Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What is a Shanty, anyway?

Sea Shanties (chanties): The word "chanty" (or shanty) is probably derived from the French word "chanter" - to sing. Alternatively it could be a derivation of the English work ‘chant’.
There are several different types of shanties: 
  • Capstan shanties: The capstan was used (among other things) to haul in the Anchor cable.  Capstan shanties had steady rhythms and usually told stories because of the length of time (which could be hours) it took to raise the anchor. Sailors would stamp on the deck at the start of each verse. This gave rise to the term, "stamp and go chanties."
  • Halyard shanties: Halyard shanties were sung to the raising and lowering of sails. Sails could weigh between 1,000 and 2,500 pounds. To set a sail some member of the crew would climb the rigging to loosen the canvas. On deck the crew would take hold of a line called the halyard (for haul + yard). The crew would rest during the verse and haul during the chorus. Depending on the weight of the sail, crews could pull one (for heavy jobs) to three times per chorus (for lighter jobs).
  • Short drag shanties: Very difficult tasks meant crews could pull less. Short drag shanties were used for such tasks - such as trimming the sails or raising the masthead
  • Windlass and pumping shanties: The windlass is used to raise the anchor as well as set and trim the sails, the barrel of the windlass using a basic ratchet & pawl mechanism to stop it running backwards as the loads increased. Wooden ships leaked, but not so fast that the crew could not pump the water out. There were several different types of pumps, which accounts for the variation in the timing of pumping shanties.
  • Ceremonial and fore bitter shanties: Ceremonial and forecastle (the crews quarters) songs were those sung by sailors on their time off (of which they didn't have a great deal). These usually told stories of famous battles, romance, or of their longing for home. Ceremonial shanties were for times of celebration, such as when the sailor paid off his debt to the ship or when they crossed the equator.

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