However you get to the Penitent Sea, you will find yourself floating amidst a field of wreckage. Upon the horizon you can see, though barely, the outline of an island. If you are fortunate, you can find a piece of debris large enough to allow you to float. If not, then you will slowly tire, until you begin to slip beneath the waves, to feel your life slowly ebb away. You will then wake, to find yourself again floating in a field of flotsam and jetsam. If you can find a makeshift raft, and if you can climb fully upon your it (or if you were prepared with some sort of portable boat), you could theoretically float forever, for there are not currents nor winds in the Penitent Sea. If you have a paddle however, you could try and set a course for the island in the distance. Unless you have come prepared, however, you would succumb to the blistering sun first, or die of hunger and thirst, before you reach the island. After your death, you would wake to find yourself floating, yet again, with the island as distant as ever, the memory of your progress, and your failure, fresh in you mind.
Depending on how lax a you were with your virtues, you might encounter more than just sea and sun during their time of penance. Sharks, seagulls, jellyfish, grasping seaweed, and other creatures of the deep can all harass those souls who have the greatest sin to shed. These torments are not assigned in any way corresponding to how you have sinned, only to the magnitude to which you are unforgiven.
After you have undergone enough penance, reliving days of torment or tedium, always followed by a watery death, you may, if you still have your wits about you, notice that you are waking up closer to the island. It is still to far to reach easily, and the sea may yet have more punishment for you, but you getting closer to the island. Slowly, as your sins are washed away, the island will become closer yet.
Eventually, all souls in the Penitent Sea, both living and dead, arrive on the shores of the island. They are not yet free. They still must face the guardians of the island. These take the shape of crabs the size of a small horse, and their purpose is to not let anyone past the shore who has not paid off their worldly sins. Those that have been properly purified are allowed to proceed to the interior. Those that have not, will be attacked. If you try to fight the crabs, and manage to kill one, two more will rise from it’s broken shell. If you should die in your attempt, well, you can probably guess.
Souls that are allowed to make their way to the center of the island, will find there a cave filled with a golden light. They can walk into the cave and pass through the light, emerging either in Fiddler’s Green (for the souls of the dead) or upon some tropical isle in the Southern Sea (for living souls that sailed through the maelstrom). There are stories, however, of dead souls that have faced the Penitent Sea, and made it past the guardians, and rejected the call of Fiddler’s Green and returned instead to earth.