Saturday, January 14, 2012

Whaling and Whalers

The fascinating thing about researching is you just don't know where you will end up.  You start exploring one interesting thread which then leads to another and before you know it you are knitting together the words for your next post.  Well that's how this post started out.  I initially set out with the intention of identifying my next destination for my world in stitches journey, but before long I found myself propelled back in time once again to the heroic age of exploration. This time embarking with Ernest Shackleton and his five companions on their epic rescue journey from Elephant Islands in the South Shetlands to South Georgia.

Launching the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island, 24 April 1916
Why I'm retracing this route, I'm unsure.  Their traverse of the roughest seas on earth in the 22.5ft long open  whaleboat James Caird and their gruelling trek over South Georgia's mountains and glaciers was a truly remarkable feat but what were the connections to wool and knitting.  My gut tells me there is a story here but at this stage in my journey I'm unsure where.  I decide to persevere.    

South Georgia I discover is "a real oasis in the stormy southern oceans". It certainly must have seemed like that to Shackleton who travelled 800 miles to reach it, surviving freezing temperatures, gigantic waves and fierce storms.  The island has no permanent human population but is home to sea and land birds, seals, and oddly, Eurasian reindeer.  In the early 20th century it was the whaling capital of the world and it was whalers who first greeted Shackleton at the end of his epic rescue journey.  

I start to read about whaling and find myself recalling haunting images from my childhood of whales being slaughtered and butchered.  I am relieved that the photographs I encounter on the web are mainly black and white.  I struggle to comprehend the sheer scale of the whaling industry.  At its peak numbers slaughtered exceeded 45,000 a year.   It must have turned the sea red.  I examine a couple of photographs more closely.
Five men around open mouth of beached whale at whaling-station
Source: Imagesforall  
South Atlantic whaling - harpooner
Have I discovered a connection - whalers and their knitted pullovers?  Time to explore further.

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