Category Archives: Sailing ships

Jackie Tarr, or Come Ashore Jolly Tar with Your Trousers On

This is a smashing old hornpipe, and I hope I’ve done it justice in my YouTube video for local learning musicians.

But I thought it worth reading around, and what I found was a good story – read about some of it here and here. It seems a printed copy of a variant of the tune used for the (rudish) song The Cuckoo’s Nest goes back to 1723.

It seems that in his book Bushes & Briars: Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams folklorist and historian Roy Palmer wrote this on the subject of the trousers:

‘At the end of the 18th century, when most men wore knee-breeches, sailors (apart from officers) wore trousers, and had been doing so for some fifty years. (Incidentally, the revolutionary French sans-culottes were so called, not because they went about with bare posteriors, but because they, too, wore trousers in preference to breeches). A sailor could easily roll up his wide trousers when decks had to be scrubbed, or seas were breaking over them. The trousers (usually spelled “trowsers” at the time) were often stained with the Stockholm tar used on the standing rigging, and “tarry trousers” were thus the unmistakable badge of the sailor.’

In this later book The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, he included a set of lyrics from a broadside ballad published by J Pitts, Printer, Wholesale Toy and Marble Warehouse, 6 Great St Andrew Street, Seven Dials, London. The ballad was printed between 1819 and 1844, but Palmer throught the ballad probably dated from soon after the end of the American War in 1783.

I think it’s a fairly challenging song to sing, but it seems to have caught on – 20th century folk song collectors found there were still people singing the song in the community in Aberdeenshire, and the song title has certainly stuck to the tune.

Here are the Pitts lyrics. Perhaps someone will fancy singing them!

Come Ashore Jolly Tar with Your Trousers On

1. When Jack had pulled the oar and the boat was gone
And the lassie on the shore with her head hanging down
The tears stood in her eyes and her bosom heaving sighs
Farewell, my dear, she cries, with your trousers on
Farewell, said he, I go to sea, and you must stay behind
But do not grieve, for while I live I ever will be kind
And when I come to land you will meet me on the strand
And welcome Jackie Tar with his trousers on

2. Now peace is proclaimed and the wars are all o’er
The fleets they are moored and the sailors come ashore
Now you may see her stand with a glass into her hand
To welcome Jack to land with his trousers on
While up on high, she catched his eye with all her lovely charms
Her face he knew and straight he flew and caught her in his arms
Her hand he kindly pressed as he held her round the waist
And he kissed the bonny lassie with his trousers on

3. O Jack, where have you been since you went from me
And what have you seen upon the raging sea
I mourned for your sake while my heart was like to break
For I thought I’d never see my Jack with his trousers on
And while you stayed I sighed and prayed to Neptune and to Mars
That they would prove kind and send you home safe from the wars
And now to my request they have been pleased to list
And sent you to my breast with your trousers on

4. I have sailed the seas for you to the Torrid Zone
From the confines of Peru to Van Diemen’s Land
From the Bay of Baltimore to the coast of Labrador
But now I’m safe on shore with my trousers on
I have beat the storms in many forms upon the raging main
I have fought the foes with deadly blows and many a hero slain
I have heard the cannons road, I have rolled in blood and gore
But now I’m safe on shore with my trousers on

5. I have been aloft when the winds have blown
And I have been aloft when the bombs were thrown
But like a sailor bold I have now come from the hold
With my pockets full of gold and my trousers on
And now no more from shore to shore I’ll plough the raging seas
But free from strife as man and wife we’ll live in peace and ease
To the church this couple hied and the priest the knot has tied
And the sailor kissed his bride with his trousers on

Man in a Pickle

Mal Nicholson is in Portugal and up to his eyes in the job of repairing HMS Pickle, the replica of the fast-sailing Royal Navy schooner commanded by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotière that famously carried the news of victory and of Nelson’s death to England following the Battle of Trafalgar.

It seems fair to say that Mal has had what for anyone else would be a torrid time – the ship may be relatively small, but it has suffered badly from rot and neglect – but Mal is not a  man to be stopped by such problems, and even seems to be enjoying himself, describing it as ‘the adventure of a lifetime’ and ‘stuff that dreams are made of’.
‘Buying HMS Pickle was the right thing to do on so many levels, she needed saving or she was going to die where she lay in Gibraltar, I do not regret it.

‘People have shocked me with their support and enthusiasm for this project.’ (An example of this is sponsor Riskex’s support – here’s a piece about the Pickle project from the company’s newsletter)

Mal’s hoping to set off for England in mid-June if possible, depending on how the work goes. His plan will be a series of day-sails from Vilamoura to Lagos, Lagos to Sines, Sines to Cascais etc. If you’d like to help him along the way to getting Pickle seaworthyand earning her keep, click here.

Here’s a piece by Phil Warren, of the Warren family that had the shipyard that built Mal’s earleir project Humber sloop Spider T. Phil is a retired university and an expert in woodwork.

Man in a Pickle

At the moment in Portugal there is a man in a Pickle.

The man is Mal Nicholson from North Lincolnshire, the reason he’s in a pickle? Well it starts with EBay…

Almost a year ago Mal was surfing Ebay, as people do, when he saw something that he just knew he had to have, it was a boat. Not just any old boat however, this was the schooner Pickle, a full size recreation of one of the most famous sailing ships of all time. A boat that saw action when Britain ruled the waves, that was at the Battle of Trafalgar and that was so exceptionally fast that she was chosen to bring home to Britain the news that the battle was won but Lord Nelson was lost. The boat was made from wood though and that’s when it got interesting.

