What is a sea shanty?
It’s a poem in the form of a song, strongly rhymed and rhythmic. Two famous sea shanties, in addition to The Wellerman (listen, it’s fun), are What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor? and Blow the Man Down.
My assignment was to write a poem with nautical phrases to keep “the sea in my shanty.” While formerly career Air Force, I’m intrigued by submarines and aircraft carriers and the life sailors live. I decided on a poem about submariners, after knowing some and learning more (for a flyboy/landlubber). I used so much jargon that I decided on extensive glossing.
Blind Man’s Bluff
Shipmate, shipmate, useless thou art
you’ll be chief of the crank
or you’ll be walkin’ the plank
unqualled and unfit to smell a chief’s fart.
Yer like a dog with two peters
so confused in that bubble
a bluenose nub, yer nothin’ but trouble
below-decks with the cooks and the beaters.
The worst we got yet from rottin’ o’Groton
yer too fuckin’ green to sit in the box.
Today yer a FLOB washing my socks.
We’ll rig for red and drop you in Boston.
Shipmate, shipmate, you’re new to the crew.
Bubblehead, bubblehead, give me a clue.
Carry on with target prosecution that’s true,
a fish in the water with the firing solution.
What’s that? A dolphin on your chest?
And the COB now thinks yer one of the best.
Sooner than sonar our service’s a test,
an a-ganger now, yer the best of the rest.
With orders all ahead full cavitate,
it’s hard for the skimmers to fully appreciate
the pukas in our honeycomb tube
remember your days as a dumbass nub-noob.
Shipmate, shipmate, here we go again
bubblehead, bubblehead, give us a clue.
We’re just out of Groton all shiny and new.
We’ll be diving in soon, you tell us all when.
Look both ways, but things can hide behind a submarine.
Mind the gaps on the port and the starboard, but out of the water the rudder is right.
Note: I got the title from Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag, Christopher Drew, and Annette Lawrence Drew, published in 1998, is a non-fiction book about U.S. Navy submarine operations during the Cold War. I give the book 5 stars.
Gloss: “Shipmate” is pejorative when used sailor to sailor, but not usually otherwise. “Chief” is a senior enlisted rank, but here it is sarcastic. “Crank”s are the shit-jobs on submarines. The “bubble” refers to leveling the sub. A “NUB” is a non-useful body, unqualified without a dolphin badge (like a pilot without wings).
The USN submarine school and museum (I recommend if you like subs and their history) are located near Groton, Connecticut (USA). I’ve heard it called “rotten Groton.”
The “box” is a key location on a sub. “FLOB” is an initialism for freeloading oxygen breather. “Rig for red” is going to red lights to preserve night vision before rising to periscope depth. “Bubblehead” refers to people on submarines. “Fish” in the water refers to a torpedo. US Submariners are awarded a dolphin badge when they become fully qualified. “COB” is the enlisted chief of the boat. “A-gangers” are experienced crewmembers (aka, knuckle-draggers/tough guys). “All ahead full cavitate” is getting away quickly. “Skimmers” are surface ships and sailors. “Pukas” are small hiding places on a sub.