Ishmael tells the reader that Ahab would probably not have had much to say to the crew of the Albatross, even if they were able to speak to one another within earshot—Ahab is interested only in news of the white whale, and nothing else. But, Ishmael continues, “gamming,” or communication between whale-ships, is a very common practice, especially among the Americans. In a gam, two ships come up near one another, and the two captains meet on one ship, the two first mates on another. There, the captains and mates exchange stories of the sea, information about whales, and letters, if one is going into port and one coming out. Ishmael states that the gam is a very important, perhaps the most important, means of communication between whale vessels on the high seas.
For Ahab, however, the typical rules of “gamming” have been changed to suit his monomania. Ahab does not care to exchange letters with the shore—indeed, he has a wife and a child, mentioned to him occasionally by Starbuck, but Ahab does not desire information about them, nor does he wish to share any with them while out at sea. Instead, Ahab has only one question for the ships with which he comes in contact: “Hast thou seen the White Whale?” And his degree of interest in that ship depends entirely on their answer to the question.