The men in the boat are the survivors of the "sunken steamer Commordore." Each man is reacting to his being saved in a different way. The cook is helping to bail the boat, his sleeves rolled up and looking toward the east. The oiler is trying to steer the boat with a very thin, nearly useless oar. The correspondent (perhaps for a newspaper) is trying to help with the other oar, but he is completely puzzled about how he ended up in this situation. The captain, injured, and shocked by the loss of his vessel, wants to try to stay in command even though he is wounded to his very core by the sinking of his ship.