Mr Snell meets Moby Dick

IT’S a sign of the times.

Poor bloke doesn’t even run into the whale — it runs into him!

But do we care? No, not really.

There’s a bit of sympathetic mouth pursing and sucking in of breath and the next question is: WHERE’S THE WHALE?

If it had been a rock, or a submerged shipping container as skipper David Snell first thought, we’d have cared more.

But it was a whale, and what’s more it was white. Possibly the only one. Frankly I think it’s a publicity hunter. Probably waiting to be spotted so it can audition for a part in Free Willy III. It’s already been seen on the Gold Coast, home of Movie World.

Except that it’s already blown that. I mean, it obviously can’t jump like Willy or Mr Snell’s boat would not be repairable. It would be flat.

I can’t upstage his story. I’ve never been attacked by a white whale. But I have been surrounded by common or garden grey ones. I was going to say ‘the pleasure’ of being surrounded, but it wasn’t a pleasure. It was bloody terrifying.

There you are, wallowing becalmed on a sunny day, when a piece of ocean solidifies beside you, then another, and another. Gradually the water is turning to rock, except that it’s not. It’s turning to whale. Rock would be better.

If it were a dog you could pat it and stammer: “nice dog,” while you backed away. You can’t back away from a whale. Not in a becalmed sailing boat. You can start the engine of course. But what would you do if a mosquito screamed in your ear while were sunbathing? You’d swat it, is what. And believe me, whales don’t need a rolled up newspaper.

Whale authorities will tell you smugly that humpback whales can’t eat you because they only eat krill, which is the kind of shrimp you wouldn’t bother barbecuing. But whales don’t need to eat you. They weigh 25 tonnes-plus. They just have to pat you.

Same effect. And you don’t have to spit out the peaked cap and the deck shoes after.

I admire Mr Snell. I thought he took it very well. The last person who was attacked by a white whale spent the rest of his life trying to hunt it down.

That was Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Moby Dick killed him.

It wouldn’t happen in 2003. In 2003 white whales have friends in government. At the moment they’re scouring the eastern seaboard of Queensland trying to find this one. They think it might have Mr Snell’s centreboard stuck in its back — a kind of latter day harpoon.

Come to think of it, it does have shades of Moby Dick about it. If I were Mr Snell I’d be worrying that, next time, it might surface beside me to ask: “Is this your centreboard?”

With its tail.

He will, of course, dine out on it for years, but — no offence Mr Snell — it won’t be the same. You need an oil lamp, a stormy night and someone called Cap’n Ahab roaring “Ah, Jim lad!”

It doesn’t work if your name’s Mr Snell and the lights are electric.

And it doesn’t work, either, if your stunned audience says: “My God, that’s awful! Was the whale all right?”