nickname was Golly; his official name was Cyril. His family lived on
the same road as my family, in our village of Clairwood. He attended
the same school as me. He was in standard six when I was in standard
he graduated from school in the 1960's, Golly got a job as a sailor
on a whaler boat out of the City of Durban. The whaler boat had a
crew of five men, including the captain.
hunted whales in the Antarctic ocean. In the Antarctic, below
freezing temperatures in blisteringly swift winds, are the norm.
was a cruel profession. Golly did not like being a whaler. From his
accounts to us, nobody liked being a whaler. The work was brutal, in
merciless conditions. However, paid employment was nearly impossible
to get in our part of the country in those times. He felt so unhappy
about killing whales that although every member of the crew was given
as much whale meat to take home as he could carry, Golly brought home
no whale meat. One of his whaler friends, Ernest Usher, brought us
some once. When cooked, the meat was delicious
brutal on the body, that the industry had extreme difficulty hiring
the full four sailors needed on a whaler for the three-month season.
Most sailors served for only one season. A whaling boat sailed from a
home-base in Norway. It took less than a day to arrive at Durban,
South Africa. The boat would not set sail from home-base in Norway,
until four crew men had been hired in Durban.
was there a season that went uninterrupted by the whaler having to
return to port emptyhanded because an ill sailor had to be brought
back. Golly was among the few who seemed to be genetically perfectly
equipped to be a whaler sailor. In the years he was a whaler, he was
the only one who returned every year.
although some seasons were delayed because four were late to find,
never was a season cancelled.
a whale was sighted, the helmsman would set a course in chase. The
captain would prepare the harpoon gun. He was the only harponeer on
board; the only one who fired the harpoon gun.
lookout man stationed at the top of the high mast-pole would track
the whale with his telescope. His job was to discern if the whale was
accompanied by a calf. If it was not, he gave the signal to go in for
a group of whales was sighted, the whaler would follow the group
until one whale left the group.
the boat was close enough to the unsuspecting whale, the captain
would fire the harpoon. The captain never missed. The harpoon's
arrow-point would penetrate deep into the whale's body. From then on,
the whalers waited as the whale towed their whaler. It could take up
to an hour for the whale to die of exhaustion.
the whale was dead, the whaler towed the dead whale back to the
whaling station located in Durban.
a whale chose to attack, a whaler boat would not stand a fighting
chance. And yet, up until 1975, the last year Golly's hometown was a
base for Antarctic whaling, there was no record of such an attack.
There are records of isolated incidents involving whales accidentally
surfacing from under small craft, capsizing them.
was the cook on the whaler. He was successful most of the time in not
witnessing the chase and the kill of an unsuspecting whale. Golly was
especially thankful for the inexplicable Whale Industry policy that
whale meat was never on the menu on a whaler boat. Nobody has cared
to provide a practical or scientific explanation of the policy.
personal, deeply prejudiced, explanation was that whale meat cooked
and eaten on a whale boat would be too closely akin to cannibalism.
whaling industry was financially profitable enough for it to continue
for many years because in a three-month hunting season each year, no
more than three whales needed to be killed. More than three every
year would have not been practical because, usually, weeks would pass
before a whale was sighted that was legally allowed to be killed.
was in those weeks that Golly spent his free time carving a whale
tooth from his collection of whale teeth, into a figure of a whale.
It was Golly's labour-of-love in expiation of being complicit in
whale-murdering. By the end of the whaling season, Golly returned
home with about half-dozen perfectly beautiful hand-sized whale
carvings. Family and others urged him to sell them; he never did.
was the last season for Golly. At the time he could not have known
whaler was in pursuit of its unsuspecting victim. The weather turned
violent. It was early afternoon, but the stormy weather made it seem
like midnight dark. The captain called off the chase because in the
rainstorm, visibility had significantly been diminished.
boats are designed for all weathers. There never had been a
weather-sinking in modern times. The captain had no doubt his boat
would be no exception.
the seconds it took the helmsman to realize there was no
communication from the mast-pole lookout, the boat was blown
off-course onto shoreline rocks. The damage made it likely the boat
would start sinking at any moment.
captain shot the harpoon into the rocks. The harpoon cable provided a
lifeline for the crew to hand-swing to safety on the rocks.
wave smacked into the boat. It sank. The lifeline cable disappeared
underwater. Only the top of the mast-pole was visible. All hope was
lost for the five and the boat. The four deckhands did not know at
the time that the mast lookout sailor, Ernest Usher, had fallen from
his post, and had instantly perished in the storm.
a miracle! The boat slowly emerged and lodged firmly against the
rocks. The cable surfaced, intact, and still firmly attached to the
harpoon gun at one end, and in the harpoon itself at the other. The
harpoon arrow-head spear was firmly embedded in rock. The four
scrambled one-by-one, one after the other, captain last, they
pushed-pulled themselves upside-down along the cable, hand-over-hand
and feet crossed above and against the cable. They stepped onto rock
when they reached th harpoon. On the shoreline rocks, they huddled
against towering rocks until the storm subsided.
captain dismissed the miracle as a normal consequence of extreme wave
motions during a storm.
Golly's account to us, the whale they had been chasing but never got
close enough to harpoon, had returned. It had braced itself against
the boat, and raised it above the water.
that whale sensed Golly was on board, and needed help in order to
complete his latest whale-carving?
body of the mast lookout whaler was never recovered. The other four
crewmen spent a few days in hospital, and recovered completely.
the boat sank out of view for a few minutes, the captain had been
seriously injured. He was in hospital for more than a few days. When
he recovered, the Company housed him in a hotel for a few weeks
before his return to Norway.
those weeks, the Company hired Golly to chauffer the captain around.
When the captain returned to Norway, he invited Golly to apply to
work for the Company in Norway. Golly's application was successful.
The last I heard about Golly, was that he was living happily, in
Golly had come back to his home on Cherry Road, Clairwood, after his
few days stay in hospital, he gave me a present; the last whale he
carved on board, from a whale's tooth.
am looking at it now, on my table as I am writing this account, over
sixty years later.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story list and biography
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