The Cruise of the Bigler is a fresh-water sailing song. Great Lake voyages did not have the length of clipper trips, but the storms were sufficiently deadly. Work was plenty and recreation was still required as well.
Skillagalee is Isle aux Galeta. Wabbleshanks is Waugoshance.
Frank Shay gives a complimentary version by Captain Asel Trueblood of St. Ignance, Michigan, which can be found in the Archive of American Folksong in the Library of Congress. Trueblood explained to Alan Lomax (1915):
I learned this song a good fifty years ago. I was twenty-three at the time. I’ve walked the old Bigler’s decks many times though I never sailed on her. She was supposed to be the slowest vessel in the fleet, and, of course, they had winds and all that and she’d bile along like everything but the other vessels would beat her. They stopped many places on the way down, and a new verse was composed about every place they stopped in and every place they’d pass. And when they got done in Lake Erie, before they got to Buffalo, they met the fleet coming back.
I knew this feller that composed this song about the Bigler, but I forgot his name. It was a kind of a jokey song like, because they got beat. He said they’d a’beat the fleet if the fleet had a’hove to. The places they stopped in were the whorehouses on the way down, and they’d get in there drinkin’ beer and singin’ this song, and it bought ‘em a lot of free beers.
A clipping from the Toronto Telegram, Oct. 3, 1942, gives much more information about the ship and the song. The earliest surviving source seems to be due to Emilius Jarvis who recorded it for his sister when he was on the timber drogher Edward Blake in 1875. The chorus is evidently borrowed from a fortyniner goldrush shanty.
Eckstorm and Smyth describe in Minstrelsy of Maine (1927) that the chorus was also used as a lumber shanty with locally-composed verses. The title given is Buffalo.
Now my boys if you will listen, I'll sing you a little song,
So sit you down awhile here, I'll not detain you long.
At Milwaukee in October, I chanced to get a "sit,"
On the timber schooner Bigler, Belonging to Detroit.
Ch: Oh, watch her, and catch her, Jump up on her Ju-ba Ju
Oh, give her sheet and let her rip, We're the boys'll put her through!
You ought to've seen her howling, When the wind was blowing free,
On our passage down to Buffalo, From Milwaukee!
It was a Sunday morning about the hour of ten,
The Robert Emmett towed us into Lake Michigan.
We set sail where she left us in the middle of the fleet,
The wind was from the south’ard, so we had to give her sheet.
The wind came up that night, my boys, and blew both stiff and strong,
And swiftly through Lake Michigan the Bigler ploughed along.
And far before her foaming bows the dashing waves she'd fling;
With every stitch of canvas set, and the courses wing and wing.
But the wind it came ahead before we reached the Manitou,
And two-and-a-half a day, sir, just suited the Bigler's crew,
From this into the Beavers we steered her full and by,
We kept her to the wind, my boys, as close as she could lie.
At Skillagalee and Wabbleshanks, the entrance to the Strait,
We might have passed the fleet ahead if they'd hove to to wait;
But we swept them all before us, the neatest ever you saw,
Clear out into Lake Huron from the Straits of Mackinaw.
At Huron Lake we passed Presque Isle, and then we bore away;
The wind being fair we soon flew by the Isle of Thunder Bay.
The captain ordered a sharp lookout, the night it being dark,
Our course was steering south-southwest for the light on Point aux Barques.
Now we're off of Point aux Barques, on Michigan's east shore,
A-booming for the river as we've often done before.
Abreast Port Huron light, my boys, both anchors we let go,
And the Sweepstakes came along and took the Bigler in tow.
She took the nine of us in tow, we all were fore and aft,
She towed us down to Lake St. Clair and stuck us on the flats.
The Hunter eased her tow-line to give us some relief,
And the Bigler went astern and smashed right into the Maple Leaf.
And then the Sweepstakes left us outside the river light,
Lake Erie's blustering winds and stormy waves to fight.
We laid to at the Hen and Chickens, the wind it blew a gale,
And we had to lay till morning, for we could not carry sail.
We made the Eau and passed Long Point, the wind being fresh and free,
And down the Canadian shore we humped, Port Colborne on our lee.
Oh, what is that ahead of us? We knew as we drew near,
'Tis the light upon the "Dummy''; we are nigh to Buffalo pier.
Now the Bigler she's arrived at Buffalo port at last,
And under Reed's elevator the Bigler she's made fast.
And in some lager-beer saloon we'll take a social glass,
We'll all be jolly shipmates, and we'll let the bottle pass.
Oh, now my song is ended, and I hope it pleases you.
Let's drink to the old Bigler, her officers and crew.
I hope she'll sail till kingdom come, command of Cal McKee,
Between the port of Buffalo and Mil-wau-kee.