Storms, Ice and Shipwrecks

In addition to the danger of hunting such a formidable creature, whalers faced the same risks from stormy seas as other merchant vessels of their time. Rough seas, hurricanes and even water spouts posed serious threats. In October of 1872, two whale ships from New Bedford were wrecked on the shores of Marble Island in Hudson Bay. No men were lost at the time of the wrecks but they were forced to live on the island for ten months with a lack of proper food and shelter. Many became sick with scurvy and by the time they were picked up by another vessel, fourteen men had died. In 1915, one of the last wooden whaleships from New Bedford, the Alice Knowles, was destroyed in a hurricane. What the men thought was a whale spouting in the distance turned out to be a water spout. In no time the clouds turned black and a hurricane bore down on the ship with full force, shattering it and leaving only two men alive. They were able to scramble onto a whaleboat and were finally rescued two days later, hungry, thirsty and very cold.

Without a doubt, as whaleships went further and further in their search for whales, they faced seas that were often dangerous and unpredictable. Olmstead describes the hazards of rounding Cape Horn this way:

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New Bedford Whaling Museum