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    Re: The shipwreck of Admiral Shovell
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2007 Aug 30, 21:31 +0100

    Gary LaPook wrote  about the old song which states "Twixt Ushant and Scilly
    is thirtyfive leagues", to which he added-"we hove our ships to for to
    strike soundings fair, in forty five fathoms with a white sandy bottom, we
    squared our main yard and up channel we flew."
     he added later-
    | I was also attracted by the line "with a white sandy bottom" which I
    | knew was referring to the bottom sample brought up stuck to the "arming"
    | of the dipsea lead. I took it from this song that it was common
    | knowledge, for a long time, that "a white sandy bottom" was good news,
    | indicating that the ship was near the center of the channel, far from
    | dangers on either side. Do you know if this is a correct interpretation
    | and if the character of the bottom was known in 1707 to the extent that
    | Shovel could have known, from the stuff brought up on the lead, that he
    | was too close to the Scillies?
    To be honest, that line about 35 leagues was all I knew of the song. But my
    wife Joan is made of sterner stuff, and when I mentioned it, she went
    straight to the shelf with Stan Hugills's nice book, "Shanties from the
    Seven Seas" (1984 edition), and found "Spanish Ladies". Stan was himself a
    shantyman under sail, in one of the limejuice Cape Horners. So what can I do
    now, but quote you the whole thing?
    Spanish Ladies.
    Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies,
    Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain,
    For we've received orders to sail for old England
    An' hope very shortly to see you again.
    Chorus, repeated after each verse-
    We'll rant an' we'll roar, like true British sailors,
    We'll rant an' we'll roar, across the salt seas,
    Till we strike soundings in the Channel of Old England,
    From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-four leagues.
    We hove our ship to, with the wind at sou'west, boys,
    We hove our ship to for to take soundings clear,
    In fifty-five fathoms with a fine sandy bottom,
    We filled our maintops'l, up Channel did steer.
    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 Fairlee and Dungeyness,
    Then bore straight away for the South Foreland Light.
    Now the signal was made for the Grand Fleet to anchor,
    We clew'd up our tops'ls, stuck out tacks and sheets
    We stood by our stoppers, we brailed in our spankers
    And anchored 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 an' true-hearted soul.
    Hugill mentions a number of alternative wordings, including 35 leagues (and
    even 45 leagues!) for the distance Ushant-Scilly. On a modern chart, I make
    it 99 nautical miles, or 33 leagues. There are various alternatives in that
    list of Channel headlands, all of which will be familiar to the small-boat
    cruising sailor of today.
    The depth he gives for the sounding, 55 fathoms, differs quite a lot from
    the 45 figure that Gary quoted. Hugill also mentions a 45-fathom version of
    the song. 55 would correspond, roughly, to a line between Ushant and Scilly,
    whereas the 45 fathom figure would correspond better to a line between, say,
    Lizard and Roscoff, on the North Brittany coast.
    Perhaps, then, in view of those divergences, there should be a disclaimer
    attached, saying- "The words of this song should not be used for the
    purposes of navigation."
    What's particular interesting to me, though, is just how technically
    detailed the words are. It reads almost like a pilot-book.
    The only phrase that seems doubtful to me is "stuck out tacks and sheets".
    The tacks and sheets are the lines that lead from the lower corners (clews)
    of the courses, tacks leading forward, and sheets aft. I wonder whether
    those words should be "struck down", to describe those lines being taken
    down at the end of the voyage.
    Hugill also tells us of a Bluenose version, sung by Nova Scotians.
    Gary asked about the phrase "white sandy bottom", which Hugill quotes as
    "fine sandy bottom", and asks if this "was good news, indicating that the
    ship was near the center of the channel, far from dangers on either side.
    I really couldn't say. That phrase doesn't appear on the Mount & Page chart
    of 1702. From the context, clearly that was indeed taken to be good news. It
    might have indicated a mid-channel location, as Gary suggests, or perhaps it
    indicated simply that the vessel had got East of the dangerous Ushant-Scilly
    gap. I doubt if reading the lead, in that way, was anything of an exact
    I wonder what the date of "Spanish Ladies" was? We might get a clue from the
    date that the South Foreland became lit.
    contact George Huxtable at george@huxtable.u-net.com
    or at +44 1865 820222 (from UK, 01865 820222)
    or at 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.
    To post to this group, send email to NavList@fer3.com
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