Ishmael notes that the Pequod goes out into the Atlantic for several days, and still no one in the ship sees Ahab, who hides in his quarters. Ishmael wonders to himself if Elijah’s prophecies weren’t true—if Ahab isn’t a cursed, mysterious man. One morning, Ishmael goes onto the quarterdeck, where the captain stands, and sees Ahab there. Ishmael notes that Ahab is a powerful, middle-aged man, with a large white scar running down the side of his body, “like a seam.” Ahab also stands on a white leg made of polished sperm-whale bone, taken from a whale’s jaw.
The notion of a “seam” is an interesting one. For continual mention is made to the fact that Ahab has been “put back together” after his near-deadly fight with Moby Dick—that, indeed, he is like a doll, sewn back into human shape. The question, of course, is whether the patching of Ahab has worked—whether he is indeed a normal man now, capable of leading a crew on the high seas. Ishmael, for his part, appears to recognize in Ahab the potential for a terrifying kind of madness.
Ishmael reports also that Ahab stands in a sort of “pivot-hole” worn into the deck of the Pequod, where he can rest his white leg while steadying his body and being able to turn around 360 degrees. Ishmael notes that Ahab seems preoccupied and has little to do with the day-to-day operations of the ship, as they are mostly setting out a due course into the Atlantic and south, and the whale-boats have not yet been “lowered” in pursuit of whales.
One of the striking descriptions of Ahab’s disability—here, his “pivot-hole” shows the manner by which the Pequod has been made ready for him, and for his special physical state. Other mechanisms for this include a pulley-system for taking Ahab across to other ships, during gams, and a different pulley for hoisting Ahab up the mast, to spot whales.