'Twas on the good ship Venus,
By Christ you should have seen us
The figurehead was a whore in bed
And the mast a throbbing penis.

Chorus:
Frigging in the rigging
frigging in the rigging
Frigging in the rigging
there was fuck-all else to do.

This bit of doggerel is a gift to us from the sailors of the world. More than any other profession (they would swear to you over their beers) the sailor historically led a life of privation and chore. At sea for long periods, with nought but the company of their own kind (men, almost always; rough, always; hard-working and hard-playing, to the last one) they have a tradition of blowing off steam in any way they can, so as to avoid more serious trouble on board. One of the favorites, especially for work, is the sea-chanty - a song known by all, sung to keep the pace of a job or the pace of drinking in shoreside bars, or (best yet) to upset the living snot out of any 'dainty landlubber types' whose daughters one is after.

I've never been a sailor. I've known several, however, and have never failed to ask them to teach me all the chantys they knew, the raunchier the better. This is one of my favorites; it has many versions and verses, but apparently comes to me handed down through time from the men of the British Royal Navy in the days of sail. I was taught several verses by a friend in early high school; he was in the U.S. Navy (as a submariner) and he gifted me with a tape recording of one more popularly known version of this song - sung by those hard-drinking bastards the Sex Pistols. Ever since that now-lost tape, I have (with friends) used this tune to while away road miles, or pages of a draft, or (in homage to the men who passed it on) pints in the pub. I present to you as many verses as I have found (sometimes under the title The Good Ship Venus). Note that there is no particular order to these, save the first one; the song is usually introduced with the verse that serves as prologue to this writeup. The 'Good Ship Venus' must have been a rough old tub, and sailors everywhere hoist pints to its gallant crew - many of whom are remembered here. Many of the verses offer insight into the life of the sailor. I'll annotate what I'm able.

Note: if you've never had the pleasure of having heard this sung, here are a few tips.

  • It must be sung with and under the influence of beer, grog or other nautical-type beverages (unless you're driving).
  • It must be sung by a group.
  • Every last one of that group, the worthless beggars, must belt out the words as lustily as possible. Arr.
  • The tune? Well, if you don't know the tune, you have a couple options. First, just chant it (it's a chanty, remember?) and the tune will make itself clear. Two, you can find a copy of the Sex Pistols version and use that. Three, if you really must know, check the bottom of this writeup.
  • Unless you are run out of the bar, screamed at to shut up from a darkened window, or have rotten fruit and vegetables tossed at you, you aren't doing it right.
I'll try to intersperse verses of the song with any relevant information. For those of you already three sheets to the wind, ignore anything from henceforth that isn't in italics. Arr!!!!! Let's open with the beginning again, and note that the chorus must be sung between each verse.

Frigging in the Rigging

'Twas on the good ship Venus
By Christ you should have seen us
The figurehead was a whore in bed
And the mast a throbbing penis.

The Sex Pistols version ends "With the mast a fucking penis." Use whichever. Note that with sailors, the two most important things on liberty were women and booze, not necessarily in that order. Whores figure prominently. Oh yeah; Anthrax later recorded a version in homage to the Sex Pistols in which roadies replace sailors.

Chorus:
Frigging in the rigging
frigging in the rigging.
Frigging in the rigging
there was fuck-all else to do.

Variant:
Frigging in the rigging
Wanking on the planking
Masturbating in the grating
there was fuck-all else to do.

This reflects the severe boredom that characterizes much of a seaman's life, and is universally bitched about - until, that is, the few moments of sheer terror cause them to become dearly wished-for days.

The captain of that lugger
He was a dirty bugger.
He wasn't fit to shovel shit
From one place to another.

Variant:
The Captain of this starker
He wept to leave his mother
He wasn't fit to shovel shit
From one place to another

A 'lugger' is in insulting name for a ship, meaning essentially a small fishing boat, with associated reek.

The bosun's name was Carter
A very musical farter
He could fart anything from "God Save the King"
To Beethoven's "Sonatas."

Douglas Morgan notes in his book (see bottom) that Carter might have even been the equal of

"...Joseph Pujol, Le Petomane. Pujol,born in Marseilles, France, in 1857, achieved fame and fortune on the Parisian stage by virtue of his ability to take in as much as two quarts of air through his anus and then expel it at will. Over the course of a 90-minute act, Pujol would use his skill at controlled farting to blow out candles, play popular tunes, and even do impressions of celebrities of the day."

The snottie was a chipper
Pernicious little nipper.
They stuffed his ass with broken glass
And circumcised the skipper.

This is a long-standing joke. A 'snottie' is a Midshipman or other young, probationary officer - someone who hasn't yet grown into the dainty mannerisms and resultant reputation for homosexuality and pederasty that the enlisted men cheerfully hang on officers everywhere - at least, when they're not around. The skipper, of course, would have priority rights to any new young boys.*

The captain's name was Morgan
By Christ he was a gorgon
And every day sweet tunes he'd play
On his reproductive organ.

The captain's wife was Charlotte
She was a natural harlot
All through the night her thighs shone white
By morning they were scarlet.

Given the cap'n's history as a seaman (if he's a proper skipper) then his wife must be assumed to have those qualities held most dear to seamen - namely, promiscuous and cheap. There also seems to be debate as to whether the daughter or wife was Charlotte or Mabel. However, after either's verse, the following works:

While crossing the equator
The crew did elevate her
She bared her ass on the topmost mast
And dared the crew to mate her.

