Songs: Allen Estes’ “Not with Ya Hands”
Folk musician Allen Estes, who settled in Gloucester via Nashville, and has opened for many of the greats (Bonnie Raitt, J. Geils, Tim McGraw, America, Kenny Chesney, Tricia Yearwood), wrote Ya Row With Ya Heart Not With Ya Hands about the city’s greatest legend, Howard Blackburn.
You know the story.
In 1883 Blackburn left Gloucester harbor on the fishing schooner Grace L. Fears. While fishing in seine boats (small fishing boats that drag nets around the schooner) Blackburn and his partner lost the main ship when a storm surprised them.
Determined not to accept his certain fate, Blackburn started rowing. After two days his partner died in front of him. When Blackburn realized his own hands would soon be completely frostbitten he tied them to the oars so that he could still keep rowing even if he couldn’t feel them.
Blackburn rowed for five days straight and eventually landed on a beach in Newfoundland. He lost all his fingers and some toes. After he recovered, he came home to Gloucester to open a saloon, but he didn’t settle down. Blackburn went panning for gold in California. When that didn’t work out, he sailed solo across the Atlantic.
Solo. Without hands.
In 1901 he sailed to Portugal — solo again. On a later adventure he sailed down the Mississippi and up the Eastern Seaboard.
Blackburn’s Tavern, now Halibut Point, is still a warm place to go for a beer and a bowl of chowder on Main Street. The walls are covered with photos of Blackburn.
But this song, which Estes performs all over town, truly keeps the legend alive. When Estes — along with his Souls of the Sea band — starts playing, every Cape Anner starts stomping their feet, and knows just when to call out, “ho!”
▶︎ For more information on Allen Estes, visit his website.