With his eyes growing tired, the old man's thoughts turn to his favorite pastime, baseball. He wonders if Joe DiMaggio would be able to stay with a fish for two days straight and believes he must be as worthy as the baseball great, who plays perfectly despite an injury. Santiago only wishes he can be as brave and strong.
To give himself more confidence, the old man remembers a time when he had arm-wrestled a man for an entire day and night. The match had started on a Sunday morning, and referees had to change every four hours so they could sleep. On Monday morning, the betting spectators called for a draw so they could go to work, and just then Santiago ended the match with a last burst of strength. The locals called him "The Champion" for some time, and a rematch proved him the victor again. He fought other men, but won easily-he could always win if he wanted to badly enough. He soon decided that arm wrestling hurt his hands, which he needed for fishing, and did not compete in the matches again.
Just before it turned dark, a dolphin took the bait on the other line. Santiago quickly moved to it, careful to keep the line of the great fish steady in his right hand. With his left, he pulled the dolphin onto the boat and clubbed him. He re-baited the line that had caught the dolphin and decided to gut the catch later so that its meat would be fresher when eaten. While washing his hands off in the water, Santiago notices that the speed of the great fish is perceptibly slower.
As he allows the boat to take some of the pressure off his back for the evening, the old man considers himself in a good position. Whereas the fish has not eaten for two days, he ate today and has food for another day. Although both his hands felt strong, he did not trust his back, where the pain from the cord had dulled it into a strange numbness.
The old man felt sorry for the fish with nothing to eat, but this never decreased his determination to kill it. He imagined all the people that would eat its meat, and how they would not be worthy of the dignity and strength of this fish. The fish is my friend, he thinks, but he still must kill him.
With stars high over his head, Santiago considers whether to increase the drag on the fish. By fastening the oars to the stern, he could make the boat more difficult to pull. At the same time, the lightness of the boat helps prevent the line from breaking under the great strength of the fish. Although the skiff's lightness prolongs the suffering of both man and fish, it also would be helpful if the fish decides to use the great speed he is capable of. He decides he should play for safety for now. The pain of the hook is nothing, while its hunger and inability to comprehend the old man's strategy is everything. He wishes he could secure the line by fastening it to the boat, but any lurch could break it. If the fish speeds up, he needs to be able to give line immediately.
"But you have not slept yet, old man," he said aloud. For the first time, Santiago realizes that a sleep-deprived, foggy mind could be dangerous when crucial decisions need to be made. He feels as clear in the head as the starlit sky above but knows that he must sleep to be strong. First, he plans to prepare the dolphin to be eaten the next day and decides not to increase the drag of the boat during the time he plans to sleep. After moving to the back of the boat slowly without jerking the line, the old man guts, skins, and cuts the dolphin meat into two long strips. He also salvages two flying fish from the dolphin's stomach. He slid the carcass and innards overboard, and placed the meat on the wooden planks of the skiff. He notices that the fish is moving slower, and figures it must be resting-the perfect time for the old man to sleep as well.
Before preparing for a few hours of sleep, the old man forces down one of the flying fish and half of one of the fillets of dolphin, a meat that he notes is terrific when cooked but horrible raw. He notices that the clouds and wind had shifted, and he predicts there will be a storm in three of four days, but not today. Santiago puts all his body weight against his right hand, to prevent it from releasing the line in his sleep. If it does slip, his left hand is positioned to notice the movement, and then he will awake. The old man closed his eyes and fell asleep.
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