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Is that your dulcimer, or mine?

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 3, 2010

By Becca

 “Dobro, mandolin, concertina, fiddle, base cello, guitar, keyboard, shamisen, piccolo base, dumbek, digeridoo, banjo,”  reels off James, a deckhand on the Pride of Baltimore II, when I ask him what instruments he plays. He continues,“And I could probably play the dulcimer.”  James may be an unusually musical old salt, but musicians and music are a significant part of sailing aboard tall ships.

 I spoke to sailors on several different boats: the US Brig Niagara, Pride of Baltimore II, H.M.S. Bounty, T.S. Unicorn, and Roseway.  While every crew has a slightly different attitude toward music, each person I talked to considered singing and music an important part of the sailing experience.  The Pride crew and the crew of Unicorn were especially interested in music as a way to deal with the strenuous work involved in sailing.  When I asked if the crew had a collective favorite song, James replied “Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance.’” Everyone agreed.  “We rigged the foreshrouds singing ‘Bad Romance.’” Scotty, a deckhand on Bounty also uses pop music to lighten the mood when working hard. “I sing ‘Popcorn’ by Hot Butter when I furl.”

What song do you think they're humming?

According to Alan Morse, chief mate of Pride, traditional sea shanties can be just songs about the sea, or songs with a distinctive rhythm that help keep time when hauling.  Some sailors dislike singing while working. One deckhand on Roseway declared that, “If you’re singing, you’re not working hard enough.” However, the crew of the Unicorn use hauling songs when setting sail. Meagan, one of the professional crew, teaches trainees traditional sea shanties like “Mingalay.”  “Mingalay” is a very old rowing song that has long, rhythmic beats to help sailors heave in unison. 

Music is also an important form of relaxation aboard tall ships.  Many of my favorite memories are of my shipmates playing guitar when we were at anchor. When I asked around, I found that a lot the sailors here have the same memories!  James told me about playing guitar at anchor on the tall ship Mystic Whaler. He described a calm evening on the Chesapeake Bay. Lanterns were hung from the shrouds, and a shantyman sang while James played guitar. He said, “We think we may have brought a tear to the Captain’s eye, the old stoic.” 

Sailing tall ships is a multi-faceted experience and one of the most notable parts is the rich variety of music and singing.

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2 Responses to “Is that your dulcimer, or mine?”

  1. Becky said

    I want to ride the TS Unicorn! What does TS stand for… trusty steed?? JK, I know it stands for Tempting Strumpet.

  2. Becca said

    Hey bff! It stands for Tall Ship.

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