The men have become a “subtle brotherhood,” though no one talks about it. Even the correspondent, who was “taught to be cynical of men,” feels this sense of closeness and mutual responsibility among the other men.
The cook and the correspondent attach the captain’s coat to the mast as a makeshift sail, which helps the men’s progress toward shore. The lighthouse in the distance appears larger and larger, and the oiler turns his head frequently to look at it. Land finally comes into view, though it seems like a shadow that is “thinner than paper” resting on the edge of the sea. The cook says they’re now nearing New Smyrna but says the life-saving station there has been inactive for a year.
The oiler’s frequent glances toward the lighthouse echo the correspondent’s earlier overwhelming urge to turn around and look for the lighthouse. The men have optimistically latched onto the hope of survival even though the land is “thinner than paper,” and thus not all that promising.
The wind dies down and the makeshift sail no longer helps the boat speed through the water. The small lifeboat struggles over the “impetuous” waves as the oiler or the correspondent take the oars again.
“Impetuous” means careless, pointing to one of the most central themes in the work: nature’s complete indifference to humankind. In addition, the narrator seems unsure as to who is rowing, reaffirming the limitations of the narrator’s perspective and deepening the sense of uncertainty throughout the story.
The narrator says that shipwrecks happen out of the blue, and if men could practice being shipwrecked, there would be fewer shipwreck-related deaths. All the men are starved—for food and for sleep. The day before the Commodore sank, none of the men made time to sleep or eat out of excitement. The narrator notes that “for these reasons, and for others” the correspondent and the oiler dislike their task of rowing. The correspondent thinks it’s absurd that people row boats for pleasure. When the correspondent shares this thought with the oiler, he “smile[s] in full sympathy.”
The randomness of shipwrecks is like the randomness of fate, as neither can be planned for or explained. This passage also contains a brief moment of dark humor when the narrator comments on the men’s collectively poor physical state and notes that “for these reasons, and for others,” the correspondent and the oiler aren’t fond of rowing. Because the oiler suffers alongside the correspondent, he is able to empathize with the correspondent’s hatred of rowing.
The captain reminds the correspondent and the oiler to preserve their strength in case they are forced to swim. The captain sees a house on the shore and realizes that it could be a house of refuge, after all. He says that the keeper of the lighthouse is bound to see them and get help from “the life-saving people.” Quietly, the oiler states that none of the other lifeboats must have made it to shore, or else there would be life-saving people out looking for them already.
The captain seems to confuse houses of refuge with life-saving stations—something he should be well versed in considering his occupation. This moment echoes the earlier argument between the cook and the correspondent. The constant confusion about houses of refuge and life-saving stations reveal the thread of uncertainty that runs throughout the story.
The men feel a “quiet cheerfulness” creeping over them, knowing that help is coming soon and that they are likely to be on land within an hour. As they ride the “wild colt of a dingey like circus men,” the correspondent finds eight cigars in his pocket. Four of the cigars are soaked, but four are completely dry. Someone else finds three dry matches, so the men have a leisurely smoke. Each of the men drinks from the water supply as they “impudently” ride the waves.
The boat is again compared to a wild horse, while the men are “like circus men,” emphasizing to the reader how difficult it is to simply stay aboard the dinghy. The correspondently randomly finds eight cigars in his coat pocket, four of which are inexplicably dry even though the correspondent is soaking wet. The cigars symbolize the random, unexplainable nature of fate. The men smoke their cigars and ride the waves “impudently,” showing that because of their optimism, they’ve lost their respect for nature’s power.