In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6: The Plan


The wind blew jagged debris toward the ship and so each of the three boats, headed by the captain and mates respectively, put somebody on duty to keep watch in the darkness - a terrifying duty. When morning came, the men returned to the wreck in search of final provisions and anything that might be of use. They tore the sails from the ship and made makeshift masts for their whaleboats with Chase's needles and twine, which were luckily saved from the wreck. They built up the sides of their boats by two feet so that they wouldn't take on so much water in their weak rafts. The men worked diligently but were soon bludgeoned with the extreme despair of their situation, at times even coming close to fainting. The floors became dangerously slippery with the once-prized oil of their journey.

Pollard determined that they had drifted 19 miles during the night. Their makeshift crafts could only travel with the wind, so their options were extremely limited. Sailing to South America was out of the question because of the 2000-mile journey it required, but traveling to the nearest island, the Marquesas, had its own perceived danger of the cannibalism practiced there. The Hawaiian Islands were thought to be too dangerous because of storms that gather in the area. Pollard found the Society Islands to be their best bet, but he and the mates disagreed because their only information about these islands were vague rumors of savagery and that they had better not take the risk. Pollard succumbed to their logic. They would make for South America.

In retrospect, Nantucketers' ignorance of the Pacific Ocean is truly incredible. Chinese traders had been making stops at the Hawaiian Islands and the Marquesas for decades and there was readily accessible information contrary to many of the rumors they had heard. The Society Islands had been inhabited by English missionaries since 1797 as well. There was a fair trade wind heading straight to these islands and much of the following travesty could have been easily avoided with only rudimentary knowledge. Indeed, this was a product of xenophobia: if new information came from anybody who was not a Nantucketer, it was suspect.

Pollard had known better, but because of his democratic leaning at this early stage of panic, something that disaster psychologists warn against in favor of authoritarian leadership, they were on a fatal course. Chase and Pollard had mismatched ambitions as captain and mate respectively. Pollard continued to feel a strong tie to the Nantucketers aboard as he put them on his own whaleboat. He equipped the other mates with pistols and kept a musket for himself to ensure that, under arduous circumstances, discipline would be maintained.

By 4pm, they had lost sight of the ship and the men's morale began to improve. Although their lives hung by a thread, they were no longer haunted by the vision of their past.


The terrific nature of being as far away from human civilization as possible finally set in at night, when the men had to keep watch for debris that could damage their boats. Knowing this, the men needed to start moving in a direction. This is another instance where leadership comes into Philbrick's narrative. Considering that sailors are not the most educated men, as is shown by the fact that Nickerson's childhood friend had attended Harvard, it is no surprise that they have not intellectualized what it means to be a leader until this point, but that does not excuse is their ignorance of the Pacific Ocean. Instead of heading toward certain safety, at least for a few weeks, they instead headed toward the South American coast with very little evidence that it was even possible. A sliver of hope and a dose of xenophobia guided them to this preposterous plan toward Western culture. They were not even confident about the trade winds that they were supposed to pick up.

To make matters worse, they were utterly wrong about their options in the first place. This is something that Philbrick and other historians found out after the fact, serving to enhance the story, but not necessarily to improve the circumstances that the men were suffering. However, the final moment in the chapter does serve to uplift the men. Philbrick's reach into the psychology of men who died over a century ago is astounding, and is only bolstered by the many scientific studies he includes surrounding trauma and starvation.