I must preface this post by saying that it's taken me a decade to read this story. I remember that I was supposed to read it before sophomore year (English 10X, which equates to honors British Literature). I think I spent most of that sumer working in pits for various productions, so I didn't read it. There were two professors in college who assigned the story; I recall becoming bored and stopping before getting too far into it. So this time, we'll try analysis as I go, and maybe that will get me to the end.
The beginning of the story: four men on a boat as the sun is setting. The narrator sets a morose tone, suggesting that the now absent sun was "stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men" (2-3). It's interesting that he chose to use the word "brooding" here. While brooding can mean meditative, which fits with the reflective states of the men on the yacht, it also connotes a pensiveness, suggesting a morbid type reflection on their current state.
The yacht, itself, is an archetype, symbolically a microcosm of the world. The men aboard the boat are from varying walks of life, a Director of Companies, a lawyer and an accountant. We do not yet know the occupations of Marlow and the narrator. They yacht is also symbolic of man's journey, suggesting (minus the fact that there are still about 130 pages left) that the company has quite a task ahead of them reaching the ocean at the end of the Thames, which the narrator calls "an interminable waterway" (1).
Sit back, hold on, and let's see if we can make it all the way to the ocean this time.