A catcher boat in Antarctica returning to the factory
ship with its catch.
Catchers would often operate some considerable distance,
maybe one or two days sailing from the factory ship. Once a whale had
been caught and killed it would be marked with a buoy, the catcher would
then got to find another, when several had been marked in this manner
either the catcher would go and collect them up and take them back to
the factory ship, or sometimes a separate boat would be used for the
purpose of collecting and taking back the catch to be processed so that
the catchers could continue their job.
Several characteristics of catcher boats can be seen
in this picture. The high swept bows with of course the gun platform
and harpoon gun at the front cut-away portion. The gunners bridge can
be made out leading from the wheelhouse to the gun platform and a small
crow's nest atop the main mast where a (usually junior) member of the
crew would sit to scan the surrounding seas for signs of whales. At
the beginning of the season in particular a bounty would often be offered
to these boys in the crow's nest for being the first to spot a whale.
There are a number of other features of the catcher
boat that are peculiar to this kind of vessel that cannot be seen, these
are the mechanisms by which the forces exerted by the capture of a panicked
whale weighing maybe a hundred tons or more on the end of a rope are
As every fisherman by rod and line knows, it is the
flexibility of the rod that in part gives it its strength, if the rod
were rigid, the line inelastic and there no means of allowing the line
to pay out, then rod and / or line would snap when a large fish were
caught. The same principles apply to catching the great whales by harpoon
gun. When Svend Foyn and others were trying out explosively fired and
exploding harpoons, they found that the whale was often lost due to
a snapped line.
Soon a system was put into place whereby there
were means of playing the line out against a slowly applied brake, but
most importantly, there was some means of putting some "give" into the
system the equivalent of the springiness of the fishing rod. The rope
from the harpoon passed through a mechanism called an "accumulator"
that also involved a powerful spring housed below the deck before passing
to the winch that would eventually haul the whale along side.