Nantucket Sleigh Ride

The injured whale, oblivious to the changing duties of its attackers, suddenly dove deep. The first tub of whale line attached to the harpoon rapidly uncoiled. A second tub of line could be tied to the first, but if this ran out of length, the rope had to be cut to save the whaleboat from being pulled under water. Drogues, or square wooden planks, were sometimes attached to the rope to slow the whale's speed through the water.

Once the whale reached its depth, there might be long minutes of waiting while the harpooned creature gathered its strength. Eventually, the whale resurfaced to breathe and took off at tremendous speed. It pulled the whaleboat behind it, taking the sailors on a "Nantucket sleigh ride." For miles, the crew held on to the sides of their boat as they slammed into waves and squinted through the flying salt spray. One crew member hastily bailed water. Others hauled on the line, moving the boat closer to the whale. The crew hoped that the injured creature wouldn't drag their boat beyond a reasonable distance so that the mother ship could locate them at the end of the hunt.

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Courtesy of the Trustees of the New Bedford Free Public Library