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A Pirate Song Called the Sea Shanty

While many things surprised us in 2021, one of our favorites was the resurrection of the sea shanty.

Sea shanties have recently regained popularity in social media, TikTok, in particular. Nathan Evans, a Scottish postie, uploaded a video where he sang the sea shanty Tiktok song, “Wellerman.” Others joined the chorus, adding harmonies to the mix by creating instrumentals.

The trend is not limited to social media. The Bristol-based shanty group, “The Longest Johns” has entered the Top 40 of the UK singles charts with their version of “Wellerman.” The cover has also ranked number one in Spotify’s viral charts covering 19 different countries.

With the surprising resurgence of the sea shanty, some can’t help but wonder: what is a sea shanty?

What Is a Sea Shanty?

Before the advent of digital entertainment, sailors created work songs that allowed them to travel easily among different countries.

Sea Shanties are songs for work written by sailors while aboard square-rigged ships during the Age of Sail from the 16th to the mid-20th centuries. During this period, sailing ships and international trade were the dominant work activities.

Sea shanties were believed to have been created as a means of dealing with the monotony of performing strenuous marine tasks.

Seafarers sang these songs to make their mundane tasks more enjoyable. Contrary to popular belief, the songs were not sang for leisure while aboard the vessels but only when seafarers were at work or performing prescribed tasks.

What Is the Origin of the Song?

Many of the theories about the shanty are inconclusive, so its origin is still classified as unknown. The etymological source of the word, however, is the French chanter, which means “to sing.”

The term shanty is thought to have been used in the middle of the 19th century to refer to a specific work song genre created in American-style merchant ships.

While the evolution from chanter to shanty has been widely accepted, the term “chanter” was changed to “chantey” in American marine lingo to distinguish contextual connections with British jargon.

What Are the Types of Sea Shanties?

The shanty song genre is distinct from other work songs due to its formal characteristics and particular usage.

A shanty was usually performed in a call and response format. One sailor would shout out a verse, prompting the other sailors to respond in unison.

The two parts of the shanty are known as the chant and the chorus. A shantyman would begin the lyrics, set the beat, and join the chorus.

A shanty could be divided into different categories depending on the group of workers which wrote the song, In general, however, shanties are classified into three types: long haul, short-haul, and capstan.

1. Long Haul Shanties

Long haul shanties, also known as halyard songs, were sang during long, hard jobs. These were mainly used to coordinate hauling, but can also be used to set sails. A chorus is added at the end for this type of shanty song.

The sailors then coordinate their actions by taking deep breaths and grabbing the rope between pulls. One of the most popular long-haul shanties is “Blow the Man down.”

2. Short-Haul Shanties

The short-haul (or short drag shanties) were used for tasks that required quick pulls. These songs are sung while the sail is being unfurled or shortened. They have a steady rhythm that helps sailors move at the same speed to ensure safety and efficiency. “Paddy Doyle’s Boots” is a short-haul shanty used to furl the sails.

3. Capstan Shanties

Capstan songs are often associated with heaving. They are named after the capstan of a vessel, a revolving cylinder with a vertical axle used to push heavy weights around.

Because the tedious task of pushing the capstan (cylinder) was intensive, continuous, and time-consuming, heaving songs like the capstans (song) were more commonly used when work involved an extended amount of time. One of the most well-known capstan shanties is “Drunken Sailor.”

The capstan was removed from ships around the middle of the 19th century and was replaced by a more efficient mechanism. This changed the types of sea shanties being sang on board since the work has also changed.

What Are Sailor Songs?

Seafarers used sea songs to reconnect with relatives and friends who are not with them.

Sailor songs were distinct from sea shanties. These were powerful and deeply emotional, and they helped sailors to feel more connected to the vast ocean.

The Decline of the Sea Shanties

Like many work songs, shanties thrived for about five decades after they were conceived. However, as technology advanced, it became possible to create more efficient vessels. This resulted in seafarers spending less time and effort completing simple and manual tasks, which eventually led to the decline of sea shanties by the 1900s.

The sea songs are still loved by sailors today, but they are rarely used as work songs. After all, modern vessels no longer require large groups of people to come together and accomplish a task.

In recent years, however, a few fans of sea shanties got together, compiled an extensive collection of sailor songs, and shared them with the world.

You can connect with these song wonders through updated videos and even lyrics. This is something that the maritime community will definitely want to see and hear.

Sunshine Scenic Tours Lets You Embark On a Pirate Cruise

What is a sea shanty? Get to know the catchy melody and lyrics that helped pirates and their crew get through their daring and dangerous sea adventures by joining Sunshine Scenic Tour’s pirate cruise in John’s Pass. Relive the lives of notoriously famous pirates and sing a melody or two of their songs by booking a tour now!

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