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ON THE SOLANDER WHALING GROUND

ON THE SOLANDER WHALING GROUND

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Written by Hunter   
Sunday, 26 October 2008 17:08



A bright sunny morning; the gentle north-easterly breeze just keeping
the sails full as the lumbering whaling-barque "Splendid" dips jerkily
to the old southerly swell. Astern, the blue hills around Preservation
Inlet [Footnote: Preservation Inlet ... Solander (island) ... Foveaux
(strait) ... Stewart Island: places situated on or near the southern end of
New Zealand.] lie shimmering in the soft spring sunlight, and on the
port beam the mighty pillar of the Solander Rock, lying off the
south-western extremity of the New Zealand, is sharply outlined against
the steel-blue sky. Far beyond that stern sentinel, the converging
shores of Foveaux Strait are just discernible in dim outline through a
low haze. Ahead the jagged and formidable rocks of Stewart Island,
bathed in a mellow golden glow, give no hint of their terrible
appearance what time the Storm-fiend of the south-west cries havoc and
urges on his chariot of war.

The keen-eyed Kanaka [Footnote: Kanaka: a native of the Sandwich
Islands.] in the fore crow's nest [Footnote: Crow's nest: a perch near
the top of the mast to shelter the man on the lookout.] shades his eyes
with his hand, peering earnestly out on the weather bow at something
which has attracted his attention. A tiny plume of vapor rises from the
blue hollows about ten miles away, but so faint and indefinable that it
may be only a breaking wavelet's crest caught by the cross wind. Again
that little bushy jet breaks the monotony of the sea; but this time
there is no mistaking it. Emerging diagonally from the water, not high
and thin, but low and spreading, it is an infallible indication to those
piercing eyes of the presence of a sperm-whale. The watcher utters a
long, low musical cry, "Blo-o-o-o-w," which penetrates the gloomy
recesses of the fo'ksle [Footnote: Fo'ksle: the forward part of the
vessel, under the deck, where the sailors live.] and cuddy, [Footnote:
Cuddy: small cabin.] where the slumberers immediately engage in fierce
conflict with whales of a size never seen by waking eyes. The officer
and white seamen at the main now take up the cry, and in a few seconds
all hands are swiftly yet silently preparing to leave the ship. She is
put about, making a course which shortly brings her a mile or two to
windward of the slowly-moving cachalot. Now it is evident that no
solitary whale is in sight, but a great school, gambolling in the bright
spray. One occasionally, in pure exuberance of its tremendous vitality,
springs twenty feet into the clear air, and falls, a hundred tons of
massive flesh, with earthquake-like commotion, back into the sea.

Having got the weather-gage, the boats are lowered; sail is immediately
set, and, like swift huge-winged birds, they swoop down upon the prey.
Driving right upon the back of the nearest monster, two harpoons are
plunged into his body up to the "hitches." [Footnote: Hitches: a knot or
noose that can be readily undone.] The sheet [Footnote: Sheet: the rope
that regulates the angle of the sail.] is at once hauled aft, [Footnote:
Hauled aft: hauled toward the stern of the ship.] and the boat flies up
into the wind; while the terrified cetacean [Footnote: Cetacean: marine
mammal.] vainly tries, by tremendous writhing and plunging, to rid
himself of the barbed weapon. The mast is unshipped, and preparation
made to deliver the coup de grace. [Footnote: Coup de grace: the
decisive, finishing stroke.] But finding his efforts futile, the whale
has sounded, and his reappearance must be awaited. Two boats' lines are
taken out before the slackening comes, and he slowly rises again. Faster
and faster the line comes in; the blue depths turn a creamy white, and
it is "Stern all" for dear life. Up he comes, with jaws gaping twenty
feet wide, gleaming teeth and livid, cavernous throat glittering in the
brilliant light. But the boat's crew are seasoned hands, to whom this
dread sight is familiar, and orders are quietly obeyed, the boat
backing, circling and darting ahead like a sentient thing under their
united efforts. So the infuriated mammal is baffled and dodged, while
thrust after thrust of the long lances are got home, and streamlets of
blood trickling over the edges of his spouthole give warning that the
end is near. A few wild circlings at tremendous speed, jaws clashing and
blood foaming in torrents from the spiracle, [Footnote: Spiracle: the
nostril of a whale.] one mighty leap into the air, and the ocean monarch
is dead. He lies just awash, gently undulated by the long, low swell,
one pectoral fin slowly waving like some great stray leaf of _Fucus
gigantea_. [Footnote: Fucus gigantea: fucus is a kind of tough
seaweed.] A hole is cut through the fluke and the line secured to it.
The ship, which has been working to windward during the conflict, runs
down and receives the line; and in a short time the great inert mass is
hauled alongside and secured by the fluke [Footnote: Fluke: one of the
lobes of a whale's tail.] chain.

The vessel, bound to that immense body, can only crawl tortoise-like
before the wind--lucky, indeed, to have a harbor ahead where the whale
may be cut in, even though it be forty miles away. Without that refuge
available, she could not hope to keep the sea and hold her prize through
the wild weather, now so near. The breeze is freshening fast, and all
sail is made for Port William. So slow is the progress, that it is past
midnight before that snug shelter is reached, although for the last four
hours the old ship is terribly tried and strained by the press of sail
carried to such a gale.

--FRANK BULLEN.

[Footnote: Show how the rapid action in the narrative makes it more
dramatic. Why does the danger of the enterprise take so small a part in
the narrative? Can you characterize this kind of description?]
 
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