on 31 July 2007
I never thought there was a recorded account of an actual sinking of a ship by a whale...how wrong I was! This is the true story of the sinking of the whale ship Essex by an 80 ton sperm whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in 1820. This is `thee' actual story that prompted Herman Melville to write his famous Moby Dick novel.
Having been rammed by an angry whale the Essex sank within ten minutes and its twenty one man crew took to the sea with scant provisions in three whaling boats. What follows is a four thousands mile plus sea odyssey of incredible suffering and privation. Despite some serious errors of judgement where closer landfall could have been reached such as Easter Island, Pitcairn or Tahiti...the survivors show remarkable seamanship in reaching Chile after spending a desperate three months adrift.
This is not a tale along the lines of Shackleton's epic South however where all live to tell the tale of their ordeal. Only two of the three boats reach safety and only eight crewmen survive the journey, the remainder die a terrible death mainly from lack of food, water or from the adverse elements. When I say `mainly', some of the occupants die by `lot' selection by their crewmates and are killed....you can guess what comes after that...yes you guessed it messmate cannibalism.
This is a well written explanatory book that as well as highlighting the individual characters involved also gives a good descriptive narrative of the whaling techniques and equipment of the period. The description of the boat journeys however is the coup de main as the suffering and the despair of the crew leaps out from the pages.....a great single sitting read of four hours, it's that good!
on 20 February 2014
What can I say? I started Revenge of the Whale with a little trepidation as these kind of novels usually boggle my brain with umpteen nautical terms and descriptions. Philbrick however, has not fallen into this trap. Where sea faring objects are described very often they are accompanied with a diagram that clearly displays their place on the vessel, this accompanied by a number of photographs and easy to read maps allows the reader to really feel a part of the crew.
The book follows the crew of the Whaleship Essex and how they are attacked by a sperm whale which leads to them escaping in 3 small whaleboats. The lead up to the attack and the actual event only take up the first 3rd of the book, the rest details their constant struggle against the savage sea. Thirst and hunger drive the men to extraordinary lengths including cannibalism. In fact out of the 21 strong crew only 8 survived the journey.
An amazing true story, extremely well written and informative. Easily recommendable to anyone that loves adventure or interested in the History of Nantucket whaling. Interestingly the Essex adventure was the original inspiration for Moby Dick.
My only complaint would be that the novel appears to be a stripped down version of another book called In the Heart of the Sea. If I had known this before purchase I think I would have bought that instead. However, I will certainly seek it out in the future.
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What does it mean to be indomitable? This book displays that wonderful human quality in a remarkably effective way. The next time you consider giving up, just imagine yourself on the trackless sea in a small boat from the Essex.
This story has to be one of the most astonishing survival tales in recorded history. Before I say more, let me caution you that this story (and parts of this review) is not for those with weak stomachs.
After their ship is disabled by an attacking sperm whale, the survivors find themselves on three open boats in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 2,000 miles from their targeted landfall in South America. With luck, they will make it in 30 days. They soon find themselves in a stall as the winds fail to cooperate, except to provide severe storms that threaten to capsize the boats.
Soon, all the food is encrusted with salt and everyone is suffering with severe dehydration. Then things start to get worse! I won't go further, but you have an amazing story of survival ahead of you.
Two of the few survivors of this terrible ordeal later committed their experiences to writing, which provide great resources for this well-researched book.
At another level, the book is also extremely interesting because these experiences were important influences on Herman Melville's writing of the American classic, Moby Dick. The book makes that connection for you, including how Melville came to learn the story.
At a third level, the book is a fascinating history of whaling around 1920. If you are like me, you will cringe when the whalers devastate island after island . . . as well as the whale population. But that's not the limit to their willingness to use nature to their own advantage.
The ultimate irony is that the survivors went the wrong way. Those from Nantucket did not know about Tahiti and Hawaii, and chose not to go in either of those directions -- either of which would have provided more rapid safety and comfort. The primary reason they chose not to go in these directions is because they feared running into cannibals. Soon the survivors were studying the remains of dead shipmates with hunger. And then it gets worse.
So, you have three different kinds of books to read here, anyone of which could be enormously enjoyable to you. Get ready for the trip of your life!