Whaling Ships – A Few Historical Details

It’s time to talk about the actual whale ships. But don’t confuse them with the whaleboats – there is a difference. Whaleboats were the smaller vessels used in the actual hunt; they were about 28-30 feet in length and not designed for a long voyage and equipped with oars, steering oar, and long lengths of rope which would be connected to the harpoon.

Today, we’ll focus on the big ship. The one that left harbor, sailed around the world, carried the smaller whaleboats, housed the crew, provided a platform for the boiling pots, and stored the barrels and bundles of profit. How big were these ships? What was the layout of the decks? How much could a ship stand from weather and other forces of nature? Let’s explore…

(For those of you who might be wondering about a new post on Thursday… Since we skipped a maritime post on Wednesday last week, you’ll get two this week to keep the series on schedule.) Continue reading

New Bedford – The 19th Century American Whaling Capital

Last week we mentioned that Nantucket didn’t dominate the market for the entire era of American Whaling. In fact, during the “Golden Age” of American Whaling, the port city of New Bedford got the place of prominence in money making and records. And there was a reason for it’s nickname “whaling capital of the world.”

Today, we’ll learn a little more about this town and its influence┬áin the whaling world. Continue reading

Whales, Nantucket Island, & The Quakers

Last week we talked about the earliest beginnings of the American whaling industry during the Colonial Period, including off-shore whaling. At the end of that blog post, I promised to spend the next article in the series discussing Nantucket and the Quakers.

I don’t know about you, but for some strange reason I thought Nantucket was the only place where whalers lived and whale ships sailed from. I’m not even sure how I got to that conclusion, but it was sure wrong. (I can already see the New Bedfordians and Bostonians coming after me – run!)

Now, seriously, Nantucket Island was not the only only whaling homeport, but it was incredibly influential – particularly during the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Fascinatingly, Nantucket Island became a society created, influenced, and driven by the whaling industry. Today, we’ll take a closer look at that culture and it’s farther reaching influences on the American whaling industry in the 19th Century.

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A Whaling Voyage

We’re launching into our blog feature on American whaling during the 19th Century. (Catch the introduction here, if you missed it!) And it seems the best place to begin is at the beginning of a voyage.

Whale hunting was an industry – a business – in 19th Century America. Ship owners intended to make a profit on the whale oil brought home. However, sending a whale ship to sea was a risky venture. Unlike a merchant ship that would sail quietly along, ideally weathering the storms, and (hopefully) return with a profitable cargo and no lives lost, a whale ship was like a battleship.

Sending a whaling ship to sea was almost a game of chance or like betting on a gladiatorial combat. The captain, crew, and sometimes the ship itself would fight the largest known animals on the planet. It would be a struggle for life and death between two foes – one, massive and powerful, the other, armed with small, deadly metal implements and long, long ropes.

Today’s blog post focuses on getting a whale ship to sea and its voyage to the hunting grounds. Though I’m certainly thankful that whaling isn’t a common practice anymore, it was a fascinating chapter in American maritime and business. Continue reading