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Whaleship Essex

Whaleships moved lazily up the west coast of South America, zigging and zagging across a living sea of oil. For that is how the Pacific was viewed in the 1800's, a vast field of warm blooded oil deposits known as sperm whales.

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In 1819, the 238 ton Whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket Island on a routine voyage for whales.

Fifteen months later the unthinkable happened. In the farthest reaches of the South Pacific, the Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged Sperm whale. For its twenty-man crew, it was the beginning of unimaginable horror.

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Thomas Nickerson  
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Nickerson's Sketch  
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Fearing cannibals on the islands to the west, it was decided instead to sail their 3 tiny boats for the distant South American coast. They would eventually travel over 4,500 miles, and one by one they would succumb to hunger, thirst, disease and fear.

Even though it is little remembered today, the sinking of the whaleship Essex by an enraged Sperm whale, was one of the most well known maritime disasters of the 19th century.

  • Listen to the related Odyssey log when they visited the site of the Essex tragedy: Real Audio

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    Owen Chase  
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