In part of the book "The old man and the sea", Hemingway says:

It was getting into the afternoon and the boat still moved slowly and steadily. But there was an added drag now from the easterly breeze and the old man rode gently with the small sea and the hurt of the cord across his back came to him easily and smoothly.

What's the role of small here? Is he referring to any specific part of the sea?

  • Do we know what body of water he's in? If it's the Marmara, or the like, then it's literally a small sea.
    – gotube
    Aug 4, 2022 at 16:55
  • 1
    I don't think it's an established usage. My guess is "the small sea" here refers to an inlet/cove and/or relatively calm water - as opposed to more the more substantial "swell" of waves out in the open ocean / high seas. Aug 4, 2022 at 16:57
  • @gotube it's near Havana Aug 4, 2022 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


This is a use of the word sea that is specific to sailing. It means "the combination of both wind waves and swell." Less formally, it means "how rough the water is, or how big the waves are". You can see it used in weather forecasts like this that use phrases like

Seas around two feet.

You usually hear it in the phrase rough seas, which means "windy or stormy with big waves." Small seas would mean mild waves - not completely flat or calm, but small waves.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .