Monday, November 19, 2007


This story was told to me by a old man who has sailed the oceans all his life. He heard it from his great great grandfather who also sailed the seas since his childhood, they both swear to it. anyway I thought it was pretty good, so thought I'd pass it on.
Mocha Dick, "the stout gentleman of the lati­tudes," "the prodigious terror whale of the Pa­cific," was a white sperm whale that fought and won a hundred sea battles against over­whelming odds. There is no doubt about it Mocha Dick was a real whale. He was probably first fought in 1819, terror­izing whalemen. Such was the leviathan's renown that whenever whalers gammed, "Any news from Mo­cha Dick?" was a standard greeting. Boats and even ships were shattered by his immense flukes or ground to pieces in the crush of his powerful jaws. One re­port had him measuring out longer than a whaling ship 110 feet; his girth 57 feet, his jaw alone 25 feet long. If we accept all contemporary accounts, he wrecked seven ships, destroyed some 20 boats, and killed at least 30 men. Truly a greater whale than Moby Dick.
Mocha Dick's story was first told by the first mate aboard a whaler he and Captain N. B. Palmer visited off the coast of Chile while on a Pacific cruise; neither the mate nor his ship was named. The mate had first sighted Dick a few years before when his ship stood in toward the Chilean coast near the conical peak of Mocha Island from which the white whale took his name. On that fateful morning, in 'the mate's words, "the waters were silent, the air heavy and oppressive. " The whale hunters could sense their quarry nearby, could even smell the peculiar odor given off by the sperm whale. The lookout soon confirmed their suspicions. "There she blows! There she blows!" he sang out. "Right ahead, sir an old sog he be! Spout as long and thick as the main yard!"
Soon the race to the whale began, the first mate in command. He had been at sea for 20 years, claimed he had killed great whales while straddling their backs, but this time, half a mile in front of him, white as wool and breaching at the sun, was Mocha Dick! Any fisherman worth his salt wanted to take the leviathan, and now the first mate had his chance. "Pull as if the devil was in your wake!" he shouted. "Long and quick, boys shoot ahead! Now she feels it now she feels the touch waist boats could never beat us now she walks through it! Again now! "
The mate's boat was soon 50 feet from Dick, who had descended into the water, only an inch of his hump now seen. Then his huge flanks showed, but he wasn't retreating. Lashing the sea with his enor­mous tail, he carne down full speed at his attackers. Sea gulls cowered together on pieces of driftwood, hunched up in their feathers, their beady eyes shin­ing. The men, terrified, whispering Dick's dreaded name, were unable to move as the terrible white whale roared "jaws-on" at the boat.
"Mocha Dick or the devil!" cried the Yankee mate. "This boat never sheers off from anything that wears the shape of a whale! Pull away; just give her way enough to steer. "
The whale approached, his course now parallel with the boat.
"Here he comes! Stand up, harpooner!" cried the mate. "Now!" he shouted, and the boat's bow al­most touched the monster whale. "Now! Give it to him solid!" But Mocha Dick turned upon the harpooner with thrashing flukes and distended jaws, The glossy white membrane in his mouth looked like a coffin's satin lining. Dicks tiny, malignant eyes, widely spaced, took in both ship and boats; his tongue lashed down inside like a stream of blood, and the young har­pooner looked up at him as if he were some terrible apparition. The boy tried to stand erect. He planted his foot, he grasped the coil. But his knees shook, and his arm wavered. The shaft was hurled with un­steady aim, only grazing the whale's back, glancing off and skimming over waves beyond. The second shot was worse, falling short of its mark. Mocha Dick swept on for a few yards and flapped a storm of spray at the boat, descending and leaving the little skiff to spin in the whirlpool he created,
The mate thought he had seen the last of Dick. He remembered the whale that had destroyed the Es­sex-a white whale many sailors, believed could have been Mocha Dick. He thought that his chance for revenge was lost foreyer. "Clumsy lubber!" he shouted at the harpooner. "You a whaleman! You're not fit to spear eels! Cowardly spawn! Curse me if you are not afraid of a whale!"
The next day, however, the mate got a second chance. That morning a herd of cow whales were seen against the horizon spouting like chimneys, leaping at the fierce red ball that was the sun. Deeper and deeper they descended, soon bursting up and besting their greatest leaps, ascending higher and higher until they flamed like fire.
