Photo Credit: Jennifer Long

A foc’sle (or forecastle) song was a song sung by sailors during their ‘down time’, rather than for work. Because the singer’s hands weren’t necessarily occupied with work while singing a foc’sle song, these songs were more likely to be accompanied by instruments than a work shanty.

Spanish Ladies is a one foc’sle song that is often heard aboard our boats. While the lyrics have been sung to many tunes, the haunting melody featured in the video below is the one that this author learned during her Two Weeks Before the Mast time on Lady Washington.  The lyrics of Spanish Ladies describes the passage of British navy men north from Spain through the English Channel. One might have heard navy men in the late 1700s and early 1800s singing this song during and after a variety of military campaigns.

Want to practice your foc’sle singing? Check out the video and lyrics below!

Note: The tunes, lyrics and history of a single sea song or shanty are often diverse and debated, given how these songs were passed along and changed (often simultaneously on many ships all over the seas). This is part of what is beautiful and fascinating about them. What we’re representing in this blog post is only one, and certainly not the only, version of a song and its history.



Full Lyrics

Farewell and adieu to you Spanish ladies,

Farewell and adieu you ladies of Spain

For we’ve received orders to sail for old England

And we hope in a short time to see you again



We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors

We’ll rant and we’ll roar all along the salt sea

Until we strike soundings in the channel of Old England

From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues


We hove our ship to with the wind at southwest boys

We hove our ship to for to take soundings clear

At fifty-five fathoms with a fine sandy bottom

We filled our main tops’l up channel did steer




Now the first land we made was a point called The Deadman

Next Ramshead off Plymouth, Start, Portland, and Wight

We sailed then by Beachie by Fairly and Dungeness

Then we bore straight away for the South Foreland light




The signal was made for the grand fleet to anchor

We clewed up our tops’l arise tacks and sheets

Let go your catstopper let go your shank painter

And we’ll anchor ahead of the noblest of fleets




Let every man here drink up his full bumper

Let every man here drink up his full bowl

And let us be jolly and drown melancholy

Drink a health to each jovial and true-hearted soul