Circle at the Maritime Center. We encourage you to participate in one or both scheduled, Friday and Saturday at the WOODEN BOAT FESTIVAL, September 7 and 8. Held in the Marina Room at Point Hudson Marina at 8:00 p.m. Wayne Palsson is the presenter both nights. Free.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Asleep in the Deep

My mom knew the song that the elderly gentleman sang (the wonderful bass who said he had found it in his father's piano bench) at our August Song Circle. I recorded him and using what mom told me and what I recorded, reconstructed this to be the true song as it was sung:

Asleep in the Deep
Arthur J. Lamb

Stormy the night and the waves roll high,
Bravely the ship doth ride,
Hark! while the lighthouse bell's solemn cry,
Rings o'er the sullen tide.

There on the deck see two lovers stand,
Heart to heart beating, and hand to hand;
Tho' death be near, she knows no fear,
While at her side is one of all most dear.

Loudly the bell in the old tower rings,
Bidding us list to the warning it brings:
Sailor, take care! Sailor, take care!
Danger is near thee. Beware! Beware! 
Beware! Beware!

What of the storm when the night is o'er?
There is no trace or sign,
Save where the wreckage hath strewn the shore,
Peaceful the sun doth shine.

But when the wild, raging storm did cease,
Under the billows two hearts found peace,
No more to part, no more of pain,
The bell may now tell its warning in vain.

Loudly the bell in the old tower rings,
Bidding us list to the warning it brings:
Sailor, take care! Sailor, take care!
Danger is near thee. Beware! Beware!
Beware! Beware!

Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep,
   So beware! beware! 

Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep,
   So beware! beware!

Posted by Mark Olson
The Longwinded Shantyman

Friday, August 3, 2012

T'was a great night for singin'... and sailin'!

Little did I know, when I conservatively set out 40 chairs, that last night's Song Circle would have the second highest number of attendees since we started last January! Although one of the most spectacular summer evenings of the season with ample opportunities to enjoy other venues, including attending the Concert at the Dock next door and walking local beaches, seventy-five folks gathered in the Maritime Meeting Room to sing shanties along with the Shift Sailors from Whidbey Island. We had a number of first-time visitors hailing from Seattle, Portland, from the East Coast and Canada... who arrived by car and by boat.

Such a memorable and rousing sing-along to "What do we do with a Drunken Sailor", which was requested by a young boy who came with his father. And as we took turns going around the circle and singing, the beautiful Schooner Adventuress sailed back and forth in front of the Maritime Center on Admiralty Inlet, much to our delight.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Echo's Voice

When Every Thumb was a Marlinespike

The Longwinded Shantyman

A Spontaneous Song Circle.
Copyright 2012 by Cheryl Jones

     My dog Echo’s first experience with a crab was when one latched onto her upper lip after her inquisitive nose brought it within range of the crustacean’s snapping pincers. Echo’s frantic barking alerted me to her predicament. The sight of the crab bobbing with the rhythm of her baying was made even more hilarious by the repeat of Echo’s indignant yelping echoing off the cliffs bordering the opposite shore. The silly girl thought the sound was another dog, and split her attention between barking at the distant hound mocking her and the evil red rock that had reared up and bit her.

      What was a great laugh then was actually quite instructive when you stop to think about it. What if Echo’s situation had occurred during the age of sail? What if it had been fully dark out? Or foggy? What could Echo’s voice have accomplished for a mariner of old? Back then, the demise of most ships wasn’t the sea, it was the shore. A sailing instructor I once trained under was fond of saying, “Rocks are hard, water is wet, and the wind will blow where it will”. With those three truths in mind we can begin to form a picture of what the past sailors had to contend with in order to keep their vessels afloat. A traditional sailing ship didn’t have radar, or a spotlight, so what to do to pierce the gloom? Many tricks were employed, but the most common was to use echo’s voice to literally hear the distant shore.

