Moby Dick Chapter 85 - 87
Chapter 85 - 87
The Fountain/The Tail/The Grand Armada
The spout of a whale is an amazing thing. Because it breathes air like a normal man, the whale must surface. However, it can manage to stay below for much longer, breathing through its spout. It is dangerous to approach the thing too closely, but Ishmael hypothesizes that the spout is nothing but mist, the effect of a whale thinking about Eternity.
The tail of the Sperm Whale is at least fifty feet square. It is highly flexible, and hugely powerful, and capable of five basic functions: to swim faster, to be used as a weapon in battle, to sweep, to lobtail (slapping the ocean), and in peaking flukes. The tail is so mighty that it cannot be truly expressed in words.
The Pequod sails through the straits of Sundra, passing by Asia and China, on its way to the Line in the Pacific, a known hunting ground of Moby-Dick. They do this without stopping on land, because the ship is well stocked with food and water, enough for years of sailing. The area is known as home to herds of Sperm Whales, and soon one is spotted; the Pequod takes after it. While they are following the herd, a group of pirates start to chase them from behind. The Pequod soon outdistances the pirates, but the incident troubles Ahab, who sees it as being chased to his vengeance by devils.
Soon the herd is close enough, and boats are lowered to take after it. At first it seems that the herd might outdistance them, but then the whales seem to see their pursuers, and panic; much like a rioting group of humans, all this floundering doesn't achieve much in the way of escape. The boats separate, each searching for lone whales on the outside of the herd to attack. Soon after, Queequeg hits one, and his boat is pulled into the heart of the herd. Using thick squares of wood called druggs, the men of his boat attempt to impede other whales, to be gotten later. Eventually, Queequeg's boat stops in the middle of the herd, and they are unable to break free; the inside is calm, and peaceful, with young whales coming up to the boat and bumping gently against it. The men even see a young whale still attached to his mother's umbilical cord.
"But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy." Chapter 87, pg. 328
A wounded whale comes back into the herd, allowing the trapped boat to escape. The herd swims away, and the Pequod manages to only capture one whale; the other wounded or drugged ones will have to be gotten by other ships.