In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Summary & Study Guide

Nathaniel Philbrick
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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick tells the story of a whaleship which was attacked by a large bull sperm whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After the shipwreck, the crew made a journey of over 4,500 miles across the ocean with limited provisions and in small whaleboats. Included in this narrative are the history of whaling in Nantucket, the experiences of whaling, and the effects of starvation and dehydration.

In 1819, the Essex set sail from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts on a voyage to hunt sperm whales and bring back the whale oil. In the first part of its journey, the men experienced a storm which knocked down the ship, and a surfacing whale that damaged one of their whaleboats. They also spent a month rounding Cape Horn.

Reaching the Pacific, the crew made several provisioning stops along the coast of South America, including the Galapagos Islands. The captain, George Pollard, set a course for the Offshore Ground, an area that had recently been discovered by whalers. On the way, the men killed a number of whales. On November 20, 1820, the lookout spotted spouts and the men boarded whaleboats to chase the whales. During this incident, a large bull sperm whale attacked the ship several times, damaging the ship beyond repair.

Thousands of miles from land, the crew gathered what provisions they could into the whaleboats. Fearing cannibals on the islands to the west of where they were, the crew decided to sail for South America. They sailed for around a month before sighting land, but the island, Henderson Island, proved to have an unreliable freshwater source and the men quickly depleted the birds and shellfish located there. Three men decided to remain on the island when the rest of the crew departed, sailing again to the east.

Facing extreme starvation and dehydration, the men would sail for two more months. Along the way, one by one, the men began to die. The first several men were buried at sea but after Owen Chase's whaleboat was separated from the other two and provisions ran low, the men began to eat their dead shipmates. By the end, all three boats would be separated from each other; one would never be found. After sailing over 4,500 miles, Owen Chase, Benjamin Lawrence, and Thomas Nickerson were rescued from their whaleboat and George Pollard and Charles Ramsdell would be rescued five days later from theirs.

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