Most jobs before the twentieth century were difficult and dangerous. Serving on a whaler was no exception.
Voyages were frequently months, and sometimes years, in length. Once the Right whales and Bowhead whales were diminished, whalers went after the Sperm whale. A creature of the warm waters, hunting the Sperm whale meant longer voyages/ And the Sperm whale was a fighter. He had teeth and a powerful tail.
Crew slept in tight bunks, three high. Mattresses were first invented for the whalers that went after the Bowhead whales; it was too cold for the sailors to sleep without them. Because they were stuffed with straw, the common term for them was ‘Donkey’s Breakfast.’
Even when there were no whales, the work of maintaining the ship was hard. But when whales were spotted, the job immediately became extremely dangerous. Men were killed every trip.
The whale boats were lowered, six men each, and pursued the whale. The harpoon was fired into the whale by hand, which meant that the boat had to be fairly close. Then rope was played out as the whale took off in what became known as the Nantucket Sleigh Ride.
Sometimes the whale escaped. When it didn’t, and was killed, it had to be brought back to the ship. Sometimes the whale boat was so far away, it and the whale were not found.The whale ship usually tried to follow the smaller boat.
Then the work of extracting the oil from the whale began. More to follow.