"There she breaches!" the lookout sang out. "Where away?" the captain cried. "How far?" "Three points off the larboard bow. About a league, sir; heads same as we do. "
They were sperm whales, "a thundering big school of 'em." The whales went down, perhaps 200 of them, and every eye strained to find them as all hands lowered away. The whales were frolicking on the surface of the waves, following their set course, flouncing up in the air occasionally, a caricature of agility, but they quickly sounded, their sensi­tive hearing picking up the boat's movements.
"Follow me," the first mate shouted. "I see their track underwater. They swim fast, but we'll be among them when they rise. Pull hard, pull!" After rowing a mile, he ordered his crew to lie still, looking for the first noodle head to break water. A dead calm settled in, the ship hovering near them. Five minutes passed. Ten. Then a dark object appeared directly ahead. It was a calf playing a baby whale, 15 tons if an ounce.
"Pull up and strike!" the mate cried to another boat. "It may bring up the old one!"
And it did. Hardly had the waist boat pierced the sucker when an enormous cow whale rose beside her injured offspring. She tried to take the calf under her fin, to violently bear it away, but the calf died, roll­ing over and floating at her side. The cow charged for the boat, clashing her jaws together. The mate watched as the neighboring boat was cut loose from the calf, the harpooner plunging his second iron into the mother whale's body just as the boat sheered off to avoid her onset. It was a job well done, he thought. and he was set to watch a Nantucket sleigh ride when Mocha Dick breached a mile from him on the star­board side.
"He's making for bloody water!" the mate cried. and Dick cleft his way toward the very spot where the calf had been killed. Then he paused in his ca­reer and lay still for a moment. "Here, harpooner," the mate said, "steer the boat and let me dart! Pull for the red water!" He was taking no chances this time. "Spring, boys," he chanted, "spring now, and we shall have him! All my clothes, tobacco, every­thing I've got shall be yours, only lay me longside that whale! My grimpky! What a hump! Look at the irons in his back! No, don't look-pull! Now boys. if you care about your sweethearts in old Nantuck ­if you love Yankee land if you love me pull ahead, won't ye? Now then, to the thwarts! Lay back. my boys, I feel ye, me hearties! Give her the touch:
Only five seas off! Not five seas off! One minute off half a minute more! Softly no noise! Softly with your oars! That will do.
And the mate raised the harpoon above his head, sent it hissing deep into the thick white side. "Stern all! For your lives!" he shouted, the steel quivering in Mocha Dick's body, the wounded beast plunging his head beneath the surface and whirling down, beating the sea with fin and fluke. Dick ran then. They were on the tail of a tiger. The line rasped, smoking through the chocks. A Nantucket sleigh ride, the greased bottom of the boat cleaving the water, cleaving the sky, as if it had two keels. And Mocha Dick could not break the hot and hissing line; the strands were too strong, the barbs too deep. Diving and dashing forward he was held in check. He reared his massive blunt head, streaks of crimson in the white surf telling that the shaft had been driven home .
"Haul me on him!" the mate ordered. "Haul away! Haul in! Leeward side! Leeward side!" His boat brought broadside, he gave Mocha Dick a lance directly under the shoulder blade. Dick fought back, darting down until it was almost time to cut the line, then breaching and dragging the boat another quarter of a mile. But soon he lay silent, quivering and twitching. Hauling on, the mate twice drove a boat spade into his small. For the last time Mocha Dick answered. He desperately dashed at the boat's quarter, but his strength finally failed him in mid­career, and he sank beneath the keel, the lance at the seat of his life. He struggled in a whirlpool of bloody foam, beating water with his head and flukes.
"Stern all or we'll be stove!" the mate cried, and as he shouted, a stream of black clotted gore spouted up, showering the crew with blood. "There's the flag!" he warned. "There thick as tar! Stern! Every soul of ye! He's going on his flurry!"
For a long moment in his final convulsions, Mo­cha Dick flung his huge tail into the air and thrashed the waters on each side of him with quick and powerful blows. Glaring at ship and sun for the last time, he turned slowly, heavily on his side. His heart burst. He lay dead upon the sea where he had so long ranged a conqueror.
"He's fin up at last!" the mate cried, and he leaped into the air, skimmed his cap over the waves. Climbing on the quarterdeck of Dick's back, he planted home his wafe pole. The red canvas flag waved in the gentle breeze.
