Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World

Given all the attention I’m giving to the Morgan, it’s a great time to plug this fantastic PBS documentary – which gives a very detailed look at the history of American whaling, what conditions were like on vessels, and also the story of the wreck of the Essex (the tragedy on which the climax of Moby Dick was based).  Occasionally, this is available to stream online (though not at this writing).

The Charles W. Morgan

My tour included visits to the main deck, Captain’s quarters, blubber room (pictured, where barrels of whale oil would have been stored), and the iron tryworks (where oil was rendered from blubber).  It’s hard to imagine being at sea on a ship like this for years at a time.  Short people definitely had an advantage.  The final photo is a shot from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, where you can see the Morgan and USS Constitution moored at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Charles W. Morgan – Dockside Exhibit

The Charles W. Morgan is the last remaining vessel in the once prolific Yankee whaling fleet.  During her 38th voyage, she is stopping at historic ports in New England, including Boston (via the Charlestown Navy Yard).  The dockside exhibits, all fantastic, include an [to scale] inflatable sperm whale, demonstrations of barrel-making and coppersmith, coloring, sailor tattoos, and lots of history.  The Morgan usually resides in Mystic, CT.

Map and b&w photo by Mystic Seaport

Moby Dick Big Read

“Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that. It is a representation of evil incarnate in an animal – and the utter perfidy of that notion. Of a nature transgressed and transgressive – and of one man’s demonic pursuit, a metaphorical crusade that even now is a shorthand for overweening ambition and delusion.

The Moby Dick Big Read is an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.”


Reading this lately…

“In such a silent flight, the sperm whale could not be outdistanced.  More than any other marine mammal, it is a master of the sea.  Using its muscle-bound tail, it can power its way thousands of feet below, its paddle-shaped flippers tucked into its flanks as neatly as an aeroplane’s undercarriage.  And once below, it can stay down for up to two hours.  To achieve this feat, a whale must spend much of its time breathing at the surface – its ‘spoutings out’. as the sailors called them – taking some sixty to seventy breaths in ten or eleven minutes.”

“…the Sperm Whale only breathes about one seventh or Sunday of his time” – The Fountain, Moby Dick