In this chapter, the Pequod finally gets underway. It’s Christmas day, and it’s cold. The ship is covered in ice: “The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows.” Peleg and Bildad are aboard making the final preparations. Peleg enjoins the sailors to work hard by giving them a kick in the pants — literally, as Ishmael discovers to his chagrin. Bildad is one of the island’s licensed pilots and he serves that role as the Pequod starts out to sea — probably, Ishmael surmises, to avoid paying the pilot’s fees to someone else.
We learn that the Pequod is set for a a voyage of three years, as Ishmael puts it, a “long and perilous a voyage — beyond both stormy Capes.” The industry that had begun in the 17th century with boats launched from the shores of New England, the whales towed back the same day and processed on shore. But the history of the whaling industry, as Ric Burns’s documentary Into the Deep dramatizes so well, can be seen as a cautionary tale about what happens when you base an industry on a finite natural resource. (Into the Deep makes interesting watching here in Abu Dhabi, where it can be seen as an allegory of the oil industry today. If projects like Masdar are any indication, however, the folks here in the Emirates seem to have figured out that it’s necessary to start thinking about the post-oil age now, while the oil is still abundant.) As Eric Jay Dolin puts it in the Burns documentary:
And one whale man decided to go offshore