In November 1820, an enraged sperm whale wrecked the whaleship Essex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leaving 20 sailors afloat in three small boats, 1,300 miles from land.
Fearing cannibals on the closest islands—20 to 30 days’ sail away—the officers set course instead for South America, hoping to run 3,000 miles against contrary winds before exhausting their limited food and water.
Three months later, passing ships picked up five emaciated survivors. Three others remained stranded on a remote island, and 12 men were dead—seven of them eaten by their starving shipmates.
Join us as we recount the story of the Essex and its crew and explore where these men came from, what happened to them, and how their tragic tale has fascinated storytellers for nearly 200 years.