Sea shanties and maritime music

The songs of the sea have a long legacy of scholarship, musicianship, and public performance. From the work songs of deep-water sailors and fishermen, to the ballads taken into pubs and forecastles, these songs have been used to coordinate effort, remember shore life, and sometimes just pass the time.

The songs themselves have been passed from ship to ship, printed in newspapers and books, shared at festivals, learned from video games, and remixed on social media. Hundreds of sea music-specific albums have been recorded, and maritime music comprises a distinct genre.

This Day in History (January 13, 1806)

In the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, Francis Beaufort (1774-1857) rose through the ranks from merchant sailor to captain. While commanding the HMS Woolwich in 1806, he devised a popular system for categorizing wind speeds called the Beaufort Scale. The scale, first employed on January 13, 1806, ranges from flat, calm seas (0) to hurricanes (12). Beaufort provided heuristics for the fresh breeze needed to carry topsails (5) or the storm that would blow any sails (11). He continued to log the weather and develop the scale for many years before it was adopted by the Royal Navy. The scale has been adapted to describe the behavior of steamships, smoke, and wave crests.

The importance of winds in sailing is captured in songs such as Blow Ye Winds In The Morning and Southerly Wind. Beaufort also gives his name to the Canadian-Arctic sea mentioned in Stan Roger's Northwest Passage.

This Day in History (January 10)

Try a random shanty sampling