“On a Rocking Boat” and Dylan’s love of sailing

By Tony Attwood

Here’s an interesting song – a piece that Heylin acknowledges as being recorded in 1981, and one that he obviously had heard since he has clearly had access to those tapes, but upon which he doesn’t appear to have a word to say.

To be fair, it is hardly a major song, and not one that I would feel inclined to include on the “Dylan’s forgotten gems” page – it is forgotten, but not exactly a gem in my estimation.  However it did turn up on an unofficial bootleg album with the rather fine name “Between Saved And Shot” from Dandelion in 1999.


(In case this source ever goes down there is another source of the same recording at the end of this review – with the picture of Dylan in a little boat)

It is a very simple three chord song and an oft repeated one line chorus “Oh on a rocking boat”.  And beyond that it is hard to find much background or make too much out of the words – I suspect even Larry is going to struggle on this one – but Larry you are very welcome to try!

But we do know (at least I think we know) that Dylan had a boat because he says in Chronicles “My sixty-three foot sailboat had hit a reef in Panama…In the ten years I had her my family and I had sailed the entire Caribbean and spent time on every island from Martinique to Barbados.”

One writer on ybw.com adds the note that “His boat was a very pretty schooner called ‘Water Pearl’ – she had been built on the beach in Bequia in the Grenadines.  I often saw her sailing in the Grenadines in the early 80’s, and later heard that she had been lost – very sad. ”

In all I think that the suggestion that Bob did indeed sail a boat in the Caribbean is actually more interesting than the song.  So looking around a bit further I found this advert for properties in the area…

“Enamoured with the seafaring history of Bequia, the gem in the necklace of the Grenadines, Bob Dylan in the early 1980’s built his boat there, ‘Water Pearl’, using traditional wooden boat building methods….

“Situated 15 minutes from Port Elizabeth, Bequia’s capital, a mere golf cart journey from its own airport, Adams Bay Luxury Beach Club is set to be the Caribbean’s finest residential and vacation enclave.”

Searching further I then found a web site with a lot more about Bob’s time sailing the Caribbean.  Obviously I can’t vouch for what is on the site, but if you have an interest in the origins of “Caribbean Wind” and what Dylan was doing at the time, this is fascinating stuff.


The site does have this comment in terms of the end of the Water Pearl as well as some pictures of Bob on other boats including a couple taken off the coast of Oslo of all places (not highly recommended for gentle relaxing sailing!).

Chris Bowman was on his way to the Pacific for a long cruise “financed by Bob Dylan” when disaster struck – near the Panama Canal, at about 4a.m.

Instead of heaving to and waiting for dawn, he tried to enter the harbour, missed the entrance and piled up on the beach.

It seems that he could not organize a salvage tug in time and the Water Pearl slowly broke up over six days.

And if you want to know about Bequia there is an article from a popular English newspaper on the island here.

Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?

You are of course always welcome to write a comment below, but if you’d like to go further, you could write an alternative review – we’ve already published quite a few of these.  We try to avoid publishing reviews and comments that are rude or just criticisms of what is written elsewhere – but if you have a positive take on this song or any other Dylan song, and would like it considered for publication, please do email Tony@schools.co.uk

What else is on the site

1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews




  1. I got a rockin’ boat
    She got a rock on the stern
    Five feet seven, don’t how it’ll work
    Oh, oh, on a rockin’ boat
    Can’t you even learn by the way she drives
    Oh back-seater, man alive
    Oh, oh , on a rockin’ boat

  2. The story of this boat is now set out in a book called “Me, the Boat, and a Guy Named Bob” by C.E. Bowman.

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