H.M.S. Rose off Ferryland, August 1995. Printed from shanty.rendance.org Site contents © 1993-2009 Andrew Draskóy excepting product images and lyrics.

Pilot Verses

Pilot verses were sailing directions sung to popular tunes. This was a handy way to memorise crucial navigation information. There's a bunch of Newfoundland ones recorded in the Admiralty Court, in London. Hugill quotes one from this collection, dated 1756, which was apparently considered the best guide to Newfoundland waters at the time. It's to the tune of "I'll Tell me Ma", which is still well known. The following version was recorded in Old Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland 4th ed., by Gerald S. Doyle, (St. John's, 1966), p70.

Wadham's Song

From Bonavista to the Cabot Isles
  the course is north full forty miles
When you must steer away nor'-east
  till Cape Freals, Gull Isle, bears west-nor'-west

Then nor'-nor'-west thirty-three miles
  three leagues off shore lies Wadham's Isles,
Where of a rock you must beware
  two miles sou'-sou'-east from off Isle bears.

Then nor'west by west twelve miles or more,
  there lies Round Head on Fogo's shore,
But nor'-nor'west seven or eight miles
  lies a sunken rock near Barrack's Isles.

Therefore, my friend, I would you advise,
  since all these rocks in danger lies,
That you may never amongst them fall,
  but keep your luff and weather them all.

As you draw near to the Fogo land,
  you'll have fifteen fathoms in the sounding sand, --
From fifteen to eighteen, never more,
  and that you'll have close to the shore.

When you abreast of Round Head be,
  then Joe Batt's Point you'll plainly see;
To starboard then three or four miles,
  you'll see a parcel of damned rugged isles.

When Joe Batt's Arm you are abreast,
  Fogo Harbour bears due west,
But unkind fortune unluck laid
  a sunken rock right in the trade.

So, nor-nor'west you are to steer,
  till Brimstone Head doth appear,
Which over Pilley's Point you'll see,
  that of that danger you are free.

And as you draw within a mile,
  you'll see a house on Symes's Isle;
The mouth of the channel is not very wide,
  but the deepest water is on the larboard side.

When within Symes's Point you have shot,
  then three fathoms of water you have got;
Port hard your hellum and take care,
  in the mid-channel for to steer.

When Pilley's Point you are abreast,
  starboard haul, and steer sou'-sou'west
Till Pilley's Point covers Syme's Stage;
  then you are clear, I will engage.

When Joe Batt's Arm you are abreast,
  then Fogo Harbour bears due West.
But unkind fortune unluck laid,
  a sunken rock right in the trade.

So nor'-nor'west you are to steer,
  'till Brimstone Head do plain appear.
Which over Pilley's Point you'll see,
  then of that danger you are free.

If you know any pilot verses, I'm interested in adding them to this collection. Send me email if you've got one to contribute.