Why were the sailors so thirsty?

The sailors were so thirsty because there was a drought. The drought was part of the curse that the ancient mariner brought upon himself and the other sailors by killing the albatross.

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When the ancient mariner killed the albatross, his fellow sailors were initially angry, but then, after blaming the albatross for nine successive evenings of fog and mist, they agreed that "'Twas right ... such birds to slay, / That bring the fog and mist." The mariners were at first very glad to see the blue sky and the sun that replaced the fog and the mist.

However, for killing the albatross, the Ancient Mariner was cursed, and so, by association, were all of his fellow mariners. This curse in part took the form of a long drought. The sky turned "hot and copper" and the sun was "bloody" red. There was no rainfall, and thus, the mariners eventually ran out of water to drink. They could not drink the sea water because sea water is toxic to humans: although there was "Water, water, every where," there was, ironically and tragically, no "drop to drink."

The situation became so bad that "every tongue, through utter drought, / Was withered at the root." The mariners could not even speak, "no more than if / [They] had been choked with soot." These images convey just how bad the drought became.

Although his fellow sailors came to believe that the mariner had done the right thing in killing the albatross, they later despised him, associating the drought with his action. They blamed the drought, and their consequent impending deaths, on his decision to kill the albatross. Eventually, the men died for lack of water, all except for the ancient mariner himself. He, as the one who had shot and killed the albatross, was cursed to watch all of his fellow mariners die while being unable to die himself. He recalls that as he watched the men die, he could feel "every soul, as it passed [him] by, / like the whizz of [his] cross-bow!"

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