The Yankee Whaleboat

men in Yankee whaleboat
Caption: William H. Tripp, Chasing off for whales, 1925.

The Yankee whaleboat represents the ultimate evolution of its type in the American whale fishery. Double-ended whaleboats seating six men had been in use since the time of the Basques in the 12th century. Dutch and English whalers adopted similar forms in their Arctic fisheries of the 17th and 18th centuries but the American form of the 18th century, made from native cedar and white oak, was a lighter craft. It came to be used at sea in the sperm whale fishery in cooperation with a larger vessel and soon evolved into one of the “most perfect water craft that has ever floated.” It could be rowed, sailed, or paddled. American whale ships commonly carried between three and five whaleboats. Most carried four although smaller schooners carried three. Many thousands of these boats were built by a large number of builders in New England and San Francisco seaports. In New Bedford alone there were eight whaleboat builders in 1870 however by 1914 there were only four.