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Chapter 62 The Dart

  • A word concerning an incident in the last chapter.
  • According to the invariable usage of the fishery, the whale-boat pushes of_rom the ship, with the headsman or whale-killer as temporary steersman, an_he harpooneer or whale-fastener pulling the foremost oar, the one known a_he harpooneer-oar. Now it needs a strong, nervous arm to strike the firs_ron into the fish; for often, in what is called a long dart, the heav_mplement has to be flung to the distance of twenty or thirty feet. Bu_owever prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooneer is expected to pul_is oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to set an exampl_f superhuman activity to the rest, not only by incredible rowing, but b_epeated loud and intrepid exclamations; and what it is to keep shouting a_he top of one’s compass, while all the other muscles are strained and hal_tarted— what that is none know but those who have tried it. For one, I canno_awl very heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same time. In thi_training, bawling state, then, with his back to the fish, all at once th_xhausted harpooneer hears the exciting cry—“Stand up, and give it to him!” H_ow has to drop and secure his oar, turn round on his centre half way, seiz_is harpoon from the crotch, and with what little strength may remain, h_ssays to pitch it somehow into the whale. No wonder, taking the whole flee_f whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five ar_uccessful; no wonder that so many hapless harpooneers are madly cursed an_israted; no wonder that some of them actually burst their blood-vessels i_he boat; no wonder that some sperm whalemen are absent four years with fou_arrels; no wonder that to many ship owners, whaling is but a losing concern;
  • for it is the harpooneer that makes the voyage, and if you take the breath ou_f his body how can you expect to find it there when most wanted!
  • Again, if the dart be successful, then at the second critical instant, tha_s, when the whale starts to run, the boatheader and harpooneer likewise star_o running fore and aft, to the imminent jeopardy of themselves and every on_lse. It is then they change places; and the headsman, the chief officer o_he little craft, takes his proper station in the bows of the boat.
  • Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both foolish an_nnecessary. The headsman should stay in the bows from first to last; h_hould both dart the harpoon and the lance, and no rowing whatever should b_xpected of him, except under circumstances obvious to any fisherman. I kno_hat this would sometimes involve a slight loss of speed in the chase; bu_ong experience in various whalemen of more than one nation has convinced m_hat in the vast majority of failures in the fishery, it has not by any mean_een so much the speed of the whale as the before described exhaustion of th_arpooneer that has caused them.
  • To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this worl_ust start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.