The man in the crow’s nest saw air from numerous blowholes, an indication that the prey was near. “Thar she blows!”
The captain looked up to see an arm pointed to the north and he turned the wheel to bring the ship in that direction. “To the boats, men.”
Not needing to be told twice, the rush was so great and the excitement upon seeing whales for the first time in months, men ran to their stations. In the onslaught of the whaleboats, Seaman Craig slipped and broke his arm.
“You! Get the cook up here to replace Craig.”
The cook had and confusion in his eyes. He was used to preparing food for the crew, but he had never been over the side in almost seven years on the ship. Some said he was afraid of the water; which is why he preferred to be belowdecks.
As the cook reported to the captain, the four other boats had already made it over the side and were rowing towards their prey.
“Get in the boat, Stevens. You’re going to be a seaman finally.”
The others around the boat, even Craig who was holding his broken arm, laughed at the statement.
Once in the water, the boatsteerer, who was also the harpooneer, gave the cadence to get the oars moving as one. Onward they rushed towards a lone whale as the other boats had already closed with their own prizes.
“Stevens! Row in time damn you.” Everyone struggled to keep the pace and it was made harder with a novice in the boat.
Finally, with a last push, the command came. “Oars up!”
The harpooneer envisioned the point hit its target. He held his breath and said a silent prayer to aim straight and true. Within seconds of leaving his hand, the deadly weapon pierced through the skin and blubber, hooking into the living prize of oil and baleen.
The whale’s eye widened as the pain registered in its brain. Fearing the attackers, the whale dove under the surface of the water to escape. But the harpoon held true and blood seeped through the wound as the rope tethered prey to predator. It was a foregone conclusion and within hours, the whale floated to the surface.
The captain of the ship watched through his spyglass as three of the boats had secured a whale. Two were miles away to the east and the last boat in the water was farther out to the north. Knowing that Jerry only went after the largest whales, the captain headed off the small whaleboat first. In time, the other whaleboats made their way, pulling their prizes as well. Not one to count his money before he had it, the captain ordered the men to begin the task of cutting up the whales so that the blubber could be rendered into oil.
As he looked down at Jerry’s crew, the captain noticed the smile on the cook’s face and knew that he would need to find another when they made landfall.