Life At Sea


Explore the life of a sailor, a whaler, a fisherman and hear the songs that illustrate the life they pursued at sea.

Sing along on a shanty (work song) as we “hoist” the sails, “haul” on the lines, and stamp around the capstan. A salty lot we are as we imagine ourselves sailing around the horn on a square rigger. And just what is a press-gang, a belaying pin, a fo’c’sle, a baggywrinkle, or a shellback? Learn what it takes to cross the line and double the horn. Hear the songs mariners sang of home as they drifted in the doldrums off South America. Accompanied by his concertina, David will get the whole class, or even the whole school, singing to shake loose the sails.

Generally speaking, colonial history curriculum guides spare little attention to the sea-faring industry that literally illuminated the western world or to the iron men in wooden boats who “created great fortunes and spurred the formation and growth of a new nation.” (Eric Jay Dolin, Leviathan) David Coffin’s music-oriented “Life at Sea” fills in the gap, enhancing students' appreciation and understanding by engaging them directly in the experience of learning.

“Life at Sea” captivates students right from the outset. With his harpoon, concertina, his larger-than-life singing voice, and of course, Pierre, his trusty limber-jack, David transports you, his crew, back to 18th century Nantucket, to the days of his ancestors who settled there in 1659.

From that most famous whaling port, you and your students will travel “around the Horn” to the Pacific whaling grounds through lively anecdotes and participatory songs, all the while experiencing the history that can be learned from traditional songs the whaler-men sang as they sought to make their fortune. From the singing of traditional sea chanteys to hoist the anchor and set the sails to the dance songs sailors sang in the doldrums, you'll experience the life of a whaler-man on his three- to five-year epic voyage hunting the magnificent whales of the ocean for their precious whale-oil. It’s a perilous venture, so hang on tight when David takes you on a Nantucket Sleighride!

While pupils are thoroughly entertained by David’s engaging performance, teachers will appreciate his deftly woven core-curriculum, including

  • Vocabulary
  • Geography
  • Colonial history
  • Language arts
  • Music
  • and complementary activities and web resources

Life at Sea is customized for each audience, based on age-appropriateness of the materials. David will often includes background on Herman Melville's novel, Moby Dick, especially as it relates to the true story of the ill-fated Nantucket whale ship, Essex.

“David Coffin is a musician, performer, and music-educator of remarkable ability and insight. As a maritime specialist and descendant of some of America’s greatest seafaring families - the whaling Coffins of Nantucket - no one could be better suited to presenting the traditional songs and yarns of Yankee seafaring in the Age of Sail.”

Stuart M. Frank
New Bedford Whaling Museum