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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 99 - A Boy Scout at Terminal Velocity (Seas Week)

Tom's Notes:

The Seas (if possible whales)

Audience feedback:


Always love the show, guys. I have officially heard every public and Patreon episode now.

For the 100th episode "The Number 100" could be an interesting topic. Anniversaries, Centenarians, The last 100 yrs, Something that happened 100yrs ago + something that happened 100 weeks ago + days ago+ hours ago.

A few topic ideas to throw in the backlog. Obviously, none need to be used:

Indigenous People (All countries/continents available)

South America

Non-European explorers

This would be so damn hard to make funny, but if you could pull it off...Genocides

Leader's lives after being exiled from their country

Farms/Farming (Obviously with a "Funny Farm" song rewrite)

Bulls & Bears (with all of the current weird stock market happenings)

Weird lives of horror writers

Origins of religions

Cartoons (animated/print/political/etc).

Sorry for sending so many things, and I do not expect to hear any of them, but I thought a list of things in case you are searching for a topic may not be terrible.


Hey, just wanted to say that I love your podcast and it has literally helped get me through the last year with all these sodding lockdowns. It’s been so nice to have something to laugh about; and listening to you two reminds me of being down the pub with my mates, which has been a much needed tonic. Thank you


Michael from Seattle here! My girlfriend was me telling about how in history class in high school (primary school for those on the metric system) her history teacher did a “bad ass of the week” and one of them was Peter the Great of Russia who apparently had a fascination with midgets and in an attempt to westernize Russia, sent a party of midgets and bears to Europe to learn how to westernize Russia! What if for a topic one week you did midgets of history? I’m a few beers deep at the moment at a local brewery so this may not be the best idea, but thought I’d pass it along before I forgot!

Cheers and best from a yankee fan in rainy Seattle!


Great mix of history and hilariousness. Makes my thighs moist. I am a man


Just found this podcast and I love it. The hosts have great chemistry and the concept of having two seperate stories about the same subject is very fun.

Elley Heney:

If you guys gave me a shout out I would do a victory lap of my local supermarket wearing only a placard reading "Vitruvius is a boring shithead".

This week was easy-peasy. Five minutes into my research and I’d discovered something that had everything I could ever want in a story. I later found out that it was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s famous book Moby Dick. Not to be confused with Moby’s Dick; which is the penis of a nineties electronica artist who doesn’t eat steak. I didn’t let this put me off though, the book, not Moby’s dick, because it’s a cracking story and if you do know about it, you’ll enjoy listening to it again, and if you don’t, it’s good general knowledge.

I’m working primarily from one first-hand account of the events soon to be described. Before you get excited, it’s not an account from the whale. I could find an English translation of this – WHALE NOICE.

Instead, it’s the rather snappily titled:


This was written in 1821, so a very quick turnaround! Thank you Project Gutenberg again – you are truly a delight.

There is one other account of the events from one of the other survivors, but I couldn’t find this one and it was written half a century later.

It’s worth drawing your attention to the word ‘spermaceti’. I agree with you, it’s a disgusting sounding word. It’s combines sperm and spaghetti – something nobody wants. This is the name of the waxy substance found in the head, don’t make the obvious joke, of sperm whales. It’s the main reason sperm whales were hunted. It was used for candles, cosmetics as a lubricant – lots of things.

Without further ado, let’s hear from Owen Chase.

Our story starts in Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. Chase tell us that there are 8000 people living here around 1820, 1600 of whom are involved in whaling.

Chase was first mate aboard a ship called the Essex, captained by George Pollard. On the 12th August 1819, it left port, expecting to be away for around 2.5 years whaling. One of these men deserted very early on so we’re basically talking about a crew of 20 people.

