Sea chanties

A number of readers have expressed interest in the sea chanty Kate sings in Dead in the Water. The last time someone asked I promised to post the lyrics, so here goes:

Rolling Down to Old Maui

‘Tis a damn tough life full of toil and strife
We whalemen undergo
And we don’t give a damn when the gale is done
How hard the wind did blow
Now we’re homeward bound, ’tis a grand old sound
On a good ship taut and free
And we won’t give a damn when we drink our rum
With the girls of old Maui


Rolling down to old Maui, my boys
Rolling down to old Maui
Now we’re homeward bound from the Arctic round
Rolling down to old Maui

Once more we sail with a northerly gale
Through the ice and wind and rain
And them coconut fronds and them tropical lands
We soon shall see again
Six hellish months have passed away
In the cold Kamschatka Sea
But now we’re bound from the Arctic round
Rolling down from old Maui


Once more we sail with a northerly gale
Toward our island home
Our main is sprung and our whaling done
And we ain’t got far to roam
Our stunsul boom is carried away
What care we for that sound
A living gale is after us
Thank God we’re homeward bound


How soft the breeze from the island trees
Now the ice is far astern
And them native maids in them island glades
Is a-waiting our return
Even now their big black eyes look out
Hoping some fine day to see
Our baggy sails running ‘fore the gales
Rolling down to old Maui

Chorus (twice)

And here’s a couple more of my favorites for you, too.

Strike the Bell

The starboard watch is hoping the bell will be struck so that the port watch will have to go aloft to reef in the sails before it begins to blow, but the officers aren’t listening.

Out on the quarter deck and walking about
There’s the second mate so steady and so stout
What he is a-thinking of he doesn’t know himself
We wish that he would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!


Strike the bell, second mate, let us go below
Look well to windward you can see it’s going to blow
Look at the glass you can see that it has fell
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!

Down on the main deck and working on the pumps
There’s the starboard watch longing for their bunks
Look out to windward and see a great swell
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!


Aft at the wheel poor Anderson stands
Grasping at the spokes with his cold mittened hands
Looks at the compass and the course is clear as hell
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!


Forward at the focsle head and keeping sharp lookout
Yonder John is standing ready for to shout
Lights are burning bright, sir, and everything is well
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell!


Out on the poop deck the gallant captain stands
Looking out to sea with a spyglass in his hands
What he is a thinking of we know very well
He’s thinking more of shortening sail than striking the bell!

Chorus (twice)

Blow Ye Winds

This is the shortened version the Kingston Trio recorded. There are others that go on forever, or three years, the standard whaler’s voyage, whichever came first.

‘Tis advertised in Boston, New York and Buffalo
A hundred hearty sailors a-whaling for to go


Blow ye winds in the morning
Blow ye winds aye-oh
Haul away your running gear
And blow boys blow

They tell of the clipper ships
a-running in and out
They say you’ll take five hundred whales
before you’re six months out


The skipper’s on the after deck
a-squinting at the sails
When up above the lookout spots
a mighty school of whales


Then lower down the boats, my boys,
and after him we’ll travel
But if you get too near his tail
he’ll kick you to the devil


And now that he is ours, my boys,
we’ll bring him alongside
And over with our blubber hooks
and rob of his hide


When we get home, our ship made fast,
and we get through our sailing
A brimming glass around we’ll pass
and hang this blubber whaling


And here’s why most of us ever even heard of sea chanties, if we knew what they were called or not:

Chatter Kate Shugak Random Friday

Dana View All →

Author and founder of

15 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Dear Ms. Stabenow, Here is the comment I just sent to Books on Tape. Your Kate Shugak series has been one of my favorites. I’m not sure why, but Kate and surrounding characters touch me in a way other book’s characters don’t. When listening, rather than reading, much of the responsibilty of an author’s skills rests on the shoulders of the narrator. Ms. Gavin was spectacular. Bernadette Dunne can read, but she has none of the expressive character of Ms. Gavin. More importantly, she doesn’t give Kate any characteristics that the listener expects. It doesn’t matter who reads your stand-alone books, but for the Kate series, please bring back Marguerite Gavin. Thank you, Amy Karatz (comments to BOT: I am a great fan of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series. Imagine my delight to see her newest on the shelves at the library, only to discover that Kate, as I knew her, wasn’t in the book! You have switched narrators after 14 fabulous readings by Marguerite Gavin. Why in the world would you do that? Not only is it disruptive and unnerving to listen to a character become someone different, but the narrator you chose to use, Bernadette Dunne, is your most melodramatic reader–completely unsuited to the circumspect Kate Shugak. Where’s the hoarsness in her voice? Where’s the difference in the character’s voices? You have ruined the series for me.)