Sonic Ranging in the Age of Sail

      In dry air, sound travels approximately one mile every five seconds. With that in mind, if a loud enough noise was created aboard a fogbound vessel that lay two miles from a rocky shore, the resulting sound waves would radiate outward, echoing off the danger ten seconds later, and then arrive back at the ship ten seconds after that. A navigator hearing an echo after twenty seconds, even if blindfolded would say, “The shore is two miles away.” But how could that sailor first produce a sound loud enough to remain audible for more than a quarter of a minute on a foggy night?

Firing blanks from the privateer Lynx's carronades.
Copyright 2012 Cheryl Jonesion

      It is an interesting historical fact that cannons and swivel guns were used for navigational sonic ranging more often than they were for hostilities. There was no need to expend shot. The gunner would fire a blank charge; just as the sail training vessels do now during mock battles. The shape of the echo would tell a great deal about the invisible object. Imagine the audible difference between a tree-lined shore, a sheer cliff, and a rugged mountain. All produce different reflections - and a sweeping shoreline produced them at different intervals. This proved a highly accurate method of gathering navigational data and is how the original charts of Puget Sound were created. If a vessel were close enough to the object of concern/interest then there was no need to expend black powder. A found object, such as a conch shell, could trumpet a cry loud enough to produce the necessary echo. In closer quarters hand clapping and even human voice were resorted to.

      In modern times I have tried all of these methods and found that they work astonishingly well. You can try it for yourself. Go from room to room in your house and in each close your eyes and clap your hands. Listen to the different size of each room - the hard, bright walls in the bathroom and kitchen, the soft quiet of the bedroom. Watch and listen intently during the next thunderstorm, or better yet, the next time you are boating close your eyes and sing a shanty. Perhaps a voice will join you from far away - echo’s voice. Perhaps that is what the sailors of old heard singing back from the rocks, and in their desperate loneliness spun the tales of the sirens. 

Mark Olson

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Shanties as Oral History

The Longwinded Shantyman

Photo by Rande Gjerstad - The children still gather to listen

  My next-door-neighbor Earl is 98 years old. Earl tells a story of breaking his arm when he was a boy. He remembers that day vividly because the trip to the doctor was his very first ride in a car. Imagine that, Earl’s parents, just one generation back in time, had grown up without ever seeing cars. In that very recent past, most of the world could not afford a cart, much less a horse. It would be a banner day indeed to travel by coach. This situation must have impacted people’s world view tremendously. What truly mattered, the “scope” of our ancestor’s existence, was the distance that could be traveled in half a day, on foot - then you must turn around, if you were to safe at home by nightfall. That truth scaled the size of communities and shaped our collective mindset. A sad fact was that a good portion of the population was illiterate - what was beyond the horizon could not travel to you in the form of a book.

  In this world walked, (or rode) the travelers. Those men moving from inn to lodge, fort to garrison, carrying news, language and songs. What must have those rare bards been like to those with an experience spanning a mere 30 miles? The maps, stories, strange new words and songs they would bring would be as memorable as Earl’s first ride in that car. The traveler might have even seen a city, or a snow-topped mountain - things almost impossible to believe.

  Now, imagine a sailor coming into the village. He is not a traveler on horseback, bringing news from hundreds of leagues distant. No, this strange man is telling stories of the far side of the world. He speaks casually of people of different colors, of mountains that smoke, of salt water without end. At first you think him mad, but the elders of the village say others like him have come this way before, with similar stories, words and songs.

  And that is the crucial point: reinforcement. Everything out of his mouth is memorable and will be repeated, everywhere he goes. Your village may die out, victim of a killer plague - your whole world, its unique words, customs, and language, destroyed in a few months, but not the sailor’s. His world is everywhere. His words are sprinkled all around the globe, waiting for a parallel development to again push that term to the fore, reinforcing it yet again. Or perhaps with some expressions the continuity will never be lost and people will never stop using them, we will just forget their origins.

  I wonder if his songs will ever die? Will the tunes he ground out to pass the time while on watch stay with us over the centuries? Will there come a day when folks gather in a circle and remember the first world traveler, his words and his stories of far-away places? Maybe the leader of the circle will keep track of the time on an instrument named after those long lonely hours our first shantyman spent on deck, watching the sea and sky…

Who knows?

