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Whaling vessel at Aberdeen Harbour, 1898, detail showing whaleboats

The whaleboats were open rowing boats of around 28 feet long. They were lightweight but strongly constructed to withstand the occasional strikes by a whales tail or flipper. Most noticeably they were double ended, which meant they could sail in either direction. This was in case they were spun around by the whale during the chase. Manned by a crew of six, they were sleek fast craft designed to be very manoeuvrable.

illustration of a whaleboat, from diary of a whaling voyage to the Davis Straights, 1831

There were four oarsmen who were aided by the harpooner until they sighted the whale. The sixth acted as a boatsteerer. The boat was steered by a long oar rather than a rudder as an angry whale easily damaged these. The harpooner stood in the bows. When the opportunity presented itself, he fired a harpoon from a gun mounted in the bows or threw one by hand. Both were attached to the boat so the whale could not break free. Most whalers carried six whaleboats. When ready for use, these were slung along the sides of the ship on davits, so that they could be lowered into the water the second a whale was sighted.

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