Thames Barge Marjorie working up Long Reach under sail  Oct 2004

Erith Yacht Club

The finest sailing water on the tidal Thames

Club Ship 'Folgefonn'

Anchor Bay,

Erith, Kent, DA8 2AD

Tel 01322 332943

Secretary Tel 0208 310 2686

email -

Back before the coming of steam when all commerce, naval activities and exploration was carried out under sail singing was a part of life for the sailors. There were no hydraulics or donkey engines, all of the heavy lifting of anchors, hoisting of yards and trimming of sails was carried out by muscle power alone. Sailor's songs were of two types shanties and forbitters, shanties were functional songs, their purpose to get the men to push or pull together so the job might be done more easily. Forebitters were songs sung in the sailor's leisure hours to relax, entertain and make their hard life more tolerable. Shanties usually had many verses which could be sung in any order, often they would consist of whatever words floated into the shantyman's mind during the course of the job and would be expanded or contracted, forty verses or four, depending on the length of the job to be done. There were different songs for different types of task, the rhythm matching the task in hand, slow ones for winding the capstan or hauling on the halyards faster ones to match the up down motion of the pumps. Each shantyman would have their own versions and style of singing. There were no rules except for the choruses, which were sung by the men so they had to be plain and simple if they were to pull together. Forebitters in contrast usually had fixed verses, which would be sung in order to tell a coherent story The waters we sail in, the East Coast of England was the home of the Thames Spritsail Barge, the men who sailed these craft, the sailormen had their own versions of many of the well known shanties. They would tend to refer to local places in the Estuary rather than the far off places in the deep sea sailors version. There were also songs that came from the fishing smacks. Many of our members over the years have sailed in the Barges over the years, some when they were still in trade and the songs have been well known in the club. There has been a tradition of singing which continues at annual dinners and social evenings down the club. This page is an attempt to assist in the preservation of these songs, plus a few others that have crept into the yachtsman's repertoire. Listed below are some of the songs we have sung at the Club. A W (Bob) Roberts who joined the Club as a yachtsman in the 1930's and later became the skipper of a Thames Barge preserved a number of these songs on record and many of the variants sung at EYC are based on his. (Bob and the SB Cambria kept sailing into the 1970's eventually becoming the last Barge still working under sail). One of the last 'Deep Sea' shantymen was Stan Hugill, he wrote a book on Shanties and many of the versions sung by modern folk groups are based on his versions. Back in the early 1980's a group of EYC members were lucky enough the enjoy one of Stan's last performances, a concert on the Cutty Sark.

Windy Old Weather
1.As we were a fishing of Haisboro' light
Shooting and hauling and trawling all night
It was windy old weather, stormy old weather
When the wind blows we all pull together
2.Then up jumps a herring the queen of the sea
Says now old skipper you cannot catch me
In this windy..
3. Then round comes a plaice who's got spots on his side
Says not much longer these seas you can ride
In this windy..
4. Then round comes a mackerel with stripes on his back
Says now old skipper you'll shift your main tack
In this windy..
5. Then up jumps a slipsole as strong as a horse
Says now old skipper you'll shift your main course
In this windy..
6. Then up rears a congar as long as a mile
Wind's coming East'ly he say with a smile
And it's windy..
7. I think what these fishes is saying is right
We'll haul up our gear now and steer for the light.
Cos it's windy..

Traditional Shanties and Songs of the Barges and Fishermen of the East Coast

Stormy Weather High Barbary The Collier Brig
Eddystone Light Maggie May Blow The Man Down
New York Girls Little Boy Billie
Santiana Robin Adair  
Spanish Ladies Lowlands  
Donkey Riding The Leaving of Liverpool  

Traditional Songs that have found their way into EYC

The Wild Rover

Modern Songs of the Sea and EYC home grown songs

Fiddlers Green