There is an old, Cuban fisherman who is in a terrible slump. He has not caught a fish in eighty-four days. He used to take a boy, Manolin, with him, but Manolin's parents directed Manolin to another boat because the old man had become salao (unlucky). Manolin is very loyal to the old man (Santiago), so it saddens him to see Santiago return every day with no fish.
The other fishermen either mock Santiago or feel sad for him. Manolin still keeps Santiago company and seems to be his best, if not only, friend. Manolin admires Santiago and often tries to boost his spirits.
Despite Santiago's bad luck, "His hope and confidence had never gone." He and Manolin eat supper together and discuss baseball. Santiago admires Joe DiMaggio, which is ironic because one of DiMaggio's famous records was a 56-game hitting streak. Manolin helps Santiago prepare for the day's fishing. On this eighty-fifth day, Santiago sails out alone amidst other fishing boats.