Sunday, September 13, 2009

It is here that I skip ahead.

It is here that I skip ahead. I want to tell you of how the boy’s eyes grew when he saw his first whale thrashing about the waves. I want to tell you how suspicion rose aboard the ship as men left ranks to join the sea and the ambitious young cabin boy began to climb the shipboard ladder. I want to tell you of the ruddy faced young man who wooed the daughter of a ship builder in Bristol only to have her locked inside the tallest lighthouse on the Irish coast, waiting for her fair man to return. But each of these moments, incidents, has a history in its own right- belittered with nuance and detail- so that I have not enough time to address them all with the mystery and grief they are owe. Instead we will skip ahead to our crew, living underneath our sullied captain, with neither sight of civilized land, nor proper water to drink, nor a kind hand to fall upon, for the better part of eighteen months.

You'll see now how it is helpful to know something of whaling. Signing on with a captain required little skill, rather it required the foolery of a man in debt, a love for turgid waters, or a suicidal commitment to money. Each sailor signing on with Captain McKay read the clause-it was the only reason for the contract- stating that without consultation, without hesitation, and under no burden to increase ration wages or intent, a whaling ship captain may extend the duration of the voyage, indefinitely in six month increments. His only bound duty was to pay the men a share of whatever was caught in those six months. If the catch was low, so was the compensation. It sat low on the contract of every man boarding a whale bound vessel, hidden in the legal jargon and grazed through by those who could read. Few captains exercised the right if the catch was moderate, and nearly none if the catch was high. So sailors had little to fear in terms of slave labor, and much to gain if the takes were low. McKay’s ship always took high, the men never assumed another six months at sea. They were tired men, moving forward on the promise of riches and soft women. McKay denied them that.