The mariner, when drawing nigh the coasts of foreign lands, if by night he hear the roar of breakers, starts to vigilance, and feels just enough of trepidation to sharpen all his faculties; but under precisely similar circumstances, let him be called from his hammock to view his ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness—as if from encircling headlands shoals of combed white bears were swimming round him, then he feels a silent, superstitious dread; the shrouded phantom of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost; in vain the lead assures him he is still off soundings; heart and helm they both go down; he never rests till blue water is under him again. Yet where is the mariner who will tell thee, “Sir, it was not so much the fear of striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness that so stirred me?”
—The Whiteness Of The Whale
A simple concept expanded to infinite symbolic proportions in Chapter 23: The Lee Shore, here in its most straightforward usage. Melville explores a sailor’s complex relationship to land—in good weather the land is friend to the sailor, but when the gale blows and the ship can’t be controlled, a ship in open water stands to great advantage. Most shores in this world are perilous to a ship in a storm, and the Shoals card is meant to represent that particular stroke of dread luck, when a boat or ship strays too close to rocky shores in bad weather. Castaway stands opposite to Shoals—tidally, the sea gives and the sea takes.
Original Image Courtesy of the University of Washington Freshwater and Marine Image Bank.