While whalers had many jobs on the ship, their main purpose was to man the whaleboats and hunt whales. (Take the link for a picture of the whaleboat.) The ship cruised looking for signs of these giant creatures. When a spout was seen, the Captain maneuvered the ship closer and the whaleboats were launched, each with six crewmen. An officer steered the boat in the back. The harpooner took the front thwart. The remaining four seats were taken by the other men and, in our case, a woman. If you were Ann, you would have the middle rowing position with two rowers behind you and two in front, each with his own thwart, and each staggered right and left. When rowing, they faced aft; when paddling, they faced forward. This is what you’ve learned. This is what you are here for.
“There he blows!” A whale’s spout is seen! The ship is hove to; you take your position at the side of the ship, over your whaleboat; the whaleboats are lowered; and, at command, you jump into your boat. Facing aft, you take your oar, set it in the oarlock, and on your officers order lean forward, dip your oar, and PULL! Adrenaline pumps into you and excitement spurs you on. Gradually, the wearisome leaning and pulling takes over and, staring at the rope wound up in a tub just on the other side of the seat before you, you live just for the next stroke. As you pull, you feel that rope, for it winds out of its tub, around the logger head beside the officer, and forward over every oar. As it rubs your wrist when you pull the oar, you think about the harpoon to which it is tied; and you realize again why you are here. You breath…dip…lean forward…lower the oar to the water and pull…again!
Suddenly, you hear a distant “SHHHHH!”…like the sound of steam engine starting. Your ears perk up and you listen more closely. “SHHHHH!” There it is again…CLOSER…a whale breathing…the sound of power. Who are you to battle a beast maybe 5 times longer than the boat…a monster that could smash you and your friends out of existence with one swipe of his tail!
“Peak oars!” whispers the officer; and you raise your oar out of the water. With his steering oar, he suddenly changes the direction of the boat. The sound of water breaking is behind you at the front of the boat. You strain to get a peek. Something BIG and black is just in front of the little whaleboat. Your muscles tense; your eyes pop open; you can’t breathe; you turn back. “Let him have it!” yells the officer. The grunt of the harpooner says he launched the harpoon. Almost in unison with the grunt, the line that rubbed your wrist begins to shoot forward and out the front of the boat.
You are attached the whale!
Tune in next month to see what happens.