Dan “Dano” Quinn grew up with a father who loved to tell jokes and ballad-style stories, sometimes in a faux Cockney accent.
So it’s not surprising that Quinn grew up to become a storyteller himself. The 55-year-old ship captain is a four-time winner of Seattle’s annual Stories of the Sea competition, captivating audiences with his comical, ribald rhyming poems of hijinks on the high seas.
Quinn is now sharing his tall tales on a broader scale through his recently released CD “Slightly Salty! Sea Stories, Tall Tales and Outright Lies.” The dozen original stories, written over the past decade, tell of shipwrecks and pirates, of green young sailors and scallywags — good for listening during a road trip or ideally, Quinn says, onboard on a chilly evening while enjoying a rum toddy.
If Quinn’s delivery seems effortless, it’s likely because he’s long loved telling jokes and eventually found his way to rhyming poems.
“I just always thought it was a fun way to tell stories,” he says.
Audio extra| “Hawaii Blues.” Performed live at the 2011 Stories of the Sea.[audio:http://threesheetsnw.com/audio/danoquinn2011.mp3|titles=Haswaii Blues]
A lifelong reader, Quinn was inspired by English poet and writer John Masefield, whose best-known works include “Sea-Fever” (“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky … “), and Robert Service, an England-born writer who lived in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush and became known as “the Bard of the Yukon.”
Reading the two poets’ works gave Quinn the idea to give rhyming storytelling a try, and Stories of the Sea provided the impetus to begin writing. His stories often start with the kernel of a joke or anecdote he’s heard somewhere. If it’s not maritime-themed, it soon will be. Embellishment, as the CD title makes clear, is a given.
While there’s an “element of truth” in all his stories, Quinn says, “If I just told a straight story, it’s not going to be as humorous.”
Several poems on the CD include nods to the Northwest, including “Changes,” an wry lament on the gentrification of Seattle’s waterfront and surrounding areas.
“The folks that thought the fleet so quaint when they moved into the ‘hood now want those rusty hulks to move; it’s for the common good,” Quinn recites. “There’s 20 different restaurants and a lot of little shops, but no place to get your welding done or fix a dinged-up prop.
“I thought I saw a little place where I could get some bait, but it’s just too damned expensive when it’s called a sushi plate.”
The one serious poem on the CD is “Yearning,” in which Quinn speaks of the powerful pull of the sea: “They say you can never go back but I sure would like to try, to cross an ocean under sail again before I die.”
It’s a tug that endures for Quinn, who is currently the captain of Wilderness Discoverer, a 76-passenger cruise ship that travels to quiet anchorages in southeast Alaska. He grew up in Connecticut and spent 15 years working on tall ships before moving to Seattle with his wife and their son. He’s crossed the Pacific several times, sailed through the Panama Canal and on the Great Lakes.
And after 35 years of working on ships, Quinn says, it still hasn’t gotten old.
“I still love what I do,” he says. “I still think it’s a pretty romantic lifestyle. I get paid to do something I enjoy doing. You can’t beat that.”
“Slightly Salty! Sea Stories, Tall Tales and Outright Lies” is available at Captain’s Nautical Supplies in Seattle or by emailing Dano Quinn at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $12, plus $3 for shipping. Quinn is also available for parties and events.