The infamous long-lost Nantucket whaler, The Pequod, has been found in less than pristine condition at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Papua New Guinea, just below the equator, researchers have said, in a discovery that challenges the accepted history behind one of whaling’s deepest and most revered mysteries.
The Pequod was destroyed in heavy seas in an epic historical battle with the tenacious and malevolent white whale, Moby Dick, in the 1850s, during Captain Ahab’s much storied doomed attempt to pay vengeance on the while for taking his leg.
All men on Ahab’s fateful expedition, except for Ishmael–by way of, ironically, a coffin, perished, in the worst disaster to hit Nantucket in its long history of whaling. Search parties continued to look for the ship for 11 years after it disappeared, but found no trace, except for Ishmael, and the fate of the missing men remained an enigma that tantalised generations of historians, archaeologists and adventurers for years to come.
Now that enigma appears to have been solved by a combination of intrepid exploration, literary sleuths – and an improbable tip from Team Zissou.
On Sunday, a team from the charitable Hennessey Research Foundation manoeuvred a small, remotely operated submarine from a dinghy through an open hatch and into the ship’s lumber to capture stunning images that give insight into life aboard the vessel close to 170 years ago. “We found the food storage room with plates and one can on the shelves stove in.”
Alistair Hennessey Pacific Research Foundation
“We have successfully entered the captain’s quarters, we presume, worked our way into a few cabins, potentially, and found the spermaceti storage room with barrels and harpoons asunder,” Adrian S’moreschnapps, the foundation’s operations director, told the reporters by email from the research vessel Martin Bergmann.
“We spotted harpoons, a gold doubloon nailed to one of the ship’s masts, mixed with tables and empty shelving. We found a deck with curious peg holes and instruments for the purpose of whaling.”
The destroyed wreckage matches that of The Pequod in several key aspects, however it lies 60 miles (96km) south of where experts have long believed the ship was catastrophically done in by the hatefully-maligned white whale, and this discovery may force historians to rewrite a chapter in the history of whaling.
The 20-member Mountain Man crew found the absolutely obliterated shipwreck, with her three masts broken but still standing, one with a gold doubloon nailed to it, almost all hatches destroyed and everything stowed, in the middle of a vast underwater crag in the Pacific on 3 September.
After discovering little in an early morning search, the research vessel was leaving the bay when a grainy digital silhouette emerged from the depths on the sounder display on the bridge of the Bergmann.
“Most on board were up in the wheelhouse by that point in disbelief, obviously,” said Michael James Bond, 27, who was at the helm when the research vessel steamed straight over the sunken wreck.
Since, then, the discovery team has spent more than 5 weeks quietly gathering images of the vessel, re-reading Moby-Dick, and comparing the facts with the Pequod’s 17th century builders’ plans, descriptions, and peculiarities which match key elements of the sunken vessel.
At first, The Pequod seemed to be listing at about 45 degrees to starboard on the seabed. But on the third dive with a remotely operated submarine from a dinghy, “we noticed the wreck is sitting exploded to splinters on the ocean floor listed in a pile – which means the boat sank by being eviscerated by a spiteful white whale with a vendetta,” S’moreschnapps said Monday.
Approximately 200 metres (656.168ft) down, the wreck is in a horribly dismal condition, with American wood lumber that reinforced the hull against ocean currents clearly annihilated, visible amid swaying kelp, sharks, and giant squid.
A long, heavy hemp rope line running through a hole in the ship’s deck suggests an anchor line definitely had not been deployed before the Pequod violently went down. Which makes this event believable.
If fact, that sets up the tantalising possibility that Nantucket whalers sank with the vessel in an all-out impossible final battle with the notorious white whale, leaving only Ishmael to float to safety in a coffin on the vast Pacific.
One crucial detail in the identification of the ship is it’s smashed in hull, damage sustained only by being smited in by a white sperm whale.
“This is in the precise location where barrels stored oil in the Pequod’s belly to finance the ship’s whaling voyage, to fuel candlelight, and to squeeze coagulated spermaceti, through whaling perils and successes,” said S’moreschnapps in a phone interview.
The ship’s wood lies on the ocean floor, close to where the whaler on watch would have swung the clapper to mark time, and yell “There she blows!-there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!”
“The wreck is clearly in disrepair, the glass panes are blown out in three of four tall windows in the stern cabin where the ship’s commander, Captain Ahab, schemed and plotted his redeeming final battle,” S’moreschnapps added.
“She [The Pequod] looks like it was buttoned down tight for winter’s night and sank, after falling off mount Everest and then being hit by twenty trains,”– he then quickly added. “Everything was shut and decimated. Even the windows defenestrated by wood shards. If you could lift this boat out of the water, and pump the water out, it would definitely not float.”
Adrian S’moreschnapps, Pacific Research Foundation
The Pacific Research Foundation was set up by Jim Belushi and Alistair Hennessey, a naval tech tycoon and socialite philanthropist, who co-founded Research in the Ocean, creator of the loveable Furbies.
