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.


The Lighthouse

Open fire back on historic lighthouse Workum.

Reid, the man who lights the open fire to pilot the “Manure” home.

During the night of 25 to 26 October flames of one and a half metres are towering over the roof of Reid’s lighthouse, at the end of the dyke near Workum. As a complete surprise to the returning skippers of the “Strontrace”, the regular barge service and the fishing boats an open fire is burning again at the entrance of ’t Soal. The fire brigade does not have to turn up, because Reid has just informed the council via the emergency number about his secret plan.
The story of the last “Zuiderzee” lighthouse keeper; the man who lights the beacon fire.

By Stephan Kraan

For years he has been planning to light an open fire on the lighthouse. But it never happened. As the organiser and initiator of the “Strontrace” (manure race) Reid has stopped his active work as a committee member ,but during the “Strontrace” week he is always very busy. Till last year. He asks, secretly, gas fitter Hylke Hettinga from Heeg to build an installation which can safely produce high flames. At the last minute he informs the organisation, the council officials and the mayor. The installation works. The flames are so bright, that it is possible to read the newspaper at the bottom of the lighthouse. By using a mirror, the light can be seen only on the waters between Hindeloopen and Kornwerd. At clear view the fire is visible on a distance of 20 kilometres. When the first skippers of the “Strontrace” reach the dark coast of Friesland, to their great surprise they see a bright fire. But nobody recognizes it as a beacon; until the Mari phone announces that Reid has added a new historical element to his “Strontrace”.


Read more: The Lighthouse

Reid de Jong

“A handshake like a vice and a hug like a bear”,
about Reid, the spiritual father of the “Strontrace”.

At the end of the long dike from Workum to the IJsselmeer Reid(70) lives in the former light house. Reid is the inspiration and organiser of the “Strontrace” , “regular barge service” and the “fishing days”. More than thirty years ago Reid wanted to breathe new life into professional sailing with these sailing exercises. These exercises were successful and many a skûtsje, tjalk, clipper and other ancient sailing vessels pass his lighthouse nowadays.

IMG 8401In the lighthouse lives the former architect and engineer without electricity and running water. He grows his own vegetables, slaughters his own animals, makes his own tools, is almost self-supporting; one with nature. Reid puts small scale industry and keeping up old crafts against the consumer society. For 50 years on Reid has committed himself to preserve sailing ships and the trades involved. Singing about the sea is one of them. He is very happy with the Shanty Festival. Every year he is part of it and he never fails to leave an unforgettable impression behind on the festival visitors and the skippers. Two foreign guests will tell about their encounter with Reid.


Read more: Reid de Jong

Johnny & Jim

The following story was published in a special edition of “Spiegel der Zeilvaart” on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the festival in 2002. It has been slightly adjusted for this website.

John and Jim in Workum for 25 years

"Every year I enjoy your performance.”

By Larissa van Duuren

Johnny Collins (1938 – 2009) and Jim Macgeean (1948 - ) have been the regular performers since the beginning of the International Shanty Festival. Many a festival visitor is fond of the two leading singers because of their strong voices and their compelling way of singing.
Johnny and Jim about themselves, their inspiration, passion for music and the special bond they have with the shanty festival in Workum.
Johnny and Jim met on Midsummer’s Day 1975 in a field near Reading , Berkshire England. They knew about each other as solo singers. Jim: “I used to work in the North of England and Johnny in the South. I had just moved to London and it turned out that I lived only 10 kilometres from Johnny. So we decided to meet at our homes and to sing together just for the fun of it.”
They both worked as solo singers until a London club owner asked them to sing together in his club. Since then they have been singing at the same time as soloists and after that as a duo they were more than welcome on festivals from Norway to Canada. In 1980 they sang at the first Liereliet Singaroud in Workum. In 1983 they won the Intervision Song Contest in Rostock (DDR) with their shanty repertoire.
After he retired Johnny worked full time on his musical career. Besides singing shanties he sang other types of folk music. Jim was an engineering-technology teacher. He sings solo but he also sings in a band “The Keelers”. They sing shanties but also other traditional folk music from the North-East of England. Many of these songs are from other “singing” professions like fishermen, farmers and miners.


Read more: Johnny & Jim

Nanne Kalma

Nanne Kalma’s roots

“During the chorus songs I’ve got goose bumps everywhere”

By Stephan Kraan
If you ever will or already have visited the shanty festival in Workum you cannot miss him: Nanne Kalma. As the always charming presenter of the concerts, where he introduces the artists to the public in an enthusiastic and amusing way. As the writer, the director, actor and singer during the mostly annual music theatre performances in the ship yard “The Hope”. As the musician in “Liereliet” and “Kat yn’t Seil”. The festival could not exist without the many volunteers, but certainly not without Nanne Kalma. Time and time again he manages to surprise the many admirers and lovers of his music. Small wonder he got the provincial culture prize “The Frisian Carnation “in the year 2000.
Nanne Kalma about his fascination for folk music, song cycles and a Capella singing.
“Because of the Beatle song “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964 I wanted to start my guitar lessons when I was fourteen. I heard that song in “Time for Teenagers” and immediately went to the record shop to see the sleeve. Everything changed. I submerged myself into music . A year later I started the band “Pugh’s Place “ with friends. We played English-language pop music. And we had lots of success; so much that our first LP and single were produced by Boudewijn de Groot. Because several members of the band were studying at the time, we had to stop in 1971. My next band was “Farmers Union” which played English Folk. Folk music was much more relaxed and softer music than pop music. I found out that I loved ballads most. I discovered the folk group “Rum”. These boys sang their lovely songs in Flemish.
“Rum” made me aware of how beautiful and powerful it can be to make music in your own language. I then realised that my next step would be to sing in Frisian. In 1973 “Farmers Union” stopped. I took stock of the situation and fiddled around for a year. I looked for Frisian songs but could not find any. I decided to write them myself.”


Read more: Nanne Kalma

More Articles...

  1. Shanties
  2. Liereliet