Which, no doubt, contributed to:

The captain's daughter Mabel
Lay on the wardroom table
And all the crew would come and screw
As oft as they were able.

Variant:
The Captain's Wife was Mabel
To screw she was not able
They nailed her tits (those dirty shits)
right to the captain's table.

God help women who weren't compliant. The latter variant is from the boys. As this verse in particular illustrates, many of these rhymes are quite famous on their own as limericks!

The captain's other daughter
Once fell in deep sea water
Delighted squeals revealed the eels
Had found her sexual quarter.

Note: StrawberryFrog notes that some teachings of this verse end in "She gave a squeal as an eel / entered her sexual quarter."

Variant:
The captain had a daughter
What fell in deep sea water
The sharks all came and to her shame
Devoured her sexual quarter.

The engineer was Cooper
By Christ he was a trooper
He jerked and jerked until he worked
Himself into a stupor.

Cooper's profession, of course, marks him as a relatively recent historical addition. Alternately, however, that first line may have been garbled. As the carpenter was called 'Chips' with near universality on ships of the RN, Cooper might refer to the ship's cooper - both solid and liquid stores were kept in barrels. On a large enough ship, maintaining, building and reclaiming them might have taken up one or more mens' time.

The cook's name was O'Malley
He didn't dilly-dally
He shot his bolt with such a jolt
It whitewashed half the galley.

That wasn't the only cook around, though:

A cook whose name was Davey
Was cashiered from the Navy
He dipped the bread inside the head
And served it up as gravy.

Whoohoo! We can add scat jokes to the list. But we're not done with the cook yet: (Danger, disgusting!)

The ship's cook's name was Freeman
He was a dirty demon
He fed the crew on menstrual stew
And hymens fried in semen

...ew. That one is also care of StrawberryFrog, who waxes nostalgically about drinking with engineers in uni.

The first mate's name was Andy
By Christ he had a dandy
'Til they crushed his cock with broken rock
For coming in the brandy.

This likely happened because...

Variant:
The bosun's mate was Andy
A Portsmouth man and randy
He used to cool his favorite tool
In a glass of the skipper's brandy.

Or:

The first mate was a nigger
Who thought that his was bigger
He tried to screw a .22
And some cunt pulled the trigger

Note that in this case, the use of the term 'cunt' is as that of Scottish slang, roughly equivalent to the English 'bloke' but with a somewhat obscene edge. Given the wording here, I'd recommend caution before belting out that last verse.

The coxswain's name was Hopper
By Christ he had a whopper
Twice 'round the deck, once 'round his neck
Then up his own ass for a stopper.

Buggery (note: as distinct from homosexuality; see the verse on Buenos Aires below) was a constant subject of fear, practice and jokes, obviously.

The ship's dog's name was Rover
The whole crew did him over
They ground and ground that faithful hound
From Shanghai back to Dover.

Not even the mascot was safe! Nor only the dog:

The ship's cat's name was Kitty
Her cunt was black and shitty
But shit or not, she had a twat
And the Captain knew no pity.

...that heartless bastard.

'Twas in the Adriatic
Where the water's almost static
The rise and fall of ass and ball
Was almost automatic.

Even in calm seas, the boat was rockin.' Don't bother knockin'! The weather and location were a favorite thing to work in, so:

While sailing on the ocean
We'd often get a notion
In cold and heat to beat our meat
With a peculiar motion.

Sailing on the Sargasso
To make the doldrums pass, Oh
We'd launch a spree of buggery
Upon each other's ass'oles.

On a call at Buenos Aires
We buggered all the fairies
We got the syph at Tenerife
And the clap in the Canaries.

Ah, what we'll do for a rhyme...Tenerife is, in fact, the largest of the Canary Islands, and was a habitual stopover for European ships in the days of sail on their way to the New World. Note the distinction between casual buggery and homosexuality. To quote a character from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash: "They're het, man, but they're pirates. They'll take a whack at anything that's warm and concave."

We knew sooner or later
Approaching the equator
That every Jack would have a whack
At turning fornicator.

Well, at least they were egalitarian about who was bottom.

Each sailor lad's a brother
To each and one another
We'd take great pains at our daisy-chains
Whilst writing home to mother.

sniff...oh, the cameraderie! Daisy-chain here might mean the habit of each man pleating his mate's sailor's queue since haircuts were infrequent...or, of course, well...

And when we reached our station
And to our great elation
The ship was sunk in a sea of spunk
From mutual masturbation.

Shit, my beer's empty. Oi! Barman! A round o' bitters and yer daughters, mate!


The tune:
Here's the opening of the song with accompanying chords noted in parens. My original version has been declared INCORRECT by DonJaime, who has provided the one below, for which my unmusical self is grateful!

'Twas (C)on the good ship Ve-nus
By (C)Christ you should have seen us
The (C)figurehead was a (F)whore in bed
And the (G)mast a throbbing (C)penis.

Chorus:
(C)Frigging in the (G)rigging,
(F)frigging in the (C)rigging,
(C)Frigging in the (F)rigging,
there was (G)fuck-all (C)else to do.


Sources:

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