The Row Between the Boaters

© Graeme Meek 2008



Song Menu






Three boats, they were moored at the side of the cut
Where the number ones argued who had the best boat.
There was Will with the wooden and Stan with the steam
And Dan with the diesel made up the full team.

Refrain: Fol-de-rol-dee-fol-de-day.

Says Will, “You’ve got boats made of iron and steel,
They’ll rust in the water and rot to the keel.
There’s been wooden boats since the navvies’ first cut
And I don’t make my journey through smoke and through smut.”

“Besides, I’ve a donkey to pull me along.
On him I rely, he’s both gentle and strong.
When baccering, I’ve all the time to unwind.
It’s far the best motor, I think you will find.”

Says Stan, “I can run you right out of the cut
And don’t care for your lecture on smoke and on smut.
In tunnels I don’t need the leggers at all.
No horses or donkeys must heed of my call.”

“I’ll leave you a-standing right there where you’re moored.
With Dan, I am sure we are both in accord.”
But this was the only thing Dan could agree
For he owned the latest fine boat of the three.

Says Dan, “Wooden boats, in the dock spend their time
For painting and planking and clearing the grime.
But Stan, you’ve an engine the size of a shed.
It limits your cargo and earns you no bread.”

“The future’s in diesel. This Bolinder, here,
Will travel the cut, now, for many’s the year.
It takes little space, I have cargo in full
And power a-plenty, a butty to pull.”

Now all this commotion and banter so loud
Attracted a small, but a curious, crowd.
The lock keeper roused from his cottage close by
Approached with a laugh and a wink in his eye.

Says Len, the lock keeper, in jovial voice,
“You pays of your money and takes of your choice.
Each boat has its problems and benefits too.
Just choose of the boat, lads, that truly suits you.”

There was nothing more left for these boatmen to say
So off down the cut, then, they went their own way.
There was Will with the wooden and Stan with the steam
And Dan with the diesel made up the full team.

Different types of narrowboat have been used on the canals as technology has progressed. Some early wooden, horse-drawn boats, however, were still being used at the end of the canals’ commercial use in the 20th century. Steam driven boats were never very popular because of the cargo space lost to the large engine.
Diesel boats – many with the popular Swedish Bolinder single-cylinder engine – were the common form of canal transport in its later days.
Baccering – letting the horse work alone, pulling the boat
Butty – an unpowered cargo boat towed behind the main boat

Graeme Meek, who wrote the song and kindly provided the words, music and the additional information above, is a member of song duo 'Life and Times' and dance band 'Time of Your Life'. See,, &

Recorded on :