01 November 2004

Whaling 'Cloudy Bay Fashion'

The Jasper [of Fairhaven, Massachusetts] headed for Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, where whalemen battled each other with fists and weapons for the best places to get at the whales--"coming Cloudy Bay fashion" was an eloquent slang phrase of the time. Once the anchor had been dropped in a chosen inlet of the sparsely inhabited, thickly forested bay, the ship was securely moored, and the sails and yards were taken down, turning the deck into a factory platform. Then, at four each morning, the boats were manned. Instead of the whaleship doing the hunting, as happened in the open ocean, whaleboats were sent out to find the quarry.

As a method of whaling, it was much closer to the shore whaling that the early settlers of Long Island had known than it was to the deep-sea whaling that Nantucketers had pioneered. The boats headed out to the entrance of the bay, where they jockeyed with the other boats for the best position to lie in wait for the "cows"--female right whales--that were migrating into the bay to give birth. Once a capture was made, the boat's crew towed it back to the ship to be flensed. Not only did the gigantic size and weight--generally about eighty tons, but often more--of the carcass mean a long, hard haul, but the weather was usually shocking. It was the southern winter, and the climate of Cloudy Bay was notorious.

Seventeen ships lay in Cloudy Bay that season [1836], each one sending out four boats. Shore parties sent out many more, so that the slaughter was immense. The skies were stained with sooty smoke from the tryworks furnaces, and the stench of burning fat and rotting flesh was appalling. Once flensed, the huge carcasses were set adrift, to be pulled apart by dogs, wild pigs, and scavenger birds as they bobbed about in the ebbing and rising tides. On the beaches, huge bones piled up in ghastly cairns.
SOURCE: In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon, by Joan Druett (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004), pp. 43-44

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