Thursday, December 01, 2005

More Charles W. Morgan


Here's the fo'cstle of the Morgan, where the crew would have spent their free time. Melville claimed that the crew had a better voyage than the officers, because the fo'cstle was upwind of everything else on the ship, while the officers where back in the stern. Makes sense, especially on a whaling ship, which had a giant stove for rendering whale blubber in the middle of the deck.


And this is, of course, is the steering-wheely-thingy.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Melville claimed that the crew had a better voyage than the officers, because the fo'cstle was upwind of everything else on the ship, while the officers where back in the stern. Makes sense, especially on a whaling ship, which had a giant stove for rendering whale blubber in the middle of the deck."

Actually, it doesn't make any sense. The front of a sailing ship is always downwind, because the ship is propelled forward by the force of the wind. That's exactly why the officers lived in the stern - and why, incidentally, the "head" is literally in the head of the ship, where none of its smells will drift through the rest of her.

If the stern was downwind of the stem of the ship (as it is in a ship propelled by coal or oil, of course, which usually move faster than the wind) then the entire waist of the ship would be blotted out by the smoke from the galley fires at mealtimes.

Note: I'm not just trying to be a prick, btw. Naval adventure fans are incredibly picky about these kinds of details - I just might be helping you build a fan-base! Comment on my blog if you respond to my comment.

Anonymous said...

(jcb again):

The "steering wheel-thing" is called the helm, btw, and the tiller ropes woudl never be exposed like that in a whaling ship, nor would it ever be so small in relation to the width of the boom or have so few spokes. Otherwise it would not stand up to a storm - immense pressure would be on those ropes; all the pressure that the wind exerts on the headsails of the ship is balanced by the rudder. If they were fraid through constant exposure to the elements they would not hold.

Anonymous said...

the point he's trying to make about air is metaphysical.

"For in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern . . . so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle, He thinks he breathhes it first, but not so."

Melville's talking about how ultimately no one's really a captain - no one's really in charge; as Bob Dylan put it "you gotta serve somebody." So while the Commodore thinks he breathes the air first, actually the common sailor on the forecastle has, for "in this world" the wind always comes from where you least expect it - the head of the ship.

Anonymous said...

. . . note the next line following what I quoted:

"In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it."

Joel Priddy said...

I think it's clear that Melville writing on several levels, including informative narrative, social satire, metaphysical and, yes, fart joke. This is why we keep coming back to Moby Dick. There's always something new to tease out of it. And while Melville is certainly capable of impractical flights of fancy (whale teeth for belaying pins), I continue with the assumption that his technical descriptions of shipboard operations are accurate, even when he's making a couple other points along the way.

As far as the helm goes, all I can say is that this is what I saw aboard the Morgan. And they seem to take the whole preservation thing pretty seriously at Mystic Seaport. The helm is covered, and almost completely enclosed on three sides, so perhaps that provides sufficient protection from storms?

Of course, the Morgan is atypical (or, at least, a bad model for the Pequod) in several ways including - get this - a sewing cabin placed directly in front of the helm for a captain's wife. Can you imagine how differently Moby Dick would have turned out if Ahab had brought his new bride to sea with him? That poor man needed some love.

Matt said...

Funny you boys should be jabbering on about this. I'm re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia at the moment (yeah yeah, I'm just a big stupid 5 year old at heart), and in "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" Mr. Lewis mentioned something about this too, just a few pages ago from my perspective. He explained it the same as Anonymous Jersey Jim: stinky stuff up front since the wind's coming form the back.

But I'd assume an Oxford Prof like Lewis had maybe even less sailing experience than I, so feel free to leave my 2 centy somewhere in a dark corner to collect dust, if not interest.