A large typhoon hits the Pequod, and the crew prepares the ship by lowering the sails and attempting to ride out the storm. Ahab, on deck with the other mates and the harpooneers, notices that the three masts of the ship have been touched with balls of flame called “corpusants,” which occasionally “arise during sea-storms” and cause the top of the masts “to look like candles.” Ahab, crazed by this scene, and viewing it as indicative of the nature of his quest to kill the white fiend, mounts on Fedallah’s back (who is standing by the main mast) and announce that every man on the ship has agreed to hunt the white whale with him, and that no man can turn back now. Starbuck believes that Ahab and the vessel are “ill-omened,” and that they should sail out of the storm and back home, but Ahab says this will not be possible, and the “half-mutinous cries” of the crew subside, as they return to their places, terrified at the mania that has seized Ahab.
Storms aboard ships were often viewed by superstitious sailors as events with terrible implications for the ship itself. Here, the storm appears to presage the final confrontation with the whale. The storm also hammers home the belief of many on the ship—increasing by the day—that Ahab and Fedallah have made some kind of pact with the devil, or that, perhaps, Fedallah is the devil himself. Although the lights atop the mast are a scientifically-explainable event, the crew chooses to believe that these “candles” are an omen of the ill luck the ship is about to experience, as the final approach to Moby Dick’s swimming-ground is made. And yet Ahab's almost inhuman passion and monomania overcome both Starbuck's caution and the fear and distrust of the other sailors on the ship.