Based upon the incredibly true yarn = story, (Nathaniel Philbrick’s book The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex), that inspired Moby Dick by Herman Melville. In 1819, a crew of Nantucket whalers including members of the Coffin family set sail for Hawaii to attempt to harvest 2,000 barrels of whale oil by the Nantucket Sleigh Ride and are attacked by a great white sperm whale that rams and sinks their ship. The crew set out 2,000 miles from land in 3 life boats and end up starving to the point of cannibalism.
Coffin Ancestors of Nantucket :
The Essex, an American whaleship from Nantucket, Massachusetts, sank after a sperm whale attacked it in the Pacific Ocean in November 1820. Having lost their ship, the crew of the Essex attempted to sail to South America in whaleboats. After suffering from starvation and dehydration, most of the crew died before the survivors were rescued in February 1821.
In retelling the story of the crew’s ordeal, Philbrick utilizes an account written by Thomas Nickerson, who was a teenage cabin boy on board the Essex and wrote about the experience in his old age; his account was lost until 1960 but was not authenticated until 1980 before being published, abridged, in 1984. The book also utilizes the better known account of Owen Chase, the ship’s first mate, which was published soon after the ordeal.
The ordeal of the whaleship Essex was an event as mythic in the nineteenth century as the sinking of the Titanic was in the twentieth. In 1819, the Essex left Nantucket for the South Pacific with twenty crew members aboard. In the middle of the South Pacific the ship was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale. The crew drifted for more than ninety days in three tiny whaleboats, succumbing to weather, hunger, disease, and ultimately turning to drastic measures in the fight for survival. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little–known documents-including a long–lost account written by the ship’s cabin boy-and penetrating details about whaling and the Nantucket community to reveal the chilling events surrounding this epic maritime disaster. An intense and mesmerizing read, In the Heart of the Sea is a monumental work of history forever placing the Essex tragedy in the American historical canon.