original lyrics

Guano Gold

© Richard Ridley

Oh let me tell you a sailor’s tale by a man who’s been to sea
We sailed down the coast and around the Horn to a place called Chimbote
Now there did lay a cargo for any man’s to be
So we loaded up the hatches and sailed from Chimbote

Oh once we was a sailing, deadly cargo in the hold
Men die fast, can one man last, turn guano into gold

Our ship was called Gold Champion, we rounded the cape of Horn
But the weather was against us, and blowing up a storm
All hands made fast as the yardarm swung, in the justice of the sea we hung
And the captain cried “I’ll have your tongues if you don’t get us round the Horn”


We battled on and soon the storm blew over and away
At the count of the crew our captain knew that all but three were saved
But the pox was quick and deadly and feared by all the men
And on arrival in the Channel the death toll numbered ten


The customs men did board us and saw the murderous pox
They set up total quarantine, no access to the docks
So bravely setting out again for speed they hauled full sail
But the weather was against her and blowing up a gale


All hands fought hard to handle her so weakened by the pox
The sea became the stronger and put her on the rocks
Rejected by their countrymen at the mercy of the sea
The sailors of Gold Champion from that day ceased to be


So how, my friends, you may well ask can I sing this tale to you
When I should have died in agony with all my fellow crew
A customs man, a careless knave, did chance to walk my way
I cudgelled him and took his clothes, he went to a watery grave


As an 18 year old Engineer Cadet in 1971 I sailed through the Panama Canal down the west coast of South America. Off the coast of Peru I spotted a small white island that looked like the top of a snow-capped mountain. The white droppings from sea birds were used as fertiliser—“more precious than gold”. Mined on the Lobos and Chincha islands the guano was stolen and shipped to Britain. It was so precious Peru and Spain had a war over it! Whilst on leave after that trip I saw an episode of the BBC drama “The Onedin Line” where the Gold Champion went to steal a load of guano. They sailed around Cape Horn because the Panama Canal was yet to be built.—Richard

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