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Now that the excitement of the chase is over, Ishmael and the rest of the crew have time to wonder about the bizarre appearance of Fedallah and his men.
Flask and Stubb are amazed that Ahab actually went out in one of the boats, even though he’s missing a leg. They don’t actually know whether the leg is cut off above or below the knee because they haven’t seen Ahab kneel.
Ishmael proposes an age-old whaleboat dilemma: should the captain risk his (relatively important) life by going out in one of the hunting boats personally?
In Ahab’s case, there’s even more reason for him to stay on the ship—even completely able-bodied men have trouble standing upright in the boats, and Ahab’s disability might jeopardize the other men in his boat.
At least, that’s what the owners of the Pequod thought, and that’s why the three hunting boats are under the command of the three mates.
But Ahab wants to have a boat of his own so he can get out there and hunt Moby Dick, so he has taken steps of his own to make sure he’d have a boat and a crew.
Before they set off, the seamen saw Ahab making some preparations in the spare boat that suggested he was getting it ready for himself, but they thought he’d only go out to hunt Moby Dick—not other whales.
The four rowers that Ahab secretly brought aboard the Pequod quickly find their places in the crew, but Fedallah always seems mystical and strange, both more primitive and closer to the gods than other men.