Ahab, high on his watch, turns to Starbuck after many hours, and begins a long harangue that appears, at first, to indicate that Ahab has regrets about chasing the whale. He says that, forty years ago, he began whaling, and he has only spent “three years on land” since then. He has barely seen his “young wife and child.” And yet he continues with the chase. Although Starbuck tries to use this as an opening to convince Ahab to come down and bring the ship home, Ahab cannot be swayed, and he looks out again at the sea, wondering aloud about fate, about who causes him to hunt Moby Dick—himself, God, or another power. Ahab then looks down to find that Starbuck has left Ahab to be alone with his ravings.
Starbuck uses this interaction as a final opportunity to try to convince Ahab to come to his senses. It is notable here that Ahab at least listens to Starbuck, realizing the two people in his family he has abandoned on shore and wondering whether he is even in control of his own actions—is he making decisions or is it some external power, whether fate or his own madness? But, regardless, Ahab is too far into his quest to abandon it now, and Starbuck seems to understand that. Instead, Starbuck wishes only to voice his opposition to Ahab’s plan, perhaps as a means of clearing his own (Starbuck’s) conscience, before the final encounter with the whale.