"The sound of someone hailing 'Keel – a – hoy. Are you there, Captain? Come ahead with that keel' faded away about 1940…” For my title and chorus, I have taken some inspiration from this introduction to the fascinating reminiscences of Herbert Rhodes about his time working on the Humber keels (which may be found at http://historyofthorne.com /publications /keel-a-hoy.html). The Humber keel was a type of single-masted, square-rigged sailing craft used for inshore and inland cargo transport around Hull and the Humber Estuary, particularly through the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I’ll sing to you of the Meteor, at Goole that keel was laid
To ply the Trent and the Foss Dyke for the Hull to Lincoln trade
With sails for the open river, a horse for the towpath haul
And a skipper and mate to earn their freight, when they heard the wharfman’s call


Keel-a-hoy, keel-a-hoy!
Come ahead, captain, with that keel
Keel-a-hoy, keel-a-hoy!
Captain, are you there?

The Ant, the Bee, the Comet and many more besides
That rode with the sloops and billyboys on the heaving Humber tides
Fifty tons to load and stow, timber, coal or grain
Or running red sand up the river, blue billy back down again


But sail gave way to steam it seems, and all gave way to rail
No anchor holds against that tide, when progress must prevail
No place for a square-rigged sailing barge in a world of speed and steel
The white sails in the sunset are the ghosts of the Humber keel