The men of the Essex would soon learn this would be anything but a routine voyage.
On this particular journey, leading far into the Pacific, the sailors' patience was rewarded as they spotted the desired beast. They surrounded their prey in small whaling boats and stabbed it repeatedly - the common method for whaling back then.
But the whale wouldn't be had.
Enraged and with no other option, the wounded whale repeatedly attacked the ship, damaging it to the point where all of the sailors had to seek refuge in the accompanying boats while their large vessel sank.
Confident, relentless and even cocky the men suddenly realized they were mortal. They underestimated the resilience of this whale despite its history as the lord of the sea. In recent centuries advancements made it possible for man to defeat whales and become open waters' new kings. On this night, however, the pride of the whale and all it had represented since the beginning of time bore out against this new menace.
North Carolina basketball hasn't dominated since the peach basket days but with respect to consistency no program has been better for longer than the Tar Heels.
On Thursday night at 9 p.m. the Heels, rulers of the Atlantic Coast Conference for four decades, will host the new kings of the league, arch rival Duke, in their own Carolina Blue sea at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
The confident, relentless and sometimes cocky Blue Devils will be intent on bludgeoning a UNC team not expected to put up much of a fight, at least in terms of the final result.
Duke will swarm the Heels and attack from all angles, just like whalers did nearly 200 years ago. They will poke, dart, and harpoon Carolina until there is no will left, similar to what happens every time Mike Krzyzewski's team sails into action.
They will simply go for the kill from the outset.
The question is whether Matt Doherty's struggling team will be of the mindset that no matter how quickly the Devils puncture the Heels, will Carolina be resilient and prideful enough to stick around? Will they strike back and knock the nation's number one team off kilter - and actually defeat them?
Furthermore, might the Tar Heels actually attack the Blue Devils and submerge their seemingly unsinkable ship?
If so, UNC will need masterful performances from its pair of senior leaders, Kris Lang and Jason Capel.
Lang, a 6-foot-11 native of Gastonia, will have the duty of battling Duke's phenomenal junior postman Carlos Boozer. Neither team is deep inside but Carolina's intent is more toward the interior than Duke's, increasing the possibility of getting Boozer in foul trouble than the other way around. Lang, who fouled out in just 20 minutes of action at Clemson on Sunday, must display excellent footwork when Boozer makes his patented drop-step moves on the baseline.
Capel, out three games with a concussion prior to playing 27 minutes at Clemson, will also see duty down low but will be challenged defensively. Duke usually employs a four-man perimeter set meaning the 6-foot-8 Fayetteville native will be guarding a uniquely elusive Mike Dunleavy, perhaps the nation's second best player. Thus, helpside defense and communication - not exactly strong points for the Heels this winter – is extremely crucial if UNC is to stymie Duke's attack in any way.
Of course that principle won't matter if the Tar Heels can't get the ball up court and settle into an offensive set. UNC guards Adam Boone, Melvin Scott and Brian Morrison have mostly struggled controlling the ball, averaging a combined 8 assists and 6.6 turnovers per game. In Sunday's 87-69 win, which ended a six-game losing streak, Boone and Scott teamed to dish out seven assists with just a single turnover. They also scored 23 and 17 points respectively.
UNC won't require the guards to score that much, although a big night from the dangerous Morrison would certainly help. The ballhandlers just need to be patient, make sound decisions and get the ball to Lang and Capel. Defensively, they need to somewhat contain the nation's top player in Jason Williams.
It sounds simple considering the gargantuan task at hand. But so was the decision the sperm whale made when it attacked the Essex and in time spawned Herman Melville's famous novel Moby Dick.
Those sailors in 1820 expected to return home having accomplished their goals in undying and brutal fashion. Duke expects the same.
Carolina won't force the Devils into any drastic measures, but crazier things have happened, including in this rivalry. If Duke - last in the ACC at the time - could take No. 2-ranked UNC to double overtime in 1995, perhaps this voyage can be equally unpleasant for the favored Devils.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.