Study Guide

In the Heart of the Sea Chapter 5

By Nathaniel Philbrick

Chapter 5

The Attack

  • By November, "the Essex had sailed more than a thousand miles west of the Galapagos" (5.2). They're in desolate waters now.
  • The crewmembers haven't been able to snag a whale in a while, however. Things have got so bad that Chase demotes Benjamin Lawrence and makes himself the harpooner.
  • The Essex's first try with this new set-up fails miserably. Just as before, a whale surfaces underneath Chase's whaleboat and wrecks it.
  • Another whale is spotted four days later. Chase leads his boat out, leaving Lawrence to steer the Essex.
  • Can you guess what happens? Once again, a whale takes Chase's boat out of commission, "opening a hole in the boat's side" (5.12). Chase and company return to the ship, leaving Chase to frantically repair his boat while novice Nickerson takes the helm of the Essex.
  • Nickerson spots the whale that knocked them out of commission—it's a big 'un, about eighty-five feet long. Oh, and it also happens to be heading straight toward the Essex.
  • To everyone's utter shock, the giant whale collides with the ship. Chase has an opportunity to throw a lance at the whale, but he decides to refrain in case it damages the ship.
  • Meanwhile, the whale heads "several hundred yards ahead of the ship" before turning around and careening toward them faster than before (5.24). Ruh-roh.
  • Bam! This second head-butt is even harder, and the boat is now filling with water. The Essex is sinking.
  • As this happens, a crewmember named William Bond has a stroke of genius. He hustles down to the officers' quarters and grabs the "navigational equipment" (5.28). This is key.
  • The remaining crewmembers hustle into the damaged whaleboat and abandon ship. It's only now that the other two whaleboats notice what happened. The mood is understandably tense.
  • The book presents a possible explanation for this incident, suggesting that the sound of Chase hammering at his whaleboat was interpreted as a mating call by the giant male whale. Even though the first attack might have been accidental, though, the second strikes were definitely intentional attacks.
  • The crew strips the Essex of its remaining materials: water, hardtack (bad quality bread), tools, and a few turtles. With nowhere else to go, the crew ties their three whaleboats to the wreckage to chill for the night.

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