The current Pickle was launched in 1995 and then had minor modifications carried out to become what she is today – a faithful recreation of the historic HM Schooner Pickle. She was used in the 2005 Bi-centennial Trafalgar celebrations were she sailed around the UK visiting many ports and maritime festivals.

She even moored alongside the Victory as part of the International Festival of the sea.

Pickle was famous for capturing a host of vessels and was referred to by Nelson himself as “ubiquitous”, her phenomenal speed allowed her to seem to be everywhere at once. In a time of square rigged ships her then  revolutionary Bermudan sloop rig made her the fastest ship in the navy. Due to this speed and reputation she was chosen by Vice Admiral Collingwood at the end of the Battle of Trafalgar to carry home the news of the death of Lord Nelson and the defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleets. Pickle set off with the Trafalgar dispatch on the 26th October and nine days later after besting a gale off Finisterre arrived in Falmouth on November 4th. This achievement is still celebrated today by warrant officers in the Royal Navy on Pickle Night.

Unfortunately the present Pickle found herself in a ‘pickle’ when she was taken to Gibralter and left for two years in the Mediterranean heat. Mal Nicholson heard of her plight and purchased her with the intention of bringing this famous vessel back to the UK. She was in a bad state. A lot of decking had rotted, allowing ingress of water which in turn had damaged beams, planks and many other parts but undaunted he set to with a group of friends in order to make her seaworthy.

They left Gibralter with a Royal Navy escort and laid a wreath at Trafalgar for sailors of all nations, then another at Cadiz where the original Pickle foundered. The seas off Trafalgar nearly ended the trip there however as the top main mast cracked and broke, and brought several tons of woodwork and rigging down on deck, narrowly missing the crew members.

Pickle was partly repaired at Puerto Sherry, and undaunted motored onto Mazagon, where on coming into the marina in a storm she lost drive. Mal was beginning to question just what he had bought, however it didn’t reduce his absolute determination to get the boat restored to its former prime and with the help of a local diver the issue was resolved. This was becoming a real adventure.

With further repairs in place the next leg in the voyage was a short hop to Tavira however on exiting the marina directions were given to sail 180 degrees for twenty miles to avoid Spanish naval exercises and oil fields. At that point it seemed sensible to continue to Villamoura after the extended detour:  Pickle’s engines did well, though, and never missed a beat on the hundred mile trip.

Reaching Portugal and with winter seas approaching Mal decided to spend a few months in Villamoura while repairs were made.

Lets return to the man in a Pickle.

The masts were the first item on the ‘to do’ list, a list that has grown and grown. Mal, a group of friends and a local boat builder have done the work and have made a superb job.

Repaired masts, new spars, jib-boom – the jib is the spar that extends from the bowsprit on the bow and allows more sails to be carried and effectively makes the vessel longer. On Pickle the jib-boom and bowsprit together  are more than half as long again as the hull itself.

The next issue was the hull. Ironically, while ‘pickle’ means to preserve in brine or vinegar, however in Pickle’s case the wood had been soaked with rain water and this had led to rot – lots of it. As one section was repaired then further digging led to more being uncovered. It seemed insurmountable at times but Mal does not give up. He has tackled similar or worse jobs before including his Humber sloop Spider T and a Grand Prix Ferrari – however, he is an engineer by trade and not a woodworker, so has had a very steep learning curve.

Finally, the hull is being completed to a standard surpassing its original form and is a stunningly beautiful creation. The masts are re-stepped, spars are aloft, the varnish and paint is drying and soon she will be coming back to the UK.

The plan is to set sail in mid June. She will make a rather more leisurely return than that made by Lieutenant Lapenotière, and will take in stops in Spain, France, the Channel Islands and the South and East coasts of England before sailing up the Humber Estuary to her new berth.

If any holidaymakers are in the area of Vilamoura, do go down to the marina and give them a wave. You cannot miss Pickle, as she’s the only warship in the marina!

Phil Warren


Pilot Cutters and the Victory: books from Seaforth Publishing

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I must read this book by seasoned sailor and writer Tom Cunliffe some time. Here’s what the Seaforth Publishing’s blurb says…

‘The pilot cutters that operated around the coasts of northern Europe until the First World War were among the most seaworthy and beautiful craft of their size ever built, while the small number that have survived have inspired yacht designers, sailors and traditional craft enthusiasts over the last hundred years.

‘They possessed a charisma unlike any other working craft; their speed and close-windedness, their strength and seaworthiness, fused together into a hull and rig of particular elegance, all to guide the mariner through the rough and tortuous waters of the European seaboard, bought them an enviable reputation.

‘This new book is both a tribute to and a minutely researched history of these remarkable vessels. The author, perhaps the most experienced sailor of the type, describes the ships themselves, their masters and crews,and the skills they needed for the competitive and dangerous work of pilotage. He explains the differences between the craft of disparate coasts – of the Scilly Islesand the Bristol Channel, of northern France, and the wild coastline of Norway – and weaves into the history of their development the stories of the men who sailed them.’

I notice that whoever wrote it has managed to capture the characteristic Cunliffe persuasive and salty style.

PS – A more recent release from Seaforth is Brian Lavery’s book Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace, which is published this month to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her launch.

Brian is also guest curator of an exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, if you have time to get over there.

The publisher’s notes promise the book is the most comprehensive book yet published on the topic and includes new and surprising revelations, including that:

  • she was almost wrecked on her launch
  • diplomacy conducted onboard her played a crucial role in provoking Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1912
  • 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm set the First World War in motion sitting at a desk made from her timbers

The book also tells the story of Horatio Nelson, who was born a few weeks before his most famous ship was ordered.