Going Whaling – Practicing the Craft

Three paragraphs of a piece on the 19th century whaling trade.

“So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale.”
old Nantucket song

George Dodge was born with saltwater in his veins. Growing up in Salem, Massachusetts, this son of the sea wandered the wharves, captivated by seamen’s tales of faraway lands. In 1831, he left home and headed for Nantucket, center of the New England whaling trade. On his arrival, he signed onto the whaler Baltic. He would not see home again for nearly four years.

On the first night at sea, the Baltic’s greenhorn hands could only wonder at what foolishness possessed them to sign on for a long voyage. Wretchedly seasick, they writhed in their cramped bunks, praying for home.

As the next days and weeks passed, the seasickness disappeared but the reality of life onboard a whaler hit home. The mate used a cat-o-nine tails on their backs, and every day was spent in the constant practice of lowering and raising the boats, and learning to handle the long oars. Soon, they settled into the tedium of the long voyage, or what old salts called the “sailor’s horror” .



Northwest Whalers courtesyNorthwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s ‘The North American Indian’: the Photographic Images, 2001. 

Whaler Morrison and School of Sperm Whales courtesy Mystic Seaport

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