The Brutal Business of Butchering, aka Whaling: Reading Melville at Sea: Chapter 24 – 27

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My anchorage in Georgetown.  Early morning.  No whales here.

Written over three days with nasty winds whipping the waves into froth and rocking the boat uncomfortably.  It is not too bad as long as you don’t try to do anything, like move.  I have been sitting in the cockpit reading books that keep my mind off my troubles.  I finished Julie Czerneda’s Beholder’s Eye, about a feminine being who can transform herself into any life-form in the galaxy.  It was mildly entertaining.  Much better, totally compelling, in fact, was Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies.  Beautifully written, thoughtful, literary science fiction.   A meditation on what it means to be human, individual.  “The job of words,” he writes, “is to construct the fiction of our separate identity.” 

I really am finding Melville tedious these days.  Here we go:

Chapter 24 The Advocate

Ishmael—or is this a different narrator?  advocates for “the business of whaling” as a poetical and reputable pursuit, not the “butchering” that the world perceives. 

Butchers we are, that is true.  But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honor.…what disordered slippery decks of a whaleship are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those battle-fields from which so many soldiers return to drink in all ladies’ plaudits?

I found this rant a bit tedious and difficult to take seriously.   Whaling is butchery and the 19th century whaling adventurers, the White financiers who slaughtered these highly intelligent ocean mammals nearly into extinction, are indefensible.  Melville’s advocate fails to persuade. Or perhaps he does succeed.  Whaling is butchery, like warfare, he says, and Yale and Harvard are involved in this butchering business. 

“A whaling ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Perhaps that is the point, and the elevated tone of this and the next few chapters is meant the paean to sound like the farce it is. 

Chapter 25: Postscript

Ishmael is still ranting in defense of the dignity of whaling, unfortunately..

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Our narrator introduces us to the commanders on the ship, the higher-ranking “Knights” and then invokes the “just spirit of Equality, at the end of the chapter.  He begs this spirit to lift him up, as the “great democratic God” lifted John Bunyan, and fill him with the power to continue to celebrate the allegedly noble men who make a living slaughtering majestic mammals. 

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires, Round 2

For all his cant about the “just spirit of Equality,” Ishmael reminds us that there is a hierarchy aboard the ship.  It is racial and repugnant, even though the ridiculous rhapsodic tones suggest that Ishmael—our naive narrator—finds it all too wonderful to bear.  He tells us that White “native American” men command while “the rest of the world” do the hard labor.  Bizarrely, the indigenous peoples of North America somehow count as foreigners.  Tashtego’s eyes are

“Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression.” 

Indeed, he hardly seems human:

To look at the tawney brown of his lithe snaky limbs, you would have almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air.

Daggoo, a “gigantic, coal-black negro-savage” who “retained all his barbaric virtues” is one revolting racial stereotype.  

Reading Melville at Sea: Provisioning

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Plant growing out of sand at Wardrick Wells.  There are no fruit trees or crops of any kind on this rocky, barren island. 

Chapter 20

Provisioning.

Interesting chapter.  The Pequod requires, as Melville puts it,

“a three-year’s housekeeping upon the wide ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers.” 

The amount of goods and provisions that a whaling vessel must store aboard is impossible to imagine.  Where did they find the room for everything they would need?  Do you know that they cooked with FIRE on board the old ships? 

But so many things have not changed in 175 years.  You still have to bring

“spare everythings, almost, but a spare Captain and duplicate ship,”

when you set out.  Everything breaks.  You can’t predict what you will need, so you bring it all.

I did my best to bring all the foodstuffs, basic medical supplies, and galley items that we would need, figuring three months out. I brought powdered milk, evaporated milk, 15 pounds of beans and 15 pounds of flour, 5 pounds of butter, pasta, rice, and canned vegetables and fruit.  I didn’t know what to expect, even though I had done my research, reading on line as well as in books, and talking to every sailor who would answer me.   There are things you can get down here in the Bahamas, and things you can’t find.   

