He did not dream of the lions on the beach of Africa as he often did at home in Cuba but rather dreamed about a vast school of porpoises jumping above the water during mating season. Then he dreamed he was in his cabin at home, and his arm had fallen asleep from sleeping on it during the night. Then he saw the long beach with the lions, and he was happy.
Suddenly, he was awoken with the line racing out of his right hand. He secured the line against his back with his left hand, allowing the fish to take more line but making him pay for every inch. The fish jumped many times, and the old man brought the line to the breaking point many times. He could not see the fish jump so far out at sea, but could hear the splashes. The line sped from his hand fast enough to burn it, but tried to keep the friction on the calloused parts to reduce damage. He thinks of how the boy would wet the coils of the line if he were here. If only the boy were here, he thinks. The line continued to go out, but it soon began to slow. He had plenty of line left, and now the fish had to pull the friction of so much more line in the water. Also, the dozen jumps had filled the sacks along the fish's back with air, and he could no longer go to the bottom of the sea to die. The old man wonders what started the fish so suddenly. Maybe hunger, or even fear? He doubts such a calm, strong fish is capable of fear, and he hopes he can be fearless, too. He fears he will eventually run out of line if the fish does not start to circle soon. But for now, he had enough to hold against its pull.
He continues to show contempt for his left hand, which had failed to find the line quickly when he had just awoken. Much longer, and the great fish would have taken all the line. He does say that the hand has performed reasonably well despite the cramp, but if it cramps again he would not mind if the line cuts it off for good. He considers eating the dolphin, but fears that the nausea will make him vomit and lose his strength. Instead, he eats the last flying fish, choosing possible light-headedness from malnourishment over the crippling effects of nausea.
Soon, the old man noticed that the great fish had begun to circle the boat. Although they were enormous circles, he knew the real fight would soon begin. During the circles, the old man would slowly pull on the line until the breaking point, and then give line back. After two hours, the fish was not yet in sight, but the circles were smaller, and the slant in the line indicated he was rising to the surface slowly. Over the next, he felt himself get dizzy and almost faint under the intense exertion, and this worried him. He promises God that he'll say one hundred Hail Mary's to help him endure but that he could not say them now. For now, he must work.
Just then, he felt a sudden sharp, heavy banging and jerking on the line that he had not felt before. The old man thinks the fish must be hitting the wire leader with his spear. Although this was bound to happen, he fears it will cause him to jump. Every jump widens the hook wound, and gives the fish a better chance of throwing the hook. After some time, the fish stopped hitting the wire, and started circling slowly again. Santiago gained line steadily now but felt faint again. He threw water on his head and on the back of his neck. He decides to rest with the line of his back while the fish goes out and will work to shorten the line after it turns.
The sea had risen considerably, but the fair weather breeze would be good for capturing the fish and getting home. On the third turn after resting, he sees the fish for the first time since the first jump. He saw him first as a long dark shadow that passed under the boat for so long that the old man could not believe its length. "No," he said. "He can't be that big."
But he was that big.
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