Journal of a Sabbatical

logbook of the whaling ship Lagoda

January 3, 1998

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On January 3, 1841 Herman Melville sailed from the port of New Bedford aboard the Fairhaven whale ship, Acushnet. On Saturday, January 3, 1998 starting at 12 noon, a group of readers gathered in the Lagoda Room at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the Second Annual round-the-clock reading,"Moby-Dick: The Marathon".

Nancy and I got there well over an hour early to make sure we were there for "Call me Ishmael." I parked on Johnny Cake Hill right in front of the museum. I couldn't believe my great parking space.

At noon, the officer of the watch rang out eight bells and the reading began. People read continuously from two podiums at the stern of the Lagoda, the Whaling Museum's 89-foot half-scale whale ship, the biggest ship model in the world, and in front of Richard Ellis' giant mural of the White Whale.

The first reader (a local former Asst. D.A. and semi-pro actor) was actually in costume as a sailor. He read well too. When we came to the part where Ishmael goes to the Seamen's Bethel and hear's Father Mapple's sermon on Jonah, we all trooped across the street where a local pastor and amateur actor read the sermon from the ship's prow pulpit. As we entered the church, museum staffers handed out sheet music for the hymn. We all sang out when the time came. I found myself looking around at the cenotaphs on the walls and wondering about the seamen memorialized there. What were their lives like? How did their families feel about their going to sea?

The sermon really moved me too, with its themes of repentance and of speaking truth to power.


We lasted about 8 1/2 hours into the reading. I did get up and wander around the museum a bit and so missed some chapters, but I caught most of the first third of the book. On one of my wanderings, just to amuse myself I made a logbook entry for the Lagoda at the interactive kids' exhibit. The exhibit provided rubber stamps with the symbols used by the whaling captains and some ruled log paper with a drawing of the Lagoda. Each whale icon stamped in the log represents a whale captured. The blank spot in the middle of the whale icon is the space to write down how many gallons of oil came from that whale. A whale tail icon (not shown above) represents a whale sighted but escaped. A ship represents a gam - a meeting with another ship.

Around 6:00 PM they set out a whale ship dinner featuring chowder, lobscouse (some kind of seamen's stew with meats and chowder), plum duff, grog, coffee, and hot cider. Nancy bravely tried the chowder and the strange stew - purported to be just like what the whale men would have eaten. Being vegetarian, I settled for an apple, some grapes, and some Chex party mix - which I doubt the whale men ate. Neither of us dared try the grog. Hot cider went down really well. We both got refills on that.

It was really hard to leave. I wanted to stay 'til the bitter end but Nancy was getting sick and my butt was going to sleep from sitting, not to mention that the whale men's dinner didn't do much for either of us, so we sought out dinner in Providence.

I insisted we watch the 11:00 news on Channel 6 because I had seen a cameraman there. Sure enough, the Moby Dick Marathon made the news and there we were - though barely recognizable when seen from above- amidst the crowd arrayed around the Lagoda hanging on every word. A kid from Bristol who had borrowed my copy of the book to prepare himself was interviewed on the news about his experiences. This was his first time reading aloud in public. I've read in public before. I used to be in great demand to read scripture at weddings, funerals, Masses of all kinds. Didn't get a chance to read at this event though.I was on standby to read and one of the museum staff even came over to ask if I would read if necessary, but then another standby got called instead of me. Listening was enough for me though.

I kinda want to go back tomorrow for the last third...

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