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I am pretty strongly sure this novel was published in the 1970s or late 1960s from the style. I read it before 1982, in a paperback edition.

The protagonist lives on his small yacht. He meets up with a scientist who is studying the viscosity of the seawater near the ocean bottom (on the continental shelf, not way out at sea). There's a good deal of talk about the details of diving.

The viscosity readings start to rise. Something is making the water more viscous. Apparently the Earth (more likely the whole solar system) has passed through an interstellar molecular cloud, and some component is making the water thick. Boiling the water does not make it better -- either the molecule stays in the vapor, or there is so much microdust around that even the receptacle you pour it into afterwards contaminates the water.

The thickened water is not immediately poisonous, but it starts to clog the blood vessels and kidneys. The whole biosphere is suffering.

The protagonist and the scientist live on the yacht, drinking mostly canned Heineken instead of water -- the protagonist luckily had a large supply of canned Heineken on board.

Towards the end, the divers discover that a species of dolphin has developed an "antidote" -- some secretion from their skin that thins out the water again.

This is definitely not Sir Hoyle's The Black Cloud.

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  • @TheLethalCarrot: I do not understand your edit. The wording changes are insubstantial, and removing the cosy-catastrophe tag is just plain stupid. Can you explain yourself? Nov 9, 2018 at 16:15
  • The tag I removed appeared to be pointless and with no tag wiki/excerpt I wasn't even sure what it was meant for. The one I added is in lines with our tagging guidelines. The first sentence I removed was extra fluff that wasn't really needed. The next few were grammar changes (Earth, the planet, is capitalised). The last might be more of a stylistic change but it reads better in my opinion this way. However, it is your post so feel free to revert anything you aren't happy with.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 9, 2018 at 16:19
  • Also "is just plain stupid" is not exactly nice and at least borderline breaks the Code of Conduct. Can I remind you to tone down your wording in the future?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 9, 2018 at 16:33
  • I won't revert anything, but I'll provide this link to explain the tag I used, at least. It's very much a sci-fi specific term, or jargon if you will ... Nov 10, 2018 at 2:36
  • I’ve read the TVTropes page and I’m still not sure how the tag is relevant if I’m honest.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 10, 2018 at 9:07

2 Answers 2

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This sounds very like The Year of the Cloud by Kate Wilhelm and Ted Thomas.

The scientist is Sam Brooks and the guy on the yacht (with the Heineken) is Hugh Winthrop. The stuff that makes the water viscous comes from a cloud in space called the Yudkin cloud (after the scientist who discovered it).

There are only minor differences. The antidote comes from porpoises not dolphins.

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  • BINGO! I thought the title had "Cloud" in it! Thank you very much! Jun 20, 2017 at 17:15
  • 2
    A nice review here mentions the Heineken supply
    – Valorum
    Jun 20, 2017 at 17:26
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Excellent is the Water - Primo Levi, originally in Italian from 'Sixth day and Other tales'

A story dealing with what happens when the water’s viscosity begins to creep up. All life is affected.

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  • 4
    hi! welcome to sci-fi fantasy stackexchange. You should provide a summary and source to identification answers to improve it but, more importantly, the story is already identified with an accepted answer and in this case your answer doesn't provide anything useful.
    – Ram
    Oct 8, 2017 at 0:54
  • 1
    It is interesting that another writer approached the same topic. Nevertheless, John Rennie's answer is definitely the one I was thinking of. Oct 8, 2017 at 22:27

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