They immediately encountered bad weather and the ship was damaged. They repair it as best they can. More importantly, 2 of the smaller whaling boats were lost. After 18 days they reached the Azores, which is closer to Portugal than the US in the Atlantic. They stock up and carry on. 16 days later they reach the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of North West Africa. Here they pick up a whaling boat that had been run aground by previous whalers. By the 18th December, so over 2 months into the journey, they reach Cape Horn; the southern point of South America. They round it and head into the Pacific. On the 17th January they reach St Marys, an Island off the coast of Chile. They gather information about where the best whaling is and then head for the Galapagos Islands.


“We came to anchor, and laid seven days off Hood’s Island, one of the group; during which time we stopped a leak which we had discovered, and obtained three hundred turtle. We then visited Charles Island, where we procured sixty more. These turtle are a most delicious food, and average in weight generally about one hundred pounds, but many of them weigh upwards of eight hundred. With these, ships usually supply themselves for a great length of time, and make a great saving of other provisions. They neither eat nor drink, nor is the least pains taken with them; they are strewed over the deck, thrown under foot, or packed away in the hold, as it suits convenience. They will live upwards of a year without food or water, but soon die in a cold climate.”

I bet the turtles are glad you arrived!

On the 16th November the whalers find some whales and have a near miss. Chase goes onto say that this is perfectly normal, happens all the time! Here’s an interesting fact, the phrase “there she blows”, is a whaling term, it’s a call made when you spot the spray of a whale from their blow hole.

On the 20th November, we get the incident we’ve all been waiting for. More whales are spotted and things don’t start well. Chase is in charge of a whaling boat, he harpoons a whale and the whale gets angry, like you would, and smashed the boat with its tale. The whale then starts swimming off at great speed to Chase cuts the harpoon free to avoid being dragged away. They get back to the ship safely and attempt to fix the boat that was hit.

Then they meet a whale who didn’t want to be messed with:

“before he came down upon us with full speed, and struck the ship with his head, just forward of the fore-chains; he gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar, as nearly threw us all on our faces.”

They met a hard-nut whale, a whale who nutted the boat. Have it! The boat starts to sink and Chase is convinced at this point that it’s going down. Nonetheless, it wasn’t sinking fast and so he gets pumps going and starts getting stuff from the hull of the ship. The whale gets stunned and starts acting a bit odd. Eventually it regains its thoughts and decides, I’m going to nut you again!

“coming down apparently with twice his ordinary speed, and to me at that moment, it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him, and his course towards us was marked by a white foam of a rod in width, which he made with the continual violent thrashing of his tail; his head was about half out of water, and in that way he came upon, and again struck the ship.”

Now they are really fucked!

“We were more than a thousand miles from the nearest land, and with nothing but a light open boat,”

So, the ship has gone, well not entirely, because they spend the next few days clambering around the half sunken ship trying to find anything to salvage.

“saved two quadrants, two practical navigators, and the captain’s trunk and mine; all which were hastily thrown into the boat.”

They find a few turtles but they have already stuffed as many as possible in the boats. Most notably, they dismantle parts of the ship and manage to kit out the three boats with 2 masts each and sails. They also built up the sides of the boats to reduce the amount of salt water getting in.

On November 22nd, the ship was slowly sinking and the men were well aware that they were about to embark on a horrible journey where they would almost definitely run out of food and water. So, they decided to get moving. According to maps, they weren’t too far away from some French Polynesian islands but they were fearful of savages and cannibals (oh the irony). So after much deliberation, they decided to aim for something bigger, namely, South America.

Over the next few days, the men just tried their hardest to stick together (they were in the three boats) and avoid sinking. This involved a lot of bailing out water! On the 25th, one of the boats developed a serious leek, so the other two boats came alongside it and they somehow managed to tip the boat so that the bottom was accessible and some spare wood was nailed over the hole.

On November 28th, a fish estimated to be about 12 feet long attacked one of the boats and made a hole. The men in the ship managed to beat it off after numerous attacks. So another leak had to be fixed.

Water now begins to be an issue. They start to ration it but also want more and more of it due to the fact that they had chosen to eat the bread that had become wet with salt water spray first before it spoiled. “Our extreme sufferings here first commenced.”

