Moby Dick Chapter 46 - 48
Surmises/The Mat-Maker/The First Lowering
Although Captain Ahab is focused on hunting down Moby-Dick above all other things, he still makes sure to pursue other whales on the hunt. He does this because he needs to keep the men with him, and while his obsession can sustain him, the others would soon lose focus if not provided with day to day targets. He tells the men on the mast-head to shout if they see anything, even a small porpoise.
One afternoon, Ishmael and Queequeg are weaving sword mats to lash to the whaling boats. Everything is calm and peaceful, and Ishmael fancies that he can almost see the thread of life moving in the weaving:
"The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course- its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events." Chapter 42, pg. 181
Tashtego calls out a whale from the mast-head. The ship follows after, and the boat crews prepare to embark. Before they can do so, a group of black men appear from nowhere to surround Ahab as his personal crew- these were the men that Elijah saw boarding earlier, and that were heard coughing.
The new crew of Ahab's begins lowering his boat; at the helm stands Fedallah, a strangely dressed man who comes from the Manilas, a race that many sailors suspect to be in league with the devil. Once the boats are ready, four are dropped into the sea: Starbuck's, Stubb's, Flask's, and Ahab's, which is manned by the new crew.
Each mate is responsible for driving his rowing crew faster; Stubbs manages this with odd, sermon-like exhortations. He calls across to Starbuck, and asks him what he thinks of the new men. Starbuck says they must have been smuggled on before the ship sailed. Stubb agrees, and says it must be because of Moby-Dick.
The other men of the ship are at first a little disturbed by the presence of the strangers, but the work of rowing soon takes their minds off of it.
The whales settle down into the sea, and Starbuck has Queequeg come forward, to watch for them surfacing. Flask gets upon the shoulders of Daggoo to see farther. No matter how Flask stamps or moves, Daggoo remains still. Stubb relaxes and lights a pipe, but before he is able to smoke it, his harpooneer, Tashtego sees the whales. The four boats race after a disturbance in the water, each mate shouting various encouragement's to his crew; Ahab's shouts are so vile and crude that they are not fit to repeat.
A storm is approaching, and the boats are pulled apart. Starbuck's is closest, and he spots the whale. Queequeg throws his harpoon, but misses, and the boat is overturned in the commotion. The storm increases, making it impossible to bale out the swamped boat. The men huddle around. After a few hours, the Pequod comes out of a thick fog and almost runs them over. They manage to get its attention, and climb back on board.