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.
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