There was a problem with two flue irons; they could cut their way back out, and a whale would be lost. When the whale ran and force was applied to the whale line, the harpoon shaft bent, and in doing so the two flue head could be bent and repositioned such that only one flue caught in the flesh to hold fast. The opposite flue would then be positioned with the sharp edge presented to uncut flesh. The force on the whale line and shaft, plus the motions imparted by the fleeing whale, caused the sharp flue to cut its way out. With one flue removed, only the single flue would catch and hold fast. The broad flat side of the head would be presented to uncut flesh rather than the sharp edge of the opposite flue.

Another difficulty with two flue irons was the size of the head across the flue tips. Blubber was difficult to penetrate; the larger the harpoon head, the more difficult it was to dart the iron deep enough to hold fast. A simple remedy was to eliminate one flue to reduce the width of the head.

The single flue iron was developed sometime around the early 1820's. No one in particular is given credit for this design. The first recorded use in the American fishery occurred in 1824. Reuben Delano, in Wanderings and Adventures of Reuben Delano, Being a Narrative of Twelve Years Life in a Whale Ship!, Boston, 1846, wrote about his voyage in Ship Stanton of Fairhaven, 1824 - 1827. Early in the voyage in 1824:

Author's collection

Our boats were cleared away, and our first officer was soon "on and fast" to a good sized whale, with a one flud [sic] iron which did not hold him in tow fifteen minutes before it drew.

There was not much variation to the single flue design. Some flues were long and curved while others were short and hefty. This harpoon became popular about 1840, but never completely replaced the two flue irons. The single flue iron was short lived due to the development of the toggle iron in 1848, but even so it was preferred by some and was found in a whaleship's inventory through the 19th century, although in decreasing numbers. (See the tabulation for harpoon inventory over the years for a typical whaleship on the Harpoon page).

©: 2000 - 2008Thomas G. Lytle . All rights reserved

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