Forebitters, or as the Americans called them ‘mainhatch songs’ …

Forebitters are the type of songs that was sung by the sailors on the sailing ship in their leisure time. Of course, we have to say for sure, to be honest, the leisure time didn’t much exist in days of sail. Sailor Jack never sleeps enough due to four hours and four hours off shifts.

Iron Bitts

In port ‘daywork’ was the rule – roughly…

6 am to 6 pm. The sea watches from 8 pm one day to 4 pm the next was four hours duration, but the watch from 4 pm to 8 pm was divided into two, and these sections were known as the ‘dog watches‘. In the first two, some work was done, it was also a period for eating, but the second dog-watch was, apart from there some occasional pulley-hauley, one of leisure.

Wooden bits

Running the easting down – that is sailing with the square yards; running before the ‘brave west wind;’ down in the high latitudes between Cape of Good Hope and Leeuwin in Australia – was a …

Good time for singing forebitters …

In the dark, damp, smelly fo’c’sle lit solely by swinging oil lamps; with the creaking of the timbers, and the swissing oilskins hanging from their pegs on the bulkheads; along with a squeezebox or fiddle, forming dramatic background music.

Focsle on windjammer Forebitters home
Focsle on windjammer Forebitters home 2

In the warmer weather of the trade winds …

…when hardly a rope would be touched, the crowd would squat around the fore or main hatch, or else sit on the iron bitts on the fo’c’sle head (the bitts, which gave songs the name). Here dog-watch concerts would be held, with sometimes a ‘fufu band’.

Index Of The Forebitters

  1. Blow Ye Winds (C)
  2. Blow Ye Winds in the Morning
  3. Jack All Alone
  4. Maggie May
  5. Oh, Aye, Rio
  6. Oh Susanna
  7. Paddy Lay Back – Forebitter
  8. Paddy West
  9. Ratcliffe Highway
  10. Roll Alabama Roll! – Forebitter
  11. Rolling Home – W. B. Whall
  12. Susannavisan (Swedish)
  13. Susannavisan (Stan Hugill Translation)
  14. Ten Thousand Miles Away
  15. The Banks O Newfnland – Doerflinger
  16. The Banks O Newfnland – Forebitter
  17. The Five-Gallon Jar
  18. The Gals O’ Dublin Town (A)
  19. The Fishes – W. B. Whall
  20. The Limejuice Ship (Long Chorus)
  21. The Limejuice Ship (Short Chorus)
  22. The Liverpool Song
  23. Van Diemans Land

My private collection of books

Shantyman library –  you will see descriptions and recommendations of positions worth diving into, true sources of knowledge about sea shanties. To gain knowledge about sea shanties is the main ultimate purpose of this library, every book in this library is somehow related to sea shanties and before mast songs.

More involvement in Traditional Sea Shanties

You can find this record here or directly listen below. If you want to discuss the record or share your opinion you can do it in my Facebook forum here.