One of the many fine ghost stories of the sea, this song can be found from Maine to Newfoundland. Thanks to Valentine Doyle and Dick Swain for helping me remember it.
The story that I heard was that the schooner Haskell, out of Gloucester, was anchored near George's when a sudden gale parted her ground tackle and she went charging, bare-poled, down through the fleet. She cut the schooner Johnston almost in two, killing all her men. On every voyage thereafter, a crew would appear on her deck at night and go through the motions of fishing. After a few trips, no crew would even sign on her, and she rotted at the wharf.
Gordon & cellamba
You may smile if you've a mind to, but perhaps you'll lend an ear
We've been boy and man together, close on for forty year
I've sailed across these waters from Western Banks to Grand
And in some herring vessels that hailed from Newfoundland.
I've seen some storms, I tell you, where things looked kind of blue
But somehow I was lucky, and always did come through
But I'll not brag, however: I'm not so much, but then
I'm not much easier frightened than most of other men.
This one dark night I speak of, we were offshore a ways
I never will forget it in all my mortal days
When in the darkness of my watch I felt a chilling dread
That bore me down as if I'd heard a calling from the dead.
Then o'er the rail they climbed, all silent, one by one
A dozen dripping sailors – just wait till I have done -
And on the deck they assembled, but not a voice was heard
They moved about together there, but never said a word.
Their faces, pale and sea-wet shone ghostly through the night
And each one took his station as if he had a right
And Eastward steered the vessel till land was just in sight
Or rather, I should say we saw the lighthouse tower's light.
And then those ghostly sailors moved to the rail again
And vanished in the morning mist before the sun of man
We sailed right up the harbor, and every mother's son
Will tell you the same story, the same as I have done.
They are the same poor sailors – I pray God rest their souls -
That our old craft ran over one night near Georges shoals
And now you have my story, to you I will confess
I have believed in spirits from that day until this.
Spirit Song of George's Bank is recorded on the album Schooners