Torturing Literature Students

The Nantucket whaling ship, Essexwas attacked by an 85 foot bull sperm whale, November 20, 1820.  Two of the three whaleboats were off on Nantucket sleighrides (being pulled by harpooned whales.)  A damaged third boat was aboard being repaired by First-Mate Owen Chase.  Crewman made Chase aware of the enormous whale circling the ship.  The bull rammed the ship along the starboard bow and smacked the length of the vessel with its powerful tail.  Chase hesitated with his harpoon in fear of losing the rudder.  The whale circled to the bow again and accelerated like Chase had never seen:

Nantucket sleighride

I turned around and saw him about one hundred rods (550 yards) directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed, and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship.”

Actual crew sketch of the final moments

The Essex sank quickly 3,000 miles from the coast of South America and 1,200 miles from the nearest group of islands.  Fear of cannibals forced the three small boats to build makeshift sails and make for South America.  A majority of the crewmen were at sea for 95 days.  Seven members were consumed after their deaths.  All of the survivors eventually went back to sea.  Their exploits became legend in the Nantucket whaling community- passed down through the years- eventually to part-time sailor, Herman Melville.  Literature students have regretted this day since……

Call me Owen Chase

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Filed under Book Review, Ephemera

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