Last port of call for the chanteyman

by on 24/02/11 at 10:43 am

Just after my last post about shanty sings, the maritime music community lost one of its more influential local Chanteymen.

Steve Lewis passed away in on February 11 in Port Townsend of cancer.  He’d been battling this for a while, and when it became obvious that it would not go away, he courageously chose to forgo chemotherapy and other treatments, and instead concentrated on living well with the time he had.  And well he did, participating in as many things as he could and leading as many shanty sings as he was able.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Steve that well, but I asked my friends Alice Winship and Wayne Palsson to give me a sense of who he was.  Said Wayne of Steve; “Steve Lewis was an avid Chanteyman.  He was immersed in chantey lore and knowledgeable of the terms used in sea songs, the use of each chantey in the work done aboard ships, and the background or history of the songs.  He could say something on every song he sung and just about every song at a chantey sing”.  I can attest to the fact that before introducing a song, he always explained it in a way that folks understood.  He always had a gentle way of speaking and a passionate turn of phrase. 

Steve made his living as an oceanographer spending time in the Arctic, and enjoyed sailing, and those experiences showed up in the songs and stories that he presented.  Steve was the mainstay of the chantey sings in Port Townsend, especially the ones he held at the Wooden Boat Show there.  On the Saturday night of the show while the town was dancing to a rock band on the main stage, we’d all crowd into a room down by the harbour to sing chanteys.  Steve held court front and center, and he would go round the room, giving anyone a chance to contribute a song or story.  There would sometimes be up to a hundred folks crowded in, and he always encouraged anyone to try, no matter what the experience or age, and they did.  Folks that may not have otherwise had the courage to sing felt free to get up and sing because he created a great environment to do so.

Steve compiled a comprehensive songbook of over 100 chanteys; not published, but always available at the shanty sings.  Quite the most comprehensive collection I’ve seen.  The books were always available for those of us who did not know or could not remember the words.  Just having words available got folks singing that otherwise may not have.

We’ll be singing him home in the way he would want it at a couple of events, one in Port Townsend, and the  other to be decided, someplace here in Seattle.

If you are interested, contact me at  for more information on either event.

Steve Lewis Left a big hole in the maritime music community in the Puget Sound and one that may not easily be filled.  He is missed already.

 ‘Til the next time,


4 Responses to “Last port of call for the chanteyman”

  1. J. Foster Fanning

    Mar 1st, 2011

    Chris, I hadn’t heard of Steve Lewis, but I appreciate you bringing his story to us though your words and those of his close friends.

  2. Tom Lewis

    Mar 2nd, 2011

    When chatting to me, Steve would often refer to himself as: “Your cousin: Steve”; and I was always more than happy to be his “cousin”.

    He was a brave and honourable man. It was my privilage to share part of his life. Tom Lewis.

  3. Ross Kane

    Mar 3rd, 2011

    I knew Steve, and his partner Lee, when they lived in Everett on a farm overlooking the Snohomish River valley.

    The dining room had a huge (maybe 8′ x15′ ?) Mercator map of the world painted on the wall.

    No matter what Steve and Lee were doing, milking goats, preserving produce, or working on a grant for for a social service agency, Steve and Lee always thought globally, but acted locally.

    Steve was one of the good guys. I will miss him.

  4. Rachel Johnson

    Jul 13th, 2012

    Steve was a great man and a wonderful grandfather (I am his granddaughter) he cared about everyone and everything; he never judged you and listen and gave great advice when needed. He loved to sail and sing and taught me how to tie knots!  We miss him dearly but his songs and memories live in us along with happy times that we will always remember. Somewhere up in the sky he’s sitting on a cloud with Lee, Hurb, and Denno watching over us. Love you and miss you always and forever.

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