Whaling ships could be away for months and months at a time (sometimes over a year!). The famous whale ship The Diana was away for 14 months!
Whaling ships were away for so long that quite often families and friends would have given up hope of seeing their loved ones ever again. Remember there was no way that the Whalers could contact the people at home.
The men who worked onboard the whaling ships would have had to endure the coldest conditions!
Arctic winters are long and cold, and summers are short and cool. Ice covers most of the ocean surface all the year round. The minimum temperatures that the Whalers would have had to endure would have been minus 68° C and the maximum what have been about minus 5° C.
The living quarters onboard a whaling ship were divided into two areas. The captain and the two mates would have had quite luxurious cabins at the rear. The rest of the crew would live in the steerage section. The hold and the blubber room were where barrels, provisions, spare sails and ropes would have been stored.
The Whaler's normal rations would have included salted meat (to prevent the meat from going off), dry tea, coffee and sugar, dried peas (which were made into soups etc), beer, a small amount of fresh vegetables at the beginning of the voyage (without modern refrigerators, they did not stay in good condition very long!) and most importantly ship's biscuits.
Ship's biscuits were eaten instead of bread (which would have gone mouldy) and they were very hard and often ended up riddled with small maggots or weevils!
There were all kinds of jobs onboard a whale ship! Here are some examples...
The supreme sailor onboard was The Master (or 'Captain'). He was in charge of the ship and everyone else working in it. He was the one to decide where the ship would go and when. The Captain would write accounts of what had happened on each part of the journey and record any whales that had been caught.
The Captain would have had assistants called 'Mates' - they helped the Captain to make decisions and manage the ship.
The Blacksmith, Carpenter, Cook and Cooper (Caskmaker) ranked higher than ordinary crewmen. When the crew chased a whale, these men (and the Captain and Mates) remained behind as shipkeepers.
Find out about life as a Whaler during the 'Voyage to the Arctic: A Whaler's Tale' led session! Click here to go to led session information.