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Cape Cod There She Blows!

Whaling of old was as packed with thrills and dangers as the whale was with wanted oil. When Cape Cod and other whalers took whaleboat oars and harpoons into their hands in the hunt, they also took in them their very lives. A lively account of the chase is the following:

“There she blows! there! there! She blows! She blows!” The quiet ship which has been perhaps for days of sailing on the alert for whales, now reacts like lightning to the electrifying cries from the lookout. Every man rushes to his place, the sleek whaleboats are lowered, the men drop in each, the steersman takes his long sweeping oar, the harpooner, takes the bow oar, the word is given, the boats shove off from the side of the ship, the oars move with speed and rhythm yet quietly, and the great bulk of their prey is approached. The boats race to be first. The men, bending as one to the oars, are exhorted by their mate after this fashion:

“Sing out and say something, my hearties: Roar and pull, my thunderbolts. Beach me (land me), beach me on their black backs, boys; only do that for me, and I’ll sign over to you my Martha’s Vineyard plantation, boys: including wife and children, boys! Lay me on — lay me on! Oh, Oh! I shall go stark, staring mad!”

Backs to the bow, the oarsmen see only astern, but at last the mate shouts to the bow oar or harpooner, “Stand up, and let him have it” They are right at the whale’s side, the harpoon is hurled into the mountain of bubber, the cry “Stern all!” follows instantly, and all the oarsmen in the boat send the boat back for dear life.

And now, “Anything may happen. At best, a Nantucket sleighride, waves rushing past the whaleboats with a surging, hollow roar. `like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling green;’ the brief suspended agony of the boat as it would tip for an instant on the knife-like edge of the sharper waves, that almost seemed threatening to cut it in two; the sudden profound dip into the watery glens and hollows, the keen spurrings and goadings to attain the top of the opposite hill; the headlong, sled-like slide down its other side; ...the cries of the headsmen and harpooners… ” and the welcome sight of their ship bearing down to them “with outstretched sails, like a wild hen after her screaming brood.”

The whale is soon dispatched, and the smelly, greasy, smoky task of disposing of blubber and barreling oil is begun.

Sometimes, though, a whale would show fight, its great jaws would crush a boat like an eggshell, and the men would be sent sprawling into the bloodied seething foam, or a swift irresistible blow from its mighty flukes would make kindling wood of the boat. Sometimes the whale was the winner.

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Cape Cod
Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 02/24/06
Categories: History
Keywords: whaling, history


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