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Photo #: NH 47029 (extended caption)

"Spinning a Yarn"

Seven "Old Salts" engaged in telling tall tales aboard USS Enterprise (1877-1909), probably while their ship was at the New York Navy Yard, circa spring 1890.
Photographed by E.H. Hart, New York.
Suitable verses from "The Tale of the Gyascutus" are printed below the original photographic image.
The entire poem is provided below.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 141KB; 740 x 620 pixels


The Gratton C. Dichman Scrapbook (Naval Historical Foundation Photographic Collection, Lot # NHF-107-A, page 23) contains a newspaper clipping, circa 1910, that includes the entire poem printed with Photo # NH 47029. The text of that clipping is reproduced verbatim below. It should be mentioned that the usage of "nautical terminology" in the poem is largely nonsense, no doubt made so for the enlightenment of those "green hands" for whom the original yarn was spun.


In a family scrapbook dating back to 1884 a correspondent discovers the amusing old Navy poem, "The Tale of the Gyascutus," for which inquiry was made last week. It is without date, but is credited to the Detroit Free Press, and under the title "A Sailor's Yarn" is given as follows:

This is the tale that was told to me
By a battered and shattered son of the sea--
To me and my messmate, Silas Green,
When I was a guileless young marine.

'Twas the good ship Gyascutus,
All in the China seas,
With the wind a-lee and the capstan free
To catch the summer breeze.

'Twas Captain Porgie on the deck,
To his mate in the mizzen hatch,
While the boatswain bold in the forward hold,
Was winding his larboard watch.

"Oh, how does our good ship head to-night?
How heads our gallant craft?"
"Oh, she heads to the E.S.W. by N.,
And the binnacle lies abaft!"

"Oh, what does the quadrant indicate,
And how does the sextant stand?"
"Oh, the sextant's down to the freezing point,
And the quadrant's lost a hand!"

"Oh, and if the quadrant has lost a hand,
And the sextant falls so low,
It's our bodies and bones to Davy Jones
This night are bound to go!"

"Oh, fly aloft to the garboard strake!
And reef the spanker boom;
Bend a studding sail on the martingale
To give her weather room."

"Oh, boatswain, down in the for'ard hold,
What water do you find?"
"Four foot and a half by the royal gaff
And rather more behind!"

"Oh, sailors, collar your marlin spikes
And each belaying pin;
Come stir your stumps and spike the pumps,
Or more will be coming in."

They stirred their stumps, they spiked the pumps,
They spliced the mizzen brace;
Aloft and alow they worked, but oh!
The water gained apace.

They bored a hole above the keel
To let the water out;
But strange to say, to their dismay,
The water in did spout.

Then up spoke the cook of our gallant ship
And he was a lubber brave;
"I have several wives in various ports,
And my life I'd orter save."

Then up spoke the Captain of Marines,
Who dearly loved his prog;
"It's awful to die, and it's worse to be dry,
And I move we pipes to grog."

Oh, then 'twas the noble second mate
What filled them all with awe;
The second mate, as bad men hate,
And cruel skippers jaw.

He took the anchor on his back
And leaped into the main;
Through foam and spray he clove his way,
And sunk and rose again.

Through foam and spray, a league away
The anchor stout he bore;
Till, safe at last, he made it fast,
And warped the ship ashore!

'Tain't much of a job to talk about,
But a ticklish thing to see;
And suth'in to do, if I say it too,
For that second mate was me!

Such was the tale that was told to me,
By that modest and truthful son of the sea,
And I envy the life of a second mate
Though captains curse him and sailors hate,
For he ain't like some of the swabs I've seen,
As would go and lie to a poor marine.

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Image posted 6 April 2000
Caption corrected 3 December 2004