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"FOUL LINE!" – A Real Incident.

W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XLIV, No. 4 (Oct 1876)
pp. 369-371

"Foul Line!" 369

. . . .

"FOUL LINE!" – A Real Incident.


      We had been quite successful in whaling on the "Off-Shore Grounds," and had stowed down several hundred barrels of oil since leaving Tumbez where we had made our last port. All hands were in high feather, and the captain did not hesitate to prophesy that we should "give the old Tigris a bellyfull," though the earlier part of her voyage had been marked by hard luck and small catchings.

      Our second mate, Mr. Andrew Jayne, was considered the leading whaleman among our officers. He was young and athletic, and in the fullest sense of the word, what is known as a "fishy" man. Fearless even to a fault, he was often rash and headlong, running greater risk than was prudent for an officer having the lives of other men in charge. But as he had been very lucky in escaping serious accidents, all this only went to his credit. He would stick at no toil or peril in the pursuit of the gigantic game, and his boat could show much the longest tally of whales brought to the ship during the voyage.

      His boatsteerer was a Fayal Portuguese, and in character the very antithesis of his superior. Though he did his duty well, and was safe to harpoon his whale under any average circumstances, he was very careful and methodical, and was often startled out of his propriety by the mad freaks of Mr. Jayne. At such times he knew by experience that it was in vain to protest, and contenting himself with a muttered "Diabo!" or two, was fain to submit and follow his leader.

      "Mist’ Zhayne," said Manoel, one pleasant morning when he was overlooking his "craft," in the boat, "I tink better run our line ove'board."

      "What for?" queried the second mate.

370 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      "To get kinks out. See, I no tink this safe – I ’fraid we get foul line."

      "O, let the line alone, and don’t be borrowing trouble about it. The line is well enough, and I’m not going to bother about running it all overboard and coiling it down again."

      "Well, you no want foul line, sir," the boatsteerer remonstrated.

      "Never mind. I’ll risk the line. We’ll let the next whale run it for us – it will be limber enough after that."

      This settled the matter, and there was no more to be said. Manoel did not care to appeal to the captain, but inwardly resolved if he got fast to a whale that sounded heavily, to look out for number one.

      The next morning a large lone whale was discovered from the masthead, and after getting a good run of him for two or three "risings," the boats were lowered in pursuit. Mr. Jayne, with his usual good luck, got the first chance for attack, the whale having, while down, slightly altered his course, so as to rise directly under the lee of his boat. In a few minutes, the light boat under the impetus of the sail and the five paddles, slid quietly down alongside the monster, and Manoel, with a steady hand, planted both irons firmly in his broadside.

      Even before the second harpoon had found its mark, we were all drenched to the skin by a deluge of spray, as the ponderous flukes came down with a resounding slap upon the water, and the next instant no whale was to be seen, but our line was spinning round the loggerhead and out through the chocks with fearful velocity. The whale was evidently in for a heavy "sound."

      "Come here, Manoel!" cried the eager second mate. "Come here, and let me get my lance clear!"

      As the boatsteerer came aft with long strides, I saw him glance anxiously at the line in the tub, which had already begun to show symptoms of being "demoralized."

      "O, don’t look at that line!" said Mr. Jaynes, impatiently. "That’s all right enough."

      He jumped into the head of the boat and began to get his lance cleared away, so as to be ready when the prey should again break water. In his eagerness, he seemed to pay little attention to the line which was so quickly running between his legs and down into the depths of the sea, with a steady tension upon it that made it seem like a wire fixed in one position.

      My place was at the after car, between the line-tub and Manoel, and I confess that while dipping water to wet the line, my eyes were never directed away from that central point where the heart of the coils seemed about to rise up through the upper flakes. I knew that fatal symptom of "heart-disease," and so did the wary Portuguese, for he had seen it before, had warned Mr. Jayne of the danger, and knew that, if our line ran foul, it would be from sheer neglect and recklessness on the part of the officer. He stuck to his post of duty, letting it surge through his hands, and checking the whale as much as it was prudent to do, without running too much risk of "either parting the line or swamping the boat by the head.

      Meanwhile the mate’s boat, with every man straining at his oar, was passing us, and the chief officer, Mr. Andrews, shouted loudly, "Hold on, Manoel! Hold on hard, and box her down!"

      Mr. Jayne fired up at the word, as he always did on such occasions.

      "Who heads this boat? I’d like to know. I’ll give him the word how much strain I want. Surge more, Manoel! Don’t you part that line!"

      "Look out, Mist’ Zhayne! I no like looks that heart in tub."

      "O! Looks be ––" The sentence was never finished. A swarm of rope flew past my head as I threw my body out-board, one of the bights nearly knocking my eye out. I was conscious of hearing Manoel’s wild cry of warning, "Foul Line!" and that each one was making convulsive movements to escape the snarl. There was a sudden stoppage and added strain for an instant, and a jerk. As I looked again, Mr. Jayne was not to be seen!

      "Cut line!" roared Manoel, and "cut line!" echoed everybody else; but it was too late. The whole body of it had gone from the tub, over the bow of the boat, in chaotic confusion. We were all clear of danger from further entanglement, but our brave young officer had gone to his final account.

      Mr. Andrews pursued and struck the whale, for there was no time for indulging in tender sentiment. We, who without a line, could for the present do no more in the conflict, spent our time in pulling over and

Miss Leeds. 371

      across the spot where the fearful accident happened, in a vain hope of seeing some trace of the lost one, though such a hope was without any reasonable foundation.

      But when the whale was killed, and we came to underrun our line, we found some difficulty in doing it. After a long and strong pull, the body of the second mate was brought to the surface, somewhat mangled by the gray sharks, but even more disfigured by the action of the water. He had been towed with such swiftness through the element, at a great depth and under tremendous pressure, that his form was pressed and distorted almost out of all human semblance. A turn of the line was jammed so tightly round one of his thighs, as to have cut deep into the flesh, and the unfortunate young man had thus been hurried into eternity, held in a clasp like that of a vice. There was no time to throw it clear, to cut, or even to cry out for help.

      We had only the melancholy satisfaction afforded to us of committing the body of our shipmate again to the great deep, with the rites of Christian burial. His loss was a serious one to us all, and there was an additional pang in the thought that he owed his untimely fate to his own rashness and want of precaution.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: "Foul Line!" – A Real Incident.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 44, No. 4 (Oct 1876)
Pages: 369-371