In this short chapter, Ishmael reports that the crew of the Pequod comes near to another whaling vessel, called The Albatross, which has been bleached white by the sun, and on which the crew appears to be starving, half-mad, and clothed in “animal skins.” Ahab attempts to pull up next to The Albatross and speak to the captain of that vessel, asking if the man has seen the White Whale; but the captain cannot hear Ahab over the high winds that whip about the two boats. Ahab notices that the school of fish that had been swimming with the Pequod immediately darted off to follow the Albatross when the ships passed, and Ahab assumes that this is because the fish are afraid of the Pequod’s mission to sail around the world in search of Moby Dick. The two boats part, with Ahab yelling to the other captain, who still cannot hear him, that the Pequod is bound for the Pacific Ocean.
The first of the novel’s many “gams,” or conversations between ships. Gams are extremely important in the novel, as they were on the open seas during the 1800s. For ships had no other means of communicating with land—it was the exchange of letters from outbound to inbound ships, and vice versa, that allowed for occasional, if imperfect, information exchange between sailors and their families and friends. The crew of the Albatross, unfortunately, seems to have been wrecked by its time at sea, but some of the other ships the Pequod encounters seem positively bubbly despite years at sea. This shows the vast range of human experience possible aboard whaling vessels.