Mark Olson

Monday, July 9, 2012

A True(ish) Story - Harbo & Samuelsen

In Brooklyn, New York,
at the turn of the century,
Lived two young Norwegians
so brave and so bold,
Frank Samuelsen only halfway
through his twenties,
George Harbo had just become
thirty years old.

Now, Harbo had spent all his life on the water,
he shipped in square riggers while barely a lad.
His partner likewise was no stranger to workin',
No matter the task he gave all that he had.

“We'll see you in France
or we'll see you in Heaven,”
cried Harbo and Samuelsen out on the bay.
Two hardy young oystermen after adventure,
no one believed they could row all the way.

Many men had attempted to cross the Atlantic,
in small wooden boats that were driven by sail.
Those that succeeded were welcomed as heros,
but many there were who did nothing but fail.

Then a rich publisher offered a challenge
that men in a vessel no matter the size
could not make the crossin' without steam or canvas,
and ten thousand dollars he named as the prize.

Now dredgin' up oysters by hand is no picnic,
and these two young fellas were tough as a whip.
Said Frank, “If we row only four miles an hour,
in fifty-four days we could finish the trip.”

Obtaining a sponsor
they started their training;
they ordered a dory made of cedar and oak.
Just eighteen feet long
with a draft of eight inches,
and Fox was the name of their cockleshell boat.

On the sixth day of June,
eighteen-ninety and six,
Messrs. Harbo and Samuelsen started to row.
They took food and water to last until August,
and the newspapers said
they were foolish to go.

From the slip in Manhattan
they rowed through the narrows,
and out for the gulf stream and onto the deep.
Each day they would row
eighteen hours together;
each night they took turns
gettin' three hours sleep.

Well, their stove wouldn't light
so they ate cold provisions.
Their arms and their hands
became swollen and cramped.
The odd passing vessel that took 'em on board,
was their only relief from the toil and the damp.
Then out on the Grand Banks
the weather attacked 'em;
the wind humped the water
into mountainous waves. They lashed down their oars;
they tied on their lifelines
and prayed they were not going
straight to their graves.

A monstrous wave hurdled out of the darkness,
rolling over the Fox and her terrified crew.
Their lifelines held fast
but they lost half their water,
and most of their food it was swept away, too.

They carefully rationed the little remainin',
prayin' for help as they rowed through the brine.
At last a tall ship appeared on the horizon
with the colors of Norway a floating behind.

Well, the Captain could not be convinced
they weren't crazy, but he gave them supplies
and they went on their way.
By the lines on the charts
they were half-way to Europe,
and now they must row sixty miles every day.

The weather held fair,
the two men kept pulling,
all during the days, far into each night.
Then early one morning before the sun rose,
far out on the horizon they spotted a light.

On August the first they made land at St. Mary's,
off the south coast of England
close by Bishop's Rock.
In amazement the townsfolk
gathered down by the water,
where Harbo and Samuelsen barely could walk.

Most men would have stopped then
to bask in the glory,
after having been sunbeaten,
capsized and starved.
But they were both back in their boat
the next morning,
and in less than a week they arrived at Le Havre.
So all of you listening
that yearn for adventure,
like Harbo and Samuelsen so long ago.
Like them be prepared for the task you'll be facin',
they were not only brave
but by God they could row!

© Jerry Bryant - post by Mark Olson

Bryant says of his ballad: "I had to write this song (1985) because it was astounding to me that these two men had accomplished such a feat over 100 years ago and NO ONE REMEMBERED. I am amazed at the perseverance, guts and stamina it took for them to cross the ocean in an 18 foot open boat, without the benefit of freeze-dried food, GPS navigation systems, radios, flashlights, nylon, aluminium, and everything else modern adventurers take for granted. My hope is that my song will allow an awareness of Harbo and Samuelsen's achievement to reach a wide audience, and will provide an inspiration for folks to keep trying no matter what obstacles confront them."
More about George Harbo and Frank Samuelson, the first men to row across the Atlantic Ocean in 1896 without sail or steam, and the book Daring the Sea based on the original logs.