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

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