Tag Archives: whaling

What I did on my summer vacation…


What did I do on my summer vacation?
I threw a whaling harpoon.
“Excuse me,  You did what?” you say.
Let me go back to the beginning.

Last week my family spent a day at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic, CT.  This outing was my husband’s idea.  I get motion-sick at the very thought of the ocean, so I figured it would be a day consisting of me holding the camera while my family scrambled over various boats, but this beauty immediately got my attention.Charles W Morgan side view

This is the Charles W. Morgan–the last wooden whaling ship in the world.  That’s right.  A whaling ship!  The last one in the world!  The Morgan is the flagship of Mystic Seaport.  You can understand how memories of Moby-Dick came flooding back.  I was so excited to see a real whaling ship that I didn’t even care we couldn’t board her.  You see, the Morgan is not young, and she’s undergoing some serious repairs to be ready for her launch later this month.  To learn about the restoration of the whaling vessel, click here.

Charles W Morgan

After admiring the Morgan my enthusiasm for ships grew and I snatched the map from my hubby, insisting that we head over to a dock where a whale boat demonstration would be taking place, complete with sea chantey singing.

whaling boat

Each member of the demonstration team spoke about what his position entailed: from officer to harpooneer.
I even got a chance to take a turn in Queequeg’s spot.


As soon as the demonstration was over, I played tour guide in the Whaleboat Exhibit and showed my children some of the tools of the trade.whaling cutting tools

Have you ever seen the beef or pork diagrams near the meat counter of your grocery store?  The ones that show the various cuts of meat?  Here’s one for sperm whales.

whale diagram

The next part of my Moby-Dick immersion experience was in the cooper’s shop.  A cooper is the shipyard’s barrel maker.  You know from reading Melville that whale oil was stored in wooden barrels and that the cooper was one of the highest paid positions on the ship.  Mystic Seaport’s cooper was hired to make all of the wooden containers to outfit the Morgan: everything from large barrels used to store whale oil to small ones used to scoop up gallons of spermaceti from the whale’s head.  The carpenter excitedly shared that last week while he was recycling old barrel parts found in the attic of his shop, he had an experience with whale oil.  Yep.  One hundred year old whale oil came oozing out of the wood in the hot summer sun.  Amazing.cooper

We spent the rest of the day engrossed in the ship-building community, keeping a close eye on the time because at 4:30pm, I got to do this…

Christine harpoon

and then this

Christine throwing harpoon

I speared that floating hula-hoop with all of my might and readied myself for a Nantucket sleigh ride.

And that’s how I got to throw a whaling harpoon on my summer vacation.


Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Moby-Dick


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Whaling Woes

Crime and Punishment is eating up all my reading time, and the titles are starting to pile up on my nightsand.  As soon as I close the book on Raskolnikov, this is what I’ll be reading …

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

You remember Philbrick.  He wrote Why Read Moby-Dick?  He was a featured expert in the PBS special “Into the Deep”.

I am not a huge fan of nonfiction.  When we finally finish the WEM novels and dive into autobiographies and histories, I’ll be as lost at sea as Ishmael was after the sinking of the Pequod.

But, I did read Why Read Moby-Dick?  and I enjoyed Philbrick’s style of writing.  I also liked watching/listening to him on the PBS film.  Months ago I put In the Heart of the Sea  on hold at the library, but library books have to be returned, and I have a five hundred page novel I’m supposed to be reading.  My husband saved the day when he picked up a used copy for me.  Maybe I’ve talked enough about whaling to interest him in the topic.

In the Heart of the Sea…  It’s what’s on my nightstand.

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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Thar She Blows!

All hands on deck!  I spy more whales!
It’s time to share another used book sale find!

The book is called Tenggren’s Pirates, Ships, and Sailors.  Written by Kathryn and Byron Jackson, it’s ”A Golden Book” that was originally published in 1950.  Gustaf Tenggren is the illustrator.

The copy I found is from 1971 and with a cover like this… well, the book had to come home with me.

Pirates, Ships, and Sailors is heavy on the pirates, ships, and sailors, but I did find the following whaling poem with this fantastic illustration.

The Whale, the Whale
by Kathryn and Byron Jackson

 “Leave the salt sea to me!”
Says the whale.
Chase him–he’ll break up your boats                                Blowing his spout,
With his tail.                                                                       Rolling and tolling, big as a ship,
Seek him–he’ll hide                                                           With a whale of a smile
In the depths of the sea,                                                   On his whale of a lip!
Deep in the shadowy, fathomless sea,                             Sing out, “She blows!”
Down with the trembling anemone,                                  And then look out–
Down with the wrecks of ships                                         He’ll disappear with a flip of his tail,
He’ll hide.                                                                          “My terrible tail,”
Under the waves,                                                              Says the terrible whale.
Under the tide,                                                                  And he may come up twenty miles away,
“Deep in the dark salt sea!”                                              Or half a world,
Says the whale.                                                                Or a year and a day,
“Leave it to me, the dark salt sea;                                    Or never again in the bright salt sea.
Leave the salt sea to me!”                                                “It just might be,
Start for home, and he’ll rise again                                   You’ll never see me again in the sea!”
Up to the surface,                                                             Says the whale.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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A Needed Whaling Break

Last weekend my children and I dashed to our local library’s used book sale.  My three know the routine.  Mom will help you dig through the children’s books and then you will patiently wait with your books in hand while she rummages through the grown-up titles.  You may even read your desired purchases while sitting under the very tables mom is perusing.

This time I struck out in the adult books, but look what my middle child found in the kids’ section.

“Mom, you need this.”

The book’s flyleaf says:

“Carol Carrick brings the golden age of American whaling to life in her detailed, tightly written text that traces the history of the whaling industry to the present day.  David Frampton’s woodcut illustrations portray the awesome power and beauty of the whales.” 

He was right!  I did need this book.  It’s not only informative but beautiful.  I wish I’d read it before starting Moby-Dick.  It would have helped me understand all of Melville’s whaling terminology.  I especially love this illustration.  Each of the sections of the ship above and below deck are labeled.  Remember the cutting room?

Who would have thought that I’d be happy to return to whaling in the middle of reading Madame Bovary


Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Moby-Dick in Uncle Tom’s Cabin?

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would read about whaling in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  DId you catch the reference in chapter XXXVI?

Poor Tom has been beaten and tossed in the waste-room of the gin-house.  Simon Legree goes to see if Tom has been “broken-in” and is ready to obey his master’s every order.

     “Well, my boy,” said Legree, with a contemptuous kick, “how do you find yourself?  Didn’t I tell yer I could larn yer a thing or tow?  How do yer like it–eh?  How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom?  An’t quite so crank as ye was last night.  Ye couldn’t treat a poor sinner, now, to a bit of sermon, could ye, –eh?”

How did yer whaling agree with yer, Tom?
Tom is the whale?

What a terrible image!

PS–Did you make a note that Legree spent time on a ship in his youth?  The plantation owner has some monomaniacal tendencies, like Ahab, don’t you think?


Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Moby-Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin


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Triple Word Tyro

tyro – n. a beginner

Classic Usage:  Melville knew his audience, we’re just a bunch of whaling amateurs.  We can hardly argue with him when he labels us, “At any time it is a strange sight to the tyro to see with what wondrous habitude of unconscious skill the whaleman will maintain an erect posture in his boat . . . “

Classically Mad Usage:  Despite numerous online games of Lexulous with my mother, I’m afraid I will appear quite a tyro this evening while playing Scrabble with Jeannette.  I sure hope my new vocabulary knowledge helps me.


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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