Long have sea shanties been used to pass the time and act as a balm to soothe weary souls. Beaten down by the isolation, misery, and torpor of their lives, the merry tunes keep morale high for those who are at sea for months or years at a time. Sea shanties have been sung for hundreds of years by seafaring folk from all walks of life; pirates have sung them, officers of the British Navy have sung them, Vikings have sung them, and now the internet is singing them.
Recently, the melancholy lethargy of the year has been buoyed by “The Wellerman,” a sea shanty with its origins in 19th century New Zealand whaling practices. Ever since first appearing on TikTok, the song has gone viral and caused an explosion of interest in sea shanties, bringing people together out of the same common need to lift their spirits. Here are the nautical television series that create the same sense of camaraderie, hopefulness, and joy that sea shanties bring to everyone.
Calling all scalawags, scabrous seadogs, and bilge-rats! Black Sails is the pirate series ye’ve been waiting for. It primarily focuses on a young Captain Flint, whose buried treasure is at the center of Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece “Treasure Island,” as well as the infamous John Silver, who sought to claim it for himself. Other characters from Stevenson’s novel include Billy Bones and Ben Gunn, and there are historical figures included, like Anne Bonny and Blackbeard.
The legendary figures find themselves with the British Navy and Spanish Armada at their rudders during the Golden Age of piracy, when the West Indies was teaming with cutthroats and thieves trying to plunder and pillage their next fortunes. Many sea shanties are sung over the course of its three exciting seasons.
Based on the novels by C.S. Forester, whose seafaring bibliography includes the lauded “Master and Commander” series, Hornblower follows the idealistic and intrepid Horatio Hornblower as he works his way up from lowly midshipman to captain during the Napoleonic Wars.
The series takes place almost entirely at sea on real ships, with Hornblower and the British Navy squaring off against everything from French and Spanish armadas, to pirates and privateers. A little-known fact – Hornblower’s adventures provided the inspiration for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series.
On the Bahamian island known as New Providence, the tyrannical Blackbeard rules a band of cutthroats that control the tropical paradise full of marauders, mercenaries, and thieves. The unique outpost threatens international shipping lanes, so a young undercover assassin is assigned by the British government to take down Blackbeard’s operation.
Eventually, the hitman becomes charmed by the infamous pirate’s political savvy and philosophical ideas, as well as a beautiful woman, and his mission may be compromised. Full of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, swordfights, and colorful characters, it’s a shame Crossbones only had one season!