Danger and hardship makes the sailor,"" wrote first mate Owen Chase in 1821. His book is the account of the stranger than fiction last voyage of the Essex out of Nantucket. Provisioned for two and a half years, the ship had completed half its run and was hunting in the South Pacific when the sea and all its creatures seem to turn on the Essex to get back some of its own. Stove in by the freak attack of a gigantic sperm whale, the ship quickly sank leaving three boats full of men who then had to beat off ferocious fish. Adrift with little food, less water and unreliable charts, Chase recorded a classic story of survival. With food and water gone, the dying men in Chase's boat had only the spirit to drive to survive with. In some cases, the stock ran out . ""I have no language to paint the anguish of our souls in this dreadful dilemma,"" wrote Chase and he proceeded to a somber, honest report of a solution the editors point out was not uncommon after shipwreck. They had to eat their own dead. At last, a few survivors in two separated boats reached the coast of Chile and got home. A foreword by the editors provides a background of whaling conditions and their afterword supplies the histories of the men who had to live with the psychological effects of their ordeal. Chase could still write of whaling -- ""The profession is full of honourable excitement."" So is his book which says so much with such affecting restraint that all salt water fiction pales in comparison.