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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/855

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831
LIFE ON A SOUTH SEA WHALER.

be relieved from further duties until we were a little recovered from the rough treatment we had just undergone. But I never made a greater mistake. The skipper cursed us all (except the mate, whose sole fault the accident undoubtedly was) with a fluency and vigor that was, to put it mildly, discouraging.

A couple of slings were passed around the boat, by means of which she was carefully hoisted on board, a mere dilapidated bundle of sticks and raffle of gear. She was at once removed aft out of the way, the business of cutting in the whale claiming precedence over everything else just then. The preliminary proceedings consisted of rigging the "cutting stage." This was composed of two stout planks a foot wide and ten feet long, the inner ends of which were suspended by strong ropes over the ship's side about four feet from the water, while the outer extremities were upheld by tackles from the main rigging, and a small crane abreast the try-works.

These planks were about thirty feet apart, their two outer ends being connected by a massive plank which was securely bolted to them. A handrail about as high as a man's waist, supported by light iron stanchions, ran the full length of this plank on the side nearest the ship, the whole fabric forming an admirable standing place whence the officers might, standing in comparative comfort, cut and carve at the great mass below to their hearts' content.

So far the prize had been simply held alongside by the whale line, which at death had been "rove" through a hole cut in the solid gristle of the tail; but now it became necessary to secure the carcass to the ship in some more permanent fashion. Therefore, a massive chain like a small ship's cable was brought forward, and in a very ingenious way, by means of a tiny buoy and a hand lead, passed round the body, one end brought through a ring in the other, and hauled upon until it fitted tight round the "small" or part of the whale next the broad spread of the tail. The free end of the fluke chain was then passed in through a mooring pipe forward, firmly secured to a massive bitt at the heel of the bowsprit (the fluke-chain bitt), and all was ready.

The first thing to be done was to cut the whale's head off. This operation, involving the greatest amount of labor in the whole of the cutting in, was taken in hand by the first and second mates, who, armed with twelve-foot spades, took their station upon the stage, leaned over the handrail to steady themselves, and plunged their weapons vigorously down through the massive neck of the animal—if neck it could be said to have—following a well-defined crease in the blubber. At the same time the other officers passed a heavy chain sling around the long, narrow lower jaw, hooking one of the big cutting tackles into it, the "fall" of which was then taken to the windlass and hove tight, turning the whale on her back. A deep cut was