Mocha Dick had been taken there would be switchel tonight! Dick was the largest sperm whale the mate had ever seen, some 70 feet long, his back crusted with white shells and barnacles. The scars of his old wounds were pierced with fresh wounds, and more than 20 harpoons, many rusted with age, were re­moved from his back. The mate looked at Dick for the last time, shaking his head almost sadly, but there was no time for last words. The long haul back to the ship had already begun.
Here might be a likely place to end our yam, ex­cept for the fact that Mocha Dick struck again-at least seven times more, in fact. Dead was he? Made into 100 barrels of oil, was he? Not according to many later accounts. Mocha Dick seemed to be a whale come back from the dead. It may be that the mate told the whole truth except for killing Mocha Dick. Or it may be that other whales were later mistaken for Dick,white whales, too, were New Zealand Tom, Shy Jack, Fighting Joe, Timour Jack, Old Tom, Spotted Tom, Ugly Tom, and possibly even a Moby Dick. But whatever the case, the great white whale, or the ghost of him, continued to terrorize the seas.
His name is mentioned in the logs of at least seven more ships. There was the English whaler Desmond, which Mocha Dick attacked without provocation on July 5, 1840, destroying three boats and killing two men. Then there was the Russian bark Sarepta. On August 30, 1840, two months later, Dick forced her boats to retreat when they tried to claim a dead whale, killing two more men in the process. Four more men were killed eight months later, in May 1841, when the John Day tried to take Mocha Dick. On that oc­casion, Dick suddenly slewed around to attack one of the British boats, swimming over it and "stop­ping with deliberate malice" to beat the submerged craft with his enormous flukes.
Then, in September 1842, came the greatest ad­venture, the most daring attack in Mocha Dick's long reign on the sea. It was reported that Dick had once defeated the crews of three English whalers, and now he was ready to take on three whaling ships again: the Glasgow Criejf, the New Bedford Yan­kee, and the English Dudley, all of which had come to the aid of a Japanese lumber ship he wrecked. Even as the three whalers gammed, planning to con­solidate their forces and hunt the leviathan until they rid the seas of him, Mocha Dick surfaced about a mile to windward. Wallowing in circles on the sur­face of the water, Dick soon turned to face the three ships, as if daring them to accept his challenge. And they did, each whaler sending out two boats, the Yankee having won by lots the honor of darting the first iron, which her first mate quickly planted in Dick's back.
For five minutes Mocha Dick played dead. Then, lashing out with his tail, he struck down a Scottish boat, turning immediately for an English boat be­hind him. At one bite he crunched the English boat into chips and' 'chewed two men to pulp. "The crews of the stoved boats swam frantically through the water trying to avoid him, but the wide sweep of his lethal flukes-24 feet across-soon killed two more. By now he had stove three boats, the whale ships send­ing out rescue craft, and as a diversion in the battle, he turned back to the lumber ship, still dragging"the' Yankee's boat and crew after him. At an estimated speed of 30 miles an hour, he hit the lumber ship again, battering her so hard that she turned bottom up, going down in a whirlpool; the men in the Yan­kee's boat were forced to cut their line to avoid a ' collision. Rowing back to the ship, the stunned whalemen saw him sound and then reach again, this time under the Criejf. Missing her by a few inches, he came so close that he carried away her jibboom and bowsprit, falling back to the ocean and turning upon his Yankee attackers once more. The crew had to dive overboard to save their lives, and they did so just in time, for' 'the white whale picked up the empty light craft and chewed it as a horse does its oats:" Rescuing their men, the three ships turned tail and retreated' into an impending storm, the ungoverned sea much preferable to the fearless leviathan. Six men had been killed. Four boats had been stove. Three ships, six boats, and 90 men had been de­feated by Mocha Dick.
And Mocha Dick's greatest battle was the last he fought, at least the last ever recorded in a ship's log ­save for his final in glorious defeat. The last mention in history of Mocha Dick is dated August 1859, when he is said to have been taken by a Swedish whaler off the Brazilian banks. Measuring 110 feet in length, he weighed more than a ton for each swimming foot. He was captured without much of a struggle. The whaler's log discloses that he was dying of old age, blind in his right eye, his head a mass of scars, eight teeth broken off and the others all worn down. But no one would ever remember him this way. Mocha Dick, in the words of one sailor had been absolved of mortality. Readers of Moby Dick know that he swims the world unconquered,that he is ubiquitous in time and place.