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The ship's captain , Ahab, had lost a leg when his ship was attacked by a great wahle..

since when we have been using past perfect tense to say that something happened after something , not before something?

shouldn't it be " Ahab , lost a leg when his ship had attacked?

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    Saying 'Ahab lost a leg when his ship had attacked...' would mean that his ship attacked some other ship. Contrast to it, the original sentence says Ahab's ship was attacked. I suppose you intended to write "his ship had been attacked??" – Haritdeep Singh Feb 10 '18 at 10:51
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You have given too little context to determine whether the sentence is proper or not.

Suppose the context was Ahab was captain of a whaling ship, the Pequod, the crew of which the narrator, Ishmael, joined. Arab had lost a leg when the ship was attacked by a whale during a previous voyage. Here, "had lost" refers to a time before the past time when Ishmael joined the crew. "Was attacked" refers to the time when Ahab lost his leg. That set of tenses would not be an error in grammar.

The example might perhaps be considered a clumsy construction because of the use of the simple past to refer to the time when Ishmael joined the crew and to the earlier time when the whale attacked the ship. It would be less clumsy and clearer to write Ahab was captain of a whaling ship, the Pequod, the crew of which Ishmael joined. Ahab had lost a leg during an attack on the ship by a whale during a previous voyage. But clumsy is not the same as ungrammatical.

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