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Greasy Luck: A Whaling Sketchbook

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Greasy Luck: A Whaling Sketchbook
By Gordon Grant. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 2004. Pg. xiv, 150. 64 Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-486-43741-8.


Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - January 5, 2005

The lure of the sea has drawn countless men and women to seek their livelihoods on the sea. Whalers were a unique group amongst those that plied the seas. These men not only hunted monstrously sized prey, but also had to deal with harsh weather condition and dangerous working conditions in which one false step could spell their doom. In hindsight, whalers did their job far too well, almost annihilating the very creatures from which they garnered their income. In Greasy Luck: A Whaling Sketchbook Gordon Grant brings a typical voyage of a mid-17th to mid-18th century Whaler to life, in vivid detail.

Once a huge industry, whaling has become a niche market with only a few countries actively hunting the whale. Grant's book provides a glimpse of whaling when it was still a flourishing industry. Originally published by William Farquhar Payson in 1932. This edition is faithful to the original. Like the first edition, this edition contains sixty-four sketches by Grant that illustrate whaling life and the accouterments of the trade. Each illustration is accompanied by an informative description or commentary that explains what is shown in the illustration. For example, on page 89 there is a sketch of a large piece of whale meat being taken aboard a ship, the commentary on the facing page (pg. 88) reads:
The Blanket Piece Coming Aboard
When the tackle was "block and block," the third mate or one of the boatsteerers, with his "boarding knife," made a hole for the second tackle. A heavy blubber hook, or the eye in the long strop of the block in the foreground was pushed through and secured on the outside by a heavy wooden pin or toggle. The second tackle was hove taut and take up the weight and the upper piece sliced off.
As a whole, these commentaries serve to provide a basic overview of how a whale was hunted. Grant also provides important information about the tools used, providing sketches and descriptions of the various boats, harpoons, types of whales hunted, and the various roles played by the ships crew members provides a general overview of the industry.

Greasy Luck: A Whaling Sketchbook is an informative book and one that will benefit any with an interest in maritime history, whaling, as well as anyone wishing to pursue some fascinating images of a bygone era that range from men hoisting topsails and a blacksmith at work to facial sketches of the crew of a Yankee whaler and a whaleman working a piece of scrimshaw.


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