November 30th, here’s a grizzly description: “At one o’clock, I proposed to our boat’s crew to kill one of the turtle; two of which we had in our possession. I need not say, that the proposition was hailed with the utmost enthusiasm; hunger had set its ravenous gnawings upon our stomachs, and we waited with impatience to suck the warm flowing blood of the animal. A small fire was kindled in the shell of the turtle, and after dividing the blood, (of which there was about a gill,) among those of us who felt disposed to drink it, we cooked the remainder, entrails and all, and enjoyed from it an unspeakably fine repast.”

By December 10th, Chase is going to sleep next to his chest full of their provisions with his gun loaded. Things are getting piratey. On the same day, they catch some flying fish, eat them like Gollum and also spot clams on the bottom of the boat. They collect as many as they can and gobble them up too!

20th December they final see land – the Ducies Islands, which is a Pitcairn Island. It was actually Henderson Island. They got ashore and commenced looking for water and eating anything they could find. Eventually they found fresh water and had a whale of a time! Sorry, poor choice of words. Interestingly, they found a carving saying ‘The Elizabeth’ on a tree. This was from a year before. The island was only discovered a few months before the Elizabeth arrived (although technically some Spaniards and Portugese had been on the island in the early 17th century and skeletons were found in a cave by the men I’ve been talking about.

27th December, they decided to carry on. All bar 3 men who couldn’t face it any more.

10th January, the first man dies. He was sewn up in his clothes and thrown overboard tied to a stone. The next day Chase’s boat separates from the other two. In the coming days, they’re attacked by a big shark; just what you want.

January 20th, one of the black crew members dies and is thrown overboard.

Around January 28th, and this isn’t recorded in the journal but worth noting, the two other boats become separated.

January 30th, things get dark. You all saw that his was coming:

“We kept his corpse all night, and in the morning my two companions began as of course to make preparations to dispose of it in the sea; when after reflecting on the subject all night, I addressed them on the painful subject of keeping the body for food!! Our provisions could not possibly last us beyond three days… and we set to work as fast as we were able to prepare it so as to prevent its spoiling. We separated his limbs from his body, and cut all the flesh from the bones; after which, we opened the body, took out the heart, and then closed it again—sewed it up as decently as we could, and committed it to the sea. We now first commenced to satisfy the immediate cravings of nature from the heart, which we eagerly devoured, and then eat sparingly of a few pieces of the flesh; after which, we hung up the remainder, cut in thin strips about the boat, to dry in the sun: we made a fire and roasted some of it, to serve us during the next day.”

February 15th, Chase’s boat is spotted by a whaling ship and they are finally saved! So on this ship, only one person was eaten after they died of natural causes.

As it turns out, the other two boats stayed together and were also eventually picked up by whaling ship on the brink of starvation. Here’s a quote from Chase:

“on the twenty-fifth, the black man, Lawson Thomas, died, and was eaten by his surviving companions. On the twenty-first, the captain and his crew were in the like dreadful situation with respect to their provisions; and on the twenty-third, another coloured man, Charles Shorter, died out of the same boat, and his body was shared for food between the crews of both boats. On the twenty-seventh, another, Isaac Shepherd, (a black man,) died in the third boat; and on the twenty-eighth, another black, named Samuel Reed, died out of the captain’s boat.”

Once they’d eaten all the black men, they drew lots for who was next. It’s interesting that of the 6 black men on the original ship, 4 were eaten, one died before the cannibalism began and the other was lost at sea. They also drew lots for who was going to be the executioner. Another man was duly eaten. Then another died, so they were eaten.

In the end, five of the 20 men survived the boat journey, the 3 men left on the island were later rescued, leaving 12 men who died, that includes the three men in third boat that got lost (a boat was apparently discovered a long time later washed up on a Pitcairn Island with 3 skeletons in it). All in all, I think I calculated that that 7 people were eaten. The whaleship Essex sank on 20th November, Chase’s boat was rescued on February 15th and the other boat was rescued on the 23rd.

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