It was when Ishmael had his turn at the foremast-head. "To and fro I idly swayed in what seemed an enchanted air. In that dreamy mood, losing all consciousness, at last my soul went out of my body. With a shock I came back to life. [A speedy resurrection!] And lo! close under our lee, not forty fathoms off ['Full fathom five thy father lies . . . &c.'] a GIGANTIC SPERM WHALE lay rolling in the water like the capsized hull of a frigate. 'CLEAR AWAY THE BOATS! Luff!' cried Ahab. And obeying his own order, he dashed the helm down before the helmsman could handle the spokes." [Gotcha! Spokes come on a wheel, but the Pequod's helm was a tiller made from the jawbone of him 'parm whale, dear reader. Go way back and read H.I.M.'s description of the venerable craft as she lay at Straight Wharf, Nantucket Town. Anyway, dashing the helm down will make the ship come up into the wind and luff (shivver me sails, lads).]
Alliteration time: "Ahab gave orders that not an oar should be used, and no man must speak but in whispers. So seated like Ontario Indians on the gunwales [gunn'ls] of the boats, we swiftly but silently paddled along; the calm not admitting of the noiseless sails being set." [Rowing makes noise; paddling doesn't. No wind, so can't put the sails up in the boats.] "Presently, the monster perpendicularly flitted his tail forty feet into the air, and then sank out of sight like a tower swallowed up. 'THERE GO FLUKES!' was the cry."
When the whale rose again, the chase was on. "Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!" screamed the Gay-Header [Tashtego]; "Kee-hee! Kee-hee!" yelled Daggoo; "Ka-la! Koo-loo!" howled Queequeg. And thus with oars and yells the keels cut the sea. Stubb then gives the welcome cry -- "Stand up, Tashtego! -- give it to him!" The harpoon was hurled. "Stern all!" and the oarsmen backed water [rowed so as to back away from the whale]. "At the same moment something went hot and hissing along every one of their wrists. It was the magical line. Stubb had swiftly caught two additional turns with it round the loggerhead, whence, by reason of its increased rapid circlings, a hempen blue smoke now jetted up as the line passed round and round the loggerhead." Stubb's boat was fastened to the whale by means of the harpoon and line. "The boat now flew through the boiling water like a shark, all fins." [It is remarkable that H.I.M. never uses the usual term Nantucket sleighride for this break-neck tow behind a pain-crazed whale].
As if the whizzing line were not bad enough, tradition demands that Tashtego, the harpooneer, and Stubb, the headsman, change places -- while the boat careens, pitches, rolls, yaws, and smacks the water at 15 or 20 harrowing knots. Why? So the senior man can have the honor of lancing the whale to death -- a sea-going toreador at a marine festa brava [bull fight]. "'Haul in -- haul in!' cried Stubb, and facing round towards the whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him. Firmly planting his knee in the clumsy cleat [a notch carved in the bow of the boat], Stubb darted his lance repeatedly at the flying fish. `Pull up -- pull up -- close to!'" At this juncture, H.I.M. describes a bloody, gory scene calculated to disgust. "'He's dead, Mr. Stubb,' said Daggoo. Stubb stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made."