Tow Rope Girls

Maritime-themed Song

Lyrics from a poem by Cecily Fox Smith, set to the tune of Queer Bungle Rye by William Pint

Used with permission from William Pint.

There’s a ship in the tropics, rolling along,
With every stitch drawing, the wind blowing strong,
With the white caps around her, Breaking in spray,
Those girls have got hold of our tow-rope today!

Oh, and it’s haul away, girls, steady and true,
Polly and Dolly and Sally and Sue,
Mothers and sisters – sweethearts and all,
It’s haul away, all the way, haul away, haul, And haul!

She’s logging sixteen as she speeds from the south,
With the wind in her royals, with a bone in her mouth,
With a wake like a mill-race she speeds on her way,
Those girls have got hold of our tow-rope today! (Chorus)

Of cargoes and charters we’ve had our full share,
Of grain and of lumber – enough and to spare.
Of nitrates at Taltal and rice for Bombay,
Those girls have got hold of our tow-rope today! (Chorus)

Don’t you hear the good trade winds a-singing aloud, 
A homeward bound shanty in the sheets and in shroud,
Oh, hear how she whistles in the halyards and stays,
Those girls have got hold of our tow-rope today!” (Chorus)

And it’s oh, for the chops of the channel at last,
And the cheer that goes up when the tug hawser’s cast,
The mate’s “that’ll do” and fourteen months’ pay,
For the girls have got hold of our tow-rope today! (Chorus)


image of album cover for Bounding Main Lost at Sea - click for more info about the album

Song Notes

From the liner notes of Pint & Dale’s brilliant 1991 album, Port of Dreams:

In 1920, C. Fox Smith (a female rambling sailor, herself) wrote the words to The Tow Rope Girls which William wed to the melody of another traditional song, Queen Bungle Rye.

Since William’s masterful blending of the poem with the tune several notable artists have gone on to record this song, including Tom Lewis, Tom Kastle, Bob Zentz and others. Bounding Main recorded this song with The Jolly Rogers and it appeared on their 2012 CD Beg, Borrow & Steal. You can view the song performed live by both groups in a joint concert in this YouTube clip.

Taltal is a Chilean city that, along with the Peruvian Chincha Islands and Callao, extensively exported guano as fertilizer in a period that coincided with the documentation of British and American sea shanties.

“…tug hawser’s cast” – The hawser was the thickest rope on the ship and was used for both towing and warping a ship along the dock. The toss of the hawser was one of the final actions before a ship docked in port.