Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sailing in the Boat Till the Tide Runs High

Children Playing Circle Games VA 93-50
International Grenfell Association photograph collection
Photo: Courtesy of The Rooms
While researching children’s ring games last week I came across a game which I had never heard before.  The game “Sailing in the Boat (Ship) Till the Tide Runs High” is found in three sources on Memorial University’s DAI.  It is first found in a fictional short story written in 1950 and published in the Atlantic Guardian in which the youth of the community Come Again Harbour play a ring game to the tune:
Sailing in the ship ‘til the tide runs high,
Waiting for the pretty girls to come by and by, […] 
Choose your partner now today,
Give her a kiss and send her on her way.  
The other two sources mention the game being played in a community hall in Lumsden and the song being sung at the third annual Newfoundland picnic in Lynwood City Park, California in 1956.

I did a quick google search to see what I could come up with and I came across a couple of references to the ring game with more complete versions of the song.  The following version is from Otto Tucker and is found in Newfoundland author Robin McGrath’s book All In Together:
Sailing in the boat ’til the tide runs high, 
Sailing in the boat ’til the collar flags fly, 
Sailing in the boat ’til the tide runs high, 
Waiting for the pretty girls to come by and by. 
Choose your partner now today, 
Choose, oh choose her right away, 
I don’t care what the old folks say. 
Oh what a horrible choice you’ve made, 
And she can no longer stay. 
Since she can no longer stay, 
Give her a kiss and send her away.

There are a number of versions with different lyrics.  Here is William Wells Newell’s version from his book Games and Songs of American Children:
Sailing in the boat when the tide runs high,[x3]
Waiting for the pretty girl to come by'm by.

Here she comes, so fresh and fair,
Sky-blue eyes and curly hair,
Rosy in cheek, dimple in her chin,
Say, young man, but you can't come in.

Rose in the garden for you young, man,[x2]
Rose in the garden, get it if you can,
But take care not a frost-bitten one.

Choose your partner, stay till day, [x3]
And don't never mind what the old folks say!

Old folks say 'tis the very best way, [x3]
To court all night and sleep all day.

Folklorist Emelyn E. Gardner references the following version from the Michigan area in her article Some Play-party Games in Michigan written in 1920:
Sailing in the boat when the tide runs high, [x3]
Waiting for a pretty girl to come by and by.

Oars in the boat, and it won't go round [x3]
Till you kiss the pretty girl that you just found.

Do you have memory of this song?  Have you ever played the game yourself? Which version did you sing? Let us know where you are from, what song you sung or game you played.  Send an email to

I’ll leave you with the following YouTube clip I found of “Sailing in the Boat” sung by Elizabeth Austin and a group of women in Old Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas recorded by Alan Lomax and Mary Barnicle in 1935.  


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