Off the top of my head, what you can’t find anywhere in the Bahamas:

  1. Good peanut butter.
  2. Good cheese (if you have a freezer, fill it with cheese and meat).
  3. Good bread (plan to bake your own, unless you’re okay with Weber’s White and its variations.)
  4. Good wine or beer.
  5. Good pasta.
  6. Wild Rice or brown rice.
  7. Good meats, especially beef or pork.  You can occasionally find decent chicken.   
  8. Good chocolate.
  9. Good olive oil
  10. Good balsamic vinegar

The following things can be bought, but at a premium, as the Bahamian government taxes everything two or three times, especially now that they have introduced the V.A.T.  Foodstuff from the U.S., is taxed far more than stuff from the U.K, so if you MUST have your favorite American crackers and pasta and so forth, prepare to pay twice or three times as much as you would back home. 

  1. Crackers and chips and nuts (junk food)
  2. Pasta
  3. Soft drinks (you can, however, get good ginger beer and other interesting soft drinks).
  4. Fruit juice without corn syrup and added sugar
  5. Anything without added sugar.

Suprisingly, it is also very difficult to get decent fruit and vegetables here.  You can find potatoes, onions, garlic, and cabbage.  Fresh lettuce, greens, and green vegetables show up in the markets, but they have all been shipped from somewhere else and are not very good.  Forget about good tomatoes or fresh parsley or basil, even though the inhabitants have the ability to grow them here.  They don’t grow them or, if they do, they don’t offer them for sale to the public. 

You would think that you could get tropical fruits here for cheap, since they used to grow the on these islands—papayas and guava and pineapple and oranges.  But if you are lucky enough to find them in the markets, you will find that they have been imported and are outrageously expensive.

Women Who Won’t Drive the Dinghy

The number of women who either cannot or will not drive a dinghy in our times astonishes me, especially when you consider that 99.9 % of cruising boats have two crew members: a man and a woman.    It’s a simple safety issue.  If he falls over or gets sick and you can’t drive….

Perhaps this should not astonish me, given the astonishing difficulty that so many Americans seem to have in electing a woman for President. 

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Who is at the helm?

Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!

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The beach where I dropped the boat hook and retrieved it with the paddle board. 

Here are two good reasons for keeping an inflatable paddle board on the deck of your sailboat if you are a cruiser.

  1.  Paddle boards help you repair your boat when you are out to sea. We ran into a sea spider, a tangled mass of nylon line that wrapped itself around our propeller.  We were motoring from Wardrick Wells to Staniel Cay, admittedly in fairly shallow water  (about 20 feet) and relatively calm seas.  Still, diving on your prop in the middle when you’re out to sea is not the easiest thing to do, especially when your dinghy is tied up to the davits and you can’t put down the sea ladder.  It was easy to get into the water, but not so easy to get back on the boat, even with a boarding ladder on the side.  Solution:  put the paddle board in the water, just below the boarding ladder.  This provided a platform for the tools Ryan needed (a line cutter and a heavy duty wrench) to clear the propeller, and also an easy step back on board.

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    The sea spider that fouled our prop.  
  2. Paddle boards help you tie up to mooring balls.  I dropped our boat hook overboard while trying to pick up a mooring ball that did not have the usual float for the line that you pull on board and fasten around your cleats.  Instead of pulling on that line, I hooked the line attached to the heavy cement block on the bottom, the weight of which dragged the boat hook out of my hands.  Twenty-knot winds and waves quickly carried the boat hook into shallow waters that we couldn’t possibly navigate without running aground.   As Ryan laconically observed while we watched it drifting further and further away from us, “a boat hook is a fairly important piece of boat equipment.”  Yes, indeed, and there it was, way over there.  What to do?  Paddle board to the rescue!  I threw the board into the water (after making sure that the painter was attached to the boat of course), got aboard, and paddled after the hook.  After retrieving it, I muscled my way, upwind and up currant, of course, to the mooring ball, pulled the line out of the water (it was simply drifting!! with no float!!) and held on valiantly, standing tall on my board, like Alvid the Norwegian Pirate queen, while Ryan maneuvered the boat over to my side.  Even had I not dropped the hook overboard, we would have had to put the board in the water.  Sure, we could have dropped the dinghy, but then we would have had to anchor first, which is sort of stupid when you’re trying to tie up to a mooring ball.  The paddle board was much easier, simpler, and faster.  Efficient!

Continue reading “Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!”