On 20 November 1820, just south of the equator, the whaling ship Essex, out of Nantucket, spotted a 'shoal' of sperm whales. It was a fine clear day, about eight in the morning. Two whaling boats, lightly built for rowing speed, were lowered from the Essex. The crew pursued and harpooned tree of the whales, whereupon the largest of them - some 85 feet long - rammed the Essex twice in ten minutes and 'stove in her bows'.
This remarkable incident was followed by an epic three-month journey in open boats across storm-tossed seas - a feat of navigation and survival that rivals those of Shackleton and Bligh. Only eight men survived, sustained by eating six of those who died.
Twenty-three-year-old Owen Chase was first mate of the Essex. His narrative of these events makes compulsive reading. This edition also includes memoirs by another crew member and by ship's captain, as well as a facsimile of Herman Melville's notes on Chase's account.
Capturing all the elements of an ancient and powerful tragedy, this book is a thrilling tale of survival - as well as a frightful illustration of man's darkest impulses.