The opening story is full of gloom and foreboding. None of the men know the color of the sky for the simple reason that their eyes are fixed on the waves. And these waves—which are gray, a gloomy color if ever there was one—are sweeping towards them.
Right from the outset, it's clear that the occupants of the boat are in serious trouble, an insight only highlighted by the description of the narrowing of the line between sea and sky. The gray sea and the gray sky are now melded together, exactly as we'd expect them to be at the onset of a storm. Yet that line also widens, falls, and rises, indicating the tempestuousness of the sea.
The vulnerability of the ship's crew is further highlighted by Crane's careful choice of words. The cook is separated by the rolling ocean by just six inches of boat. The oiler raises himself up to keep away from the water that's pouring into the boat. He's manfully trying to steer the boat with a thin little oar that's so weak it seems ready to break. And then there's the correspondent, pulling away at the other oar and wondering why he's there. All in all, we're left in no doubt that the crew are in a real pickle and that their parlous situation can only get even worse.