107. In the Heart of the Sea (Nathaniel Philbrick)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the doomed whaling ship, the Essex, which was attacked by a whale and sunk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, stranding its crew in rickety life rafts as they must try and navigate their way back to civilization and safety.

The Essex sailed from Nantucket in 1819 and almost immediately encountered problems. An inexperienced crew and poor judgement caused the ship to nearly capsize three days out to sea, incurring a great deal of damage. Rather than turn back though, the first-time captain chose to continue onwards. They didn't spot their first whale for two months, leaving the crew disheartened and disappointed. As they rounded Cape Horn and worked their way up the coast of South America, things improved and their luck began to change.

Moving towards the centre of the Pacific, they encountered a pod of whales and launched the boats. While most of the crew were trying to spear, a couple stayed aboard to man the ship. A massive whale surfaced near the bow and aimed itself towards the Essex. Rather than fleeing in panic as most of the whales were attempting to do once the blood of the speared whales began spreading across the water, this behemoth charged and rammed the ship with its head. As the ship slowly sank beneath the waves, the crew was able to retrieve a few belongings from belowdecks along with whatever water and food wasn't ruined by the salt water rushing into the hold. Split amongst three leaky boats, the crew struggled to survive for over 90 days, baking in the equitorial sun. As their food and water ran low, and they hovered on the brink of death, survival seemed impossible. Men began slowly dying off while others were killed, some being used to prolong the lives of their shipmates.

Its ironic that the Captain chose to sail east towards the coast of South America. If he had sailed west towards the Marquesas or the Society Islands, the distance was much shorter and they more than likely would have made it with all crew members still alive. However, they knew little of either set of islands at the time (they had heard the Marquesas were home to cannibals) and rather than risk the unknown, opted for the longer, more uncertain direction and ended up becoming cannibals themselves.

I loved this book. Pieced together from firsthand accounts from two of the surviving crew members and his own research, In the Heart of the Sea is a fantastic read, the writing lively and engaging, the story fascinating and exciting. Highly recommended.


mister anchovy said...

Here's a book recommendation for you...have you read Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor? It's a work of fiction based on a lot of historical truth, set on a "famine ship" going to America from Ireland. This one gets 5 salties on the anchovy rating scale.

tweetey30 said...

Sounds wonderful.. I will have to check this one out next time we have a little extra cash or i have pay pal money from Etsy..

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