  2. I am so right there with you, Amy, and you are not alone. I have received many, many comments on how displeased fans are with the new narrator.

    Marguerite made Kate’s voice her own and made the world of the Park and everyone who lives there come to life in a way you always hope narrators will. She is also a joy to work with, personable, professional and very conscientious. Had anyone consulted me on the change, I would have argued most strenuously against it.

  3. Ms Stabenow you write with such clear conviction and stength yet your respond, “Had anyone consulted me on the change, I would have argued most strenuously against it.” seems more then lacking. on the replacement of Ms Gavin. We your public and band of loyal readers look to you for guidance and leadership. So i ask you what can be done to get Ms Gavin back reading for the audio Kate Shugak books thank you ana

  4. Ana, I’m not kidding. I have absolutely no say in who does the narration. There has been so much positive fan feedback about Marguerite Gavin and so much negative feedback about her replacement that I have complained through my agent and my editor, to no result.

  5. I wonder if the new narrator had been the original, perhaps there would not be this outcry.

    In addition, it seems unprofessional and rather childish for the author to essentially gang-up on the new narrator.

    I have listened to Dunne’s work on other books, and have read reviews, which are often glowing.

    In my mind, I think it would be appropriate for the author to take a more neutral stance publicly.

    A woman was doing her job to the best of her ability–which, by the way, is quite substantial.

    Stabenow’s not a very good writer. How’s that sound?

    Granted, I have not listened to the series referred to on this page, but, you know, really, a little restraint and maturity is in order, don’t you think?

  6. “Gang up?” I’m sorry?

    I was and am responding to fan commentary and, well, complaints. When I say “outcry” I am not exaggerating, I received numerous emails and postings on this website, as well as questions at personal appearances, about the change of narrator, all of them negative.

    I myself have never listened to one of my books on tape. I can only attest to Marguerite’s consummate professionalism when we work together and her overwhelming popularity with fans of the audio versions of the books.

    Further, I doubt very much that the fans were complaining about the ability of the second narrator. What they objected to was the change. A narrator brands an audio series with his or her own voice. Jim Dale and the Harry Potter series is a case in point. Can you imagine the riot if Scholastic had ever bumped him for someone else?

    Fans really didn’t like the change of narrators for the Stabenow oeuvre and said so, loudly and repeatedly. I passed that information on to my publisher, and I’m delighted for their sake that Marguerite is back.

  7. Had they bumped Jim Dale for Stephen Frye (who was the narrator for the UK versions, which I was lucky enough to get) I personally would have celebrated. It depends on whether the narrator fits the books from the beginning and quite a bit on personal preference. A lot of people were pleased when the narrator for Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series changed.

    There have been many narrator changes in series lately – at least the ones I listen to – so it doesn’t appear that publishers take this very seriously. I’m glad they listened to you.

  8. Being from the east coast of Canada, I grew up listening to sea chanties – one of our best singer songwriter of same was the late great Stan Rogers, who also recorded “Rolling down from old Maui” – his version was the absolute best!
    Also loved his own song Mary Ellen Carter – “No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again”
    Somehow, I think Kate would be a fan.

  9. Dana, when the next Kate book comes out will there be CD’s? I have been trying to decide whether to get an IPod. Although it was hard to make the change from cassettes to Cd’s. I truly don’t want to learn how to download books.
    Silk and Song will remain a regular book for me. Finished the first one last night, wanted to wait til time for the next one.
    Marguerite read those too, right? She is awesome. Love the way she read Old Sam and the way she reads the Aunties.

  10. It is fun to see the lyrics to “Old Maui” quoted. My tune memory is for Stan Rogers’ recording, but it is fun to hear others as well. The world can use all the music it can get – sea shanties, a cappella, guitar-singer-songwriter, etc. Would love to hear more of your favorites as the chances come up.

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