Even though it is still dark, Santiago rows out of the harbor into the sea in search of the elusive fish. But he was not alone. Many other boats embarked in the same direction seeking the same thing. When they reached the mouth of the harbor, the boats fanned out in all directions. Today, the old man planned to head farther out than the others-with each dip of the paddle into the water, the smell of the ocean grew stronger and the smell of land weaker.
He rowed past an area called "The Great Well" by the fishermen, marked by phosphorescent seaweed, where concentrations of shrimp, squid, and baitfish congregate within the sudden depth. It is here that many birds circle in order to find a marine meal. Santiago thinks about how difficult it must be to be a bird trying to fish, with only a small, frail frame with which he must challenge the relentless and cruel sea. He believes they have a harder life than people. Humans are often treated well by la mar, which is the Spanish name fishermen use for the sea when they love her. He remembered when the younger, wealthier fishermen called her the masculine el mar, as if the sea was a challenger or even an enemy. But the old man saw the sea a feminine creature that gave or withheld great favors.
After working the wells for so long, the old man decides that the deep sea may hold a more plentiful bounty. When light began to pour over the horizon, he realized he was farther out than he expected to be so early in the morning. He dropped four baits to depths from forty to one hundred and twenty-five fathoms, and began drifting with the current. The baitfish were attached to lines as thick as a pencil, each with forty-fathom spare coils. If necessary, the spare coils could be attached to one another to allow a fish to take over three hundred fathoms of line. In order to alert him when one of the lines gets a bite, the old man attached three sticks that dip when the line is pulled.
Santiago carefully watched these sticks, hoping the dip of one would mean the end of his fishing draught. As the sun rose, he could see the other boats in the distance, much closer to the shore than he. He made sure the lines fell straight into the sea, so that each bait would be at the exact level he wanted it-others allowed the current to shorten the depth with its pull. Although he feels he has no luck anymore, he remains precise so he will be ready when luck strikes.
Above his head a man-of-war bird flies by, and Santiago takes his movement as a sign that fish are nearby. He rowed slowly toward where the bird circled. Soon, he spots the flying fish sought by the bird. But the bird has competition-a dolphin is hot on the trail of the small fish. Land was far away now, only a green line on the horizon. And the dark ocean water barely revealed only red sifting plankton below. With no fish in sight, Santiago curses the water: "Aqua mala (Evil water). You whore." A Portuguese man-of-war floating beside the boat left a trail of poisonous filaments that could attach to the lines and give him welts and sores as he pulled them in.
The old man delighted as the turtles ate the man-of-war. He had a special place in his heart for the shell-backed creatures. He marveled at their elegance, speed, and strength. He ate turtle eggs through the year to give him strength to fish. Despite its awful taste, he also drank a cup of shark liver oil every day to fight colds and the flu. He looked up from the turtles to see the bird circling again around a potential fish in the sea.
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