Chapter 52 The Albatross

        [Note: Sailors once called these birds goney or gooney (dumbbell) birds, rather than by the name albatross. Coleridge immortalized the name albatross in his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which perpetuated the superstitious awe in which these birds were held by seafaring men. (In the poem, the Mariner killed an albatross and had to wear the dead carcass around his neck as penance.) It was considered a grave sin to harm these birds; yet, many were caught by sailors with baited hooks, in order to get their beautiful white feathers.]

        The Pequod has rounded the Cape of Good Hope, heading east, and is now southeast of that Cape, entering the Indian Ocean, "off the distant Crozetts" [the Crozet Islands, at about 45 degrees South Latitude, 50 degrees West Longitude], "a good cruising ground for Right Whalemen." A Nantucket whaleship, the Goney, is encountered -- a ship that has obviously been at sea for years, and is heading back home with a cargo of oil. The long-bearded look-outs at her three mast-heads keep silent as they come within a few feet of their counterparts on the Pequod.

        Instead of a friendly greeting, Ahab hailed the Goney's captain with the rude demand, "Ship ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?" At the mere mention of Moby Dick, the captain of the Goney dropped his speaking-trumpet into the sea. The wind was howling, so there was no chance of Ahab going in a boat to board the Goney to get an answer. Ahab took up his speaking-trumpet and shouted, "This is the Pequod, bound round the world! Tell them to address all future letters to the Pacific Ocean! and this time three years, if I am not home, tell them to address them to --"

        Ahab never finished. His eye caught a school of small fish that had been swimming along with the Pequod, and he watched them dart away to follow the wake of the other ship. "Swim away from me, do ye?" said the distracted old man, more in sadness than in anger. Then he cried out to the steersman, "Up helm! [put the tiller "up" towards windward, causing the vessel to go "off the wind", catching more wind in her sails; while a "down" or "a'lee" command would do the opposite -- "come about" into the wind and slow down.] "Keep her off round the world."

        The phrase round the world sparks a thrill in Ishmael, but he quickly falls to ruminating about the symbolism of chasing "that demon phantom", Moby Dick, around the world: "Were this world an endless plain, and by sailing eastward we could for ever reach new distances, and discover more sweet and strange sights, then there were promise in the voyage. But in tormented chase of the demon phantom that, at some time or other, swims before all human hearts -- then while chasing over this round globe after those mysteries -- they either lead us on in barren mazes, or midway leave us whelmed."

        It s pretty clear that Melville is taking us on a round-the-globe voyage to perdition.