Sailing and Singing

IMG 5194Sailing and singing is inextricably linked with Workum.
The Shanty festival  is not an isolated event. After the weekend, when there is only the singing of songs about the hard work on board, the real work starts. The ships of the Regular Barge Service and the “Strontrace” (dung race) leave. During these sailing races there is not much room for musical inspiration; then it is about tactics, perseverance and good seamanship. Here the shanties are getting real. “Even when the Shanty Festival attracts few skippers”, Marga Swaans from the organisation of the regular barge service and the Strontrace tells us, “the festival is inextricably linked with both races.”

Shanties and flat- boats
“Unfortunately, singing shanties during hoisting the sails on a flat-boat does not work. The sails are too light and the work speed is too high to sing shanties “,says Wim Valk, former skipper of the charter ship “Dankbaarheid”. “Besides you have to do a lot of hoisting on your own or together and not in large teams like they do on windjammers. “
As a matter of fact historically  the shanties have not much to do with sailing the flatboats that participate in the Strontrace and Barge Service race. “Nevertheless,  the Barge Service race and  the Strontrace have been inseparable from the Shanty festival. “The public of the Shanty festival is much older than the participants of the races”, says Wim Valk, who regularly visits the Shanty festival himself. ” But the atmosphere around the festival has a lot in common with the atmosphere of the races. It is absolutely impossible to separate the two events.”

Inextricably linked
Marga Swaans of the board of “Zeilvracht”, the organisation that organises both races, also thinks the races are “inextricably linked”. For seven years she has sailed on IMG 5202board the participating ship “In Dubio”, or she sailed with the Barge Service, but she always visits the Shanty Festival. “I always go to the little church to sing. I really like that. Every now and then I see a skipper with his family there, but we would like to see more skippers and their passengers visit the Shanty Festival. “ During the last five years “Zeilvracht” has been in contact and they tried to advertise the festival among the sailors.  “But until now it has not been successful. Most ships don’t arrive until Sunday and even then skippers are only busy with the race: Are all the sails in order? How do I get all my stuff on board? Although, on Sunday night the music theatre does attract a lot of sailors. That is always fantastic. And on Monday at the start of the race there is also a lot of singing at the harbour. It is so lively then. There are lots of tourists, everyone is busy and the music really fits into it.“

In the beginning of the 20th century about 150 tjalken and clippers shipped 100 till 160 tons of cow dung from the south-west of Friesland to the bulb fields behind the sand dunes near Warmond and Hillegom. The skippers sailed as fast as possible in order to be the first to get a new load on board . In 1974 Reid brought this tradition back to life by the Strontrace. Fertiliser is used these days and is unloaded in Warmond. The ship that is mooring first in Workum again, is the winner.

Skipper may sail across?
Some ships were already too big to be able to sail on the Ringvaart (canal), part of the route of the Strontrace. So Reid came up with the idea to start a race for bigger ships: the Barge Service. This race leads to Amsterdam and back. The bargeman chooses his route in advance. When he chooses his outward journey via Lemmer, he has to return via Medemblik or the other way round. With the present Barge Service passengers will be on board too.

Are singers also sailors?
During the 25th anniversary of the Strontrace and the Barge Service in 1998, Shanty singers could sail too. Liereliet sailed with the Dankbaarheid of Wim Valk. According to the former skipper the singers are not real sailors. “They are good at hoisting a rope,  but they mostly like the boats and the companionship. The original shanty, made as a working song, has changed its purpose among the landlubbers. ”So the singers sailed with the Barge Service to have a taste of the atmosphere . Wim: “We sung an awful lot.”
This article was written for the anniversary issue of the “Spiegel der Zeilvaart” on behalf of the 15th anniversary in 2002.