For hardy whalers, no ocean was too wide to cross in pursuit of their mighty prizes. In
1819, more than a dozen ships where launched from Nantucket, all headed for distant
Pacific hunting grounds. One, the three-masted Essex, was to suffer a calamity so dramatic
that its fate inspired a classic American novel--Herman Melville's Moby Dick. For
months the ship survived the hazards of rounding Cape Horn and taking its prey. But one
day a mammoth sperm whale rammed the Essex head-on. Then the leviathan passed under the
vessel, turned, and attacked again. The whale hit, as first mate Owen Chase recalled,
"with ten-fold fury and vengeance." The crew abandoned ship, and from their
whaleboats watched as the Essex slid into the sea.
Today in the Word, September 20, 1992.
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