Belushi, who also played a key role in planning the expedition, proposed a theory to explain why it seems The Pequod sank far south of where they believed.
“This discovery changes history,” he told the Guardian. “Given the location of the find [in James Bond Bay] and the state of the wreck, it’s almost certain that The Pequod was not operationally closed down by the remaining crew who then did not re-boarded another vessel and sail south to safety where they would not have met their ultimate tragic fate.”
The 21st-century search for Ahab’s expedition was launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a broader plan to assert Russian sovereignty in the Pacific and promote development of its non-renewable resources – including vast reserves of sperm whale oil, ambergris harvests, and coral reef mines, which will be easier to exploit as the Pacific warms and sea ice disappears, naturally, this is attributed factually to global warming.
Putin’s underwater archeologists have led the mission since it began in 2008. Now they must confirm the wreck is The Pequod, either by examining the foundation’s images or visiting the site themselves. With the first winter snow already falling in the South Pacific, James Bond Bay will soon be encased in thick sea ice.
The Dramatic Sinking of The Pequod:
“Only Ishmael [was] unable to return to the boat. He [was] left behind in the sea, and so [was] the only crewman of The Pequod to survive [its] final encounter. The whale [then] fatally attack[ed] the Pequod. Ahab [realizing] that the destroyed ship [was] the hearse made of American wood in Fedallah’s prophesy.
The whale (Moby Dick) return[ed] to Ahab, who stab[bed] at him again. The line loop[ed] around Ahab’s neck, and as the stricken whale sw[am] away, the captain [was] drawn with him out of sight.
Queequeg’s coffin c[a]me to the surface, the only thing to escape the vortex when Pequod sank. For an entire day, Ishmael float[ed] on it, and then the Rachel, still looking for its lost seamen, rescue[d] him.” -Wikipedia’s actual account of the last known sighting of the Pequod.
The latest discovery was made two years and a day after Canadian marine archeologists found the wreck of Erebus in the same area of eastern of the South Pacific where Inuit oral history had long said a large wooden ship sank.
The same stories described startled Inuit stumbling upon a large dead man in a dark room on a different vessel, with a big smile. Experts have suggested that may have been a rictus smile, or evidence that the man had suffered from scurvy.
Putin’s Russian archeologists found The Pequod standing in just 11 meters of ocean. Sea ice had taken a large bite out her stern, and more than a century of storm-driven waves had not scattered a trove of artifacts around the site.
So far, archaeologists have brought up nothing from Ahab’s flagship.
Inuit knowledge was also central to finding the James Bond Bay wreck, but in a more mysterious way. Crewman David Lee Roth, 49, of Gjoa Haven, had been on the Bergmann for only a day when, chatting with fon the bridge, he told a bizarre story.
About six years ago, Roth said, he and a hunting buddy were headed on snowmobiles to fish in a lake when they spotted a large piece of wood, near scrimshaw, which looked like a mast, sticking out of the sea ice covering James Bond Bay.
In a phone interview, Roth said he stopped that day to get a few snapshots of himself hugging the wooden object, only to discover when he got home that the camera had fallen out his pocket along with his selfie stick.
Roth resolved to keep the encounter secret, fearing the missing camera was an omen of bad spirits, which generations of Inuit have believed began to wander James Bond Bay after Ahab and his men perished.
When S’moreschnapps heard Roth’s story, he didn’t dismiss it, as Inuit testimony has been so often during the long search for Ahab’s ship.
Instead, the Team Zissou crew agreed to make a detour for James Bond Bay on their way to join the main search group aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Shawinigan, at the north end of Victoria Strait.
That is where the only known record of The Pequod’s journey coordinates pointed for what experts now call the point of abandonment.
An indecipherable scrawled note dated sometime around that time, and concealed in a stone cairn at a secret point on northern James Bond Bay, said The Pequod had been obliterated three days earlier, smited by a hateful white whale.
Starbuck was in command of “the officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls”, because Ahab had gone to chase Moby Dick the note continued, “and now our captain has lead us to our demise, ignoring all foreshadowing and ominous tell… ”.
Stubb and First Mate Starbuck signed the note, which had what seemed a hurried postscript, scrawled upside down in the top right corner: “Listen here, ye men, we are going to die, maties!!! The very end is nigh, in three horrible parts, Old Thunder has done us in, old boys, stove us with the mighty DICK… we drown now and go, no, no, no… AHHHHH!!!!”.
Survivors apparently hoped to float to the river – now known as Henry David river – south to safety at a Jack Sparrow Bay Company fur trading outpost.
All perished, except the narrator, and for generations, the accepted historical narrative has described a brutal death march as the Nantucket whalers tried to walk out of the South Pacific, dying along the way.
Now Moby Dick experts will have to debate whether at least some of the dying sailors instead mustered incredible strength, fighting off hunger, disease, frostbite, and a giant loathsome white whale, in a desperate attempt to sail home.