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Schooner (Whaling)

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Whaling schooners carried the standard two-masted fore-and-aft rig, almost always without square topsails, and were of moderate size (70 to 80 feet on deck), some later examples being larger. When built specifically for whaling, their bottoms had strong deadrise to keep ballast low in the hull and close to the centerline. This allowed easy initial heeling so the cutting-in tackle hung over the whale's carcass when cutting-in. Beyond that angle, the hull became much more resistant to heeling.

Distinguished by their whaleboats carried on side davits, there is currently only one known example of a whaling schooner depicted by Lane (see A Calm Sea, c.1860 (inv. 6), right foreground), and aspects of the boats and davits are open to question. It was customary for a small whaler to carry two boats on the port side and only one to starboard, leaving the midships part of the starboard side clear for cutting-in the whale. The davits in Lane's painting also differ in form and construction, having horizontal "arms" instead of curved ones.

The strong deadrise in whaling schooner bottoms had the added effect of making their bows and sterns sharper (below the waterline), while the need for work space on deck made their topside ends full and buoyant. A schooner built for whaling could be very able in heavy seas, and while not built for speed, was hardly the dull sailer imagined by many.

Whaling schooners carried three whaleboats ready for action, and often a "spare boat"—upside down—on the "tail feathers" as depicted by Lane. One of the whaleboats in his painting (Inv. 6 foreground) can be seen returning to the schooner. When "going on a whale." there were six men on —five rowing and one steering.

– Erik Ronnberg


1. Clifford W. Ashley, The Yankee Whaler (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1938), 45–47, 57–64.

2. James Templeman Brown, "The Whalemen, Vessels, Apparatus of the Fishery", in G. Brown Goode, The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1887), Section V, Vol. II, 232–35, 240–47.

3. Albert Cook Church, Whale Ships and Whaling (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1938), see photo nos. 2-6, 93-97, 114–23.

A Calm Sea
Fitz Henry Lane
Oil on canvas
24 x 26 1/4 in.
Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass., Estate of Catalina Davis, 1932 (642.13b)

This is the only known depiction of a whaling schooner (detail) in Lane's work, believed to be in New York Harbor.

Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed July 20, 2024).
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