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The Whaling Expedition of the Ulysses

Quentin R. Walsh and P. J. Capelotti

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780813034799

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813034799.001.0001

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Classification of Factory Ships

Classification of Factory Ships

(p.101) 5 Classification of Factory Ships
The Whaling Expedition of the Ulysses 1937–38

Quentin R. Walsh

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

The general arrangement of the Ulysses was typical of any modern pelagic whaling factory. Their level of production, which also partly determined how personnel were paid, classed the ships. Modern pelagic factory ships were generally divided into five classes according to their capacity to produce a certain amount of oil. The classification was determined and agreed upon by the owners of the ships and the Norwegian whaling unions. The classification of the factories was supposed to be as theoretically correct as it could possibly be, but this often did not work out in practice. Some of those divergences were so extensive that factors other than oil production were needed to be observed by the unions and the owners when the designation of a factory ship was considered.

Keywords:   Ulysses, whaling factory, classification, Norwegian whaling unions, factory ship

The general arrangement of Ulysses was typical of any modern pelagic whaling factory. The ships are classed by their level of production, which also partly determines how personnel are paid.

A Modern Whaling Factory

The forward part of the vessel contains the bridge, radio room, officers' quarters, crew's quarters, storerooms, etc. The after part possesses the engine room, fire rooms, pump rooms, engineers' quarters, galley, messing facilities, and some of the crew's quarters. The small amidships structure contains the separating room, powder magazines, smithy, and small coal bunkers.

The flensing deck plan is especially interesting; flensing deck is the term applied to the weather deck of any factory ship. Flensing platform is the term generally applied to the after part of the flensing deck; it is just forward of the skidway. Cutting platform is the name designated for that section of the flensing deck contained between the amidships structure and living quarters forward.

It is via the skidway, connecting the opening in the stern with the flensing deck, that the carcass is pulled from the water to the flensing platform. After the blubber is removed and dumped into the Hartman and grinders, located on the sides of the flensing platform, the carcass is pulled forward to the cutting platform. Three bone saws are located on the cutting platform, but only two were actually used by the Ulysses. Here, on the platform, the whale is dissected and dumped into the bone pressers and grinders, located on the sides and ends of the cutting platform respectively.


Classification of Factory Ships

15. A flenser prepares to go to work. “The flensers use a razor-sharp knife, which is curved and attached to a long wooden handle and can best be likened to a hockey stick,” noted Walsh.

The Ulysses had ten cargo booms and thirty winches and capstans for flensing, dissecting, and introducing the whales to the factory system. It was possible to produce between 160 and 200 tons of fresh water daily, but this was insufficient. The ship could produce 1,800 barrels of whale oil, but generally averaged between 1,200 and 1,600 per day when whales were abundant.

The Ulysses possessed the following factory equipment, and approximate daily tonnage:



Capacity (tons)

Daily Fillings

Daily Capacity

Bone pressers



2 ½












Total 1,956 tons

For all practical purposes, therefore, the Ulysses could handle between 1,800 and 2,000 tons of whales per twenty-four hours; this was maximum and a very liberal estimate.

By knowing the amount of equipment installed in a factory, the number of evaporators, and the approximate weight per foot of blue, fin, and humpback whales, a practical estimate may be deduced as to just how (p.103) many whales a factory can process in twenty-four hours. It is possible, therefore, under such conditions to determine whether the law is being observed within reasonable limits.

Classes of Ships

Modern pelagic factory ships are generally divided into five classes according to their capacity to produce a certain amount of oil. The classes and their ratings are:


Barrels to be attained per season











This classification is determined by:

  1. 1. The processing equipment installed.

    1. (a) Number of Kværners.

    2. (b) Number of bone pressers.

    3. (c) Number of Hartmans.

    4. (d) Water, steam, etc., facilities of the factory.

  2. 2. The number of killer boats to work with the factory.

  3. 3. Any other details that tend to increase or reduce the number of whales to be killed and processed.

The classification is determined and agreed upon by the owners of the ships and the Norwegian whaling unions. All class “A” factories are supposed to be able to attain 105,000 barrels at least, during the course of a season; the other classes are supposed to produce their quotas accordingly. This method of segregating the factories allows the crews employed on the variously classed ships to derive approximately the same financial returns over the course of a season. The wages on all factories are the same, but the share per barrel on the lower-classed ships is relatively higher; this allows the crews of smaller ships a greater share for barrels of oil obtained, which, because of the low share on the bigger factories, allows all the crews to receive practically the same salary for their efforts, regardless of the factory to which they are attached.

(p.104) As an example of how this system functions, the following figures are set forth. This is a hypothetical case: A man on a class “A” ship obtains five cents per barrel, therefore he receives $5,250 for his share if the factory produces to its exact requirement. To get the same share, a man on a class “B” ship would have to receive five and eight-tenths cents, and an employee of a class “C” ship would have to get six and five-tenths cents. In this manner of share payment, if the factories attained their classification limit at the end of the season the crews would receive the same amount of pay because their wages are identical. Of course the factor of chance must be considered. If a small or a big factory does not come up to or gains more than the allotted barrels, the crews benefit or lose accordingly on the share. It generally happens that the lower-classed vessels produce more oil than their classification requires; the crews of these vessels are therefore more liberally compensated.

The classification of the factories is supposed to be as theoretically correct as it can possibly be, but it does not work out in practice. Some of these divergences are so extensive that factors other than oil production must be considered by the unions and the owners when the designation of a factory ship is considered. The Pelagos, for instance, is a “B” class ship but she is reputed to have produced 132,000 barrels during the antarctic season of 1937–38; 42,000 barrels of oil over the required class limit is too much difference for even practical and theoretical computations. The Ulysses worked Shark Bay as a class “B” factory but was changed to a class “A” prior to the beginning of the antarctic season. The Ulysses is a class “B” ship; she cannot use all the carcass of the blue and fin as required by law and still produce the oil required of “A” class factories. The Ulysses was considered in the same category as the Kosmos, a 22,000-ton ship, which can produce 2,200 barrels of oil daily. The Ulysses will not attain “A” class rating until more factory equipment is installed and the evaporator capacity increased, and even then difficulties will be encountered because the ship is too narrow. It cannot allow more than one blue or two small fins on the flensing deck at one time, and only one specimen can be dissected at a time on the cutting deck. When the carcass is cut up on the cutting deck the narrow beam of the vessel does not allow the huge sections to be pulled free and worked simultaneously. The resulting congestion therefore delays the work. During the 1937–38 season the Ulysses dumped tons of whale carcass overboard in order to make way for the large number of whales that the killer boats were delivering to the factory.

(p.105) Such a procedure was not in accordance with the Norwegian Whaling Union agreement, and several members of this union complained to the inspector and repeatedly called his attention to the large waste that was taking place. These men, of course, were naturally protecting their own interest; they could not resign themselves to accept the Ulysses as a class “A” factory, which indicated that they had to obtain more oil than the ship was adequately and theoretically equipped to manufacture. How and why the Ulysses was accorded “A” class rating is unknown, but it is believed other factors than mere oil production entered into the consideration between the owners and the whaling unions.

The factories carrying Norwegian personnel have their crews assigned to them by the Norwegian whaling unions after agreement and acceptance by the owners. Once a man is assigned to a factory he remains with that ship season after season and cannot be discharged or replaced as long as the factory operates, and he performs his duties according to his contract and the best of his ability. Each factory worker receives a certain wage in accordance with his particular employment, and he is not allowed to perform any other work except that designated in his contract. There are certain key positions on a factory ship acquired by men who have served an apprenticeship in that particular section of the trade; seniority is considered in advancement also.