Chapter 51 The Spirit-Spout

        At this juncture, the Pequod is off the coast of Africa, south of the equator and south of the island of St. Helena (where Napoleon was exiled, escorted there by that old Nantucket ship-rigger Robert Ratliff). Ishmael and his dream team are cruising the so-called Carrol Ground, after passing the whaling grounds off the Azores and Cape Verde islands. [Many are the Nantucket, New Bedford, and New England descendants of the sailors native to those islands who shipped on Yankee whaleships.]

        Melville proves himself the lubber of alliteration with this chapter's chiefmost challenge: "It was while gliding through these latter waters, that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude: on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen -- far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow."

        Friend (read Fiend) Fedallah first found this fountain flowing, shouting, "THERE SHE BLOWS!"

        Then did Captain Ahab command t'gallant sails and royals be set, and every stunsail spread [A stunsail, stuns'l, or studding sail, sticks out on the end of the spar carrying the regular sail.] Ahab's commands meant PUT MORE CANVAS OUT! -- catch the more wind, let the ship sail faster, catch that silvery jet, which just might be the spout from BIG DICK! [It has been mentioned that "Moby" is probably a corruption of "Mocha" as in Mocha Dick, the old white bull whale -- the real one -- covered with barnacles and stuck full of harpoons, the one that scourged the Yankee whaling fleet from the year 1810 in the waters near Mocha Island just off the coast of Chile (about 40 degrees South Latitiude). Natucketers called such a whale a "genuine old sog". A magazine article published in 1839 recounts the story of how a Nantucket whaleman, a mate on a Nantucket Whaleship, finally killed Mocha Dick. Melville must have known about this as he wrote Moby-Dick in 1850, as well as he knew the story of the Nantucket whaleship Essex, sunk by a whale in 1820.]

        The crew was thrilled at the spectacle of the ghostly whale-spout in the moonlight that seemed to beckon them to follow. But it disappeared that night. "Every sailor swore he saw it once; not one saw the midnight-spout the second time." Night after night, the mysterious display was repeated; night after night it beckoned; night after night the sail was crowded on to no avail. Always it appeared and disappeared. The superstitious sailors were convinced it was Moby Dick, luring them into danger.

        The weather had been spectacularly fine on the southern course down the African coast, but once they turned eastward to round the Cape of Good Hope, it became a "Cape Tormentoto" of violent tempests, ominous portents of black birds, weird sea-creatures, and "still beckoning us on as before, the solitary jet would at times be descried."

        For days and days the Pequod fought the headwinds. "So, with his ivory leg inserted into its accustomed hole, and with one hand firmly grasping a shroud, Ahab for hours and hours would stand gazing dead to windward, while an occasional squall of sleet or snow would all but congeal his very eyelashes together. Meantime -- the crew driven from the forward part of the ship by perilous seas -- each man stood at the bulwarks tied to the rail in a loose bowline."