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Whaling schooner Amelia, of New Bedford, Massachusetts
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Whaling schooner Amelia, of New Bedford, Massachusetts Drawing by C. S. Raleigh.  

Despite the enormous voyages that whaling ships undertook and the length of time they were away from their home port, 3, 4 or even 5 years, they were often small and lightweight boats. Sometimes they were built for the express purpose of whaling which often meant that they had strengthening added particularly to the bows for when they encountered ice, but sometimes they were converted ships that had had been built for some other purpose in mind.

Whaling could be a financially risky business as well as being physically risky to the men who went "a-whaling". Sometimes ships would find plenty of whales and come back soon filled with whale oil and whalebone. At other times they would sail for much longer than intended and return to port only partly laden. In these circumstances the crew in particular would go short as their wages were almost entirely dependent on how much they caught and what they sold their cargo for. The ships owners looking for a quick profit or seeking to cut their losses would then often sell the ship after an unsuccessful voyage, so ships changed hands and crews often.

Once used as a whaler however a ship would inevitably smell pretty much for ever more of whale oil, which would get into the timbers of wooden ships.

Image courtesy NOAA


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