One of this “dusky band,” called Fedallah by Ahab, appears to be of Chinese or Filipino descent; he is the harpooneer of an extra whale-boat that Ahab takes as his own, and Ahab order Fedallah and the crew of “tiger-men,” also from Manilla, to drop their whale-boat, on which Ahab will ride in search of the sperm whales. The other three boats—led by Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask—are also lowered into the water. Stubb exhorts his men to row, using strange and colorful language, and Starbuck remarks to him how strange it is that Ahab has smuggled five men aboard the Pequod—Starbuck believes this smuggling has something to do with Ahab’s desire to use all power necessary to find and kill Moby Dick.
Starbuck, as is usual, is the first to understand, truly, what Ahab has done. He has spirited these five men aboard the ship, Starbuck thinks, because these men have some kind of “compact,” or agreement, with Ahab, regarding the whale. It is extremely irregular for a captain to smuggle men aboard his own ship—thus, Starbuck believes, Ahab must have reason to want to hide these men from the rest of the crew. Starbuck will later come to the conclusion that the “dusky band” are agents from hell, sent to catch the white whale. Though it is worthwhile to note that Ahab himself thinks that Moby Dick is the devil, or at least devilish, and so his interpretation and Starbuck's are at odds.
Daggoo allows Flask to climb on his shoulders to see out into the ocean, with the hope of spotting the whales, and Tashtego looks also for whales as Stubb calmly smokes his pipe in the second boat. Ishmael is seated on Starbuck’s boat, near Queequeg, and after rowing out in pursuit of three whales for a long period of time, Starbuck orders Queequeg to ready his harpoon to throw at a whale coming to the surface nearby. But the whale actually surfaces just under Starbuck’s boat, and when it goes back under, it swamps the boat with water, nearly capsizing it. The crew of Starbuck’s boat are all safe, but their pursuit has taken them far out of the path of the Pequod, and the crew use their oars to steady the craft so they can be picked up.
The first “stoving,” or capsizing of a whale-boat, in the novel. It just so happens that Ishmael is aboard this particular boat, and though it is difficult to tell just what his reaction was, in the moment (as he is the one narrating the event as it happens), it becomes clear, later in the chapter, that he is terrified by the incident. Ishmael’s “cowardice,” or at the very least, his fear of some of the more dangerous aspects of whaling, is difficult to gauge, because it would require Ishmael speaking honestly about his own anxieties—something that would have been considered “unmanly” on a whaling vessel.
Finally, after hours have elapsed, Queequeg hears the Pequod through the mists, and the crew realizes that the ship is bearing back on them, to see if they have survived pursuit of the whale. The Pequod nearly hits Starbuck’s boat as it comes around, and the crew of the whale-boat jumps out of the vessel to avoid the Pequod, then climbs back in once the Pequod has seen them. The crew ready themselves to be picked up by the Pequod, and do their best to fight off the chill that has borne down upon them since the whelming of their whale-boat.
And after the stoving, a rescue. Sometimes it is hard to visualize just how difficult the task of the Pequod is in these situations. Presumably, the Pequod’s deck sits many, many meters above the surface of the water—thus, to turn the ship around and head toward a capsized whale-boat, the crew of the Pequod must then stop the ship and lower a rescue rope from a high distance, to help the swamped sailors climb back to safety.