Just like a little girl should.../ ...and eighty-nine years later she ate that whale/ Because she said she would!!!"). But Queequeg, Ishmael's friend who speaks pidgin and is from some faraway pagan island, has breathed some life into the sails.
According to shmoop.com, Queequeg was based on a Maori chief named Tupai Cupa, whom Melville read about in a book called The New Zealanders by George Lillie Craik.
Here is a picture of Tupai Cupa (the site I took the image from has an interesting explanation of how his facial tattoo was also the basis of his signature):
I love Melville's descriptions of Nantucket:
Look at it- a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you .........that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to the very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering as to the backs of sea turtles.
or New Bedford, Connecticut:
On one side, New Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice- covered trees all glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of casks on casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.