November 20, 1820

Whaleship Essex Sinks


On this day in 1820, an enormous sperm whale rammed and sank the Nantucket whaleship Essex in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The first mate described the 85-foot whale's unprovoked attack as enraged and vengeful. The 20-man crew of the Essex rigged improvised sails on three whale boats and attempted to sail over 3,000 miles in the open ocean to reach land. During their excruciating voyage, storms, sun, hunger, and scorching thirst made life nearly unbearable. The men began to die, and eventually the living chose to survive by eating the dead. After four months, five survivors were finally picked up off the coast of Chile. The story of the Essex served as the inspiration for Herman Melville's great American novel, Moby-Dick.

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