Various sea adventure stories are built around the theme of the young boy from a small village who feels dissatisfied with hum-drum village life and dreams of going to sea and living a life of adventure and romance... and by hook or crook does it. But if you know anything of the history of old-time sailing ships, you understand that life aboard them was often anything but romantic, and whatever adventure there may have been was not generally the sort you'd really want.
A young lad who went off to sea most generally began as a cabin boy. In Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling describes the job as "cook's helper an' everything else aboard that's too dirty for the men." Famous names like Nelson and Drake began their illustrious careers as cabin boys.
What started me off writing this song was happening across the 1954 film Long John Silver (a.k.a. Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island), starring Robert Newton, the actor who gave us the "talk like a pirate" accent. There is a scene aboard the ship of the evil Spanish pirate "Mendozer" (Mendoza) in which Long John Silver (Newton) is cutting a dirty deal when the grog runs out. Mendoza calls for the cabin boy, who turns out to be none other than young Jim Hawkins, Long John's protegé from Treasure Island, who has been kidnapped and pressed into service on the pirate vessel, against which he staunchly rebels.
Not wanting Mendoza to see that he knows Jim, Silver abuses him roundly and has him flung from the cabin. As Jim collapses in misery at the foot of the stairs leading to the deck, thinking his friend has turned on him, Newton's voice is heard in the background delivering a classic line: "Cabin boys - none of 'em be any good!" And from those few seconds of film came another of my "new old sea songs".
The scene and that line got me to thinking about those sea adventure stories, and I thought it might be fun to write a song retelling the story of the "boy who ran away to sea" story from the point of view of the boy himself, in a letter back home to Mother, in which he bemoans his folly and misery. Sounds like a pretty dismal song, doesn't it? Well, I don't think you'll find yourself depressed by the end result. And beside, you know how boys will exaggerate to get sympathy!
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