This thriller tells the tale of a young, recently married Merchant Navy Officer, serving in a fast modern ship, when the British Merchant Navy was nearing its peak. The story is set in 1974.
Donald Watt, a Marine Superintendent of this shipping company, has asked McLaren, a First Mate, to join a ship after only nine days leave, and McLaren is angry in that, married life, for him, is limited. When he tells Isla, his wife, that his remaining time at home is looking like it is to be significantly reduced, she is devastated. He’s only spent five weeks at home with her in the previous year.
A plan is brewing in Watt’s mind which involves having McLaren placed on board the newest and biggest ship in the company, and to sail the ship under a Captain whose health is suspect, but who continues to pass all medical examinations. Watt needs McLaren to assist this Captain with the latest navigational aids, as he has been trained to operate all the computers and equipment that this ship has installed on her bridge. McLaren is the only one with the necessary training, who is available at the exact moment in time, when the ship is ready to sail.
He is promoted to Chief Officer as a bribe to join a smaller ship, but he’s to transfer to the latest and greatest ship within a week, though he isn’t told this. Isla is inconsolable when he leaves her again, but on the morning of McLaren’s first day away, in a phone call with the Marine Superintendent, she tells Watt he’s out of order for sending McLaren away so quickly. Watt concedes the point and she makes arrangements with him to join her husband later on that same day. She is the first wife to be allowed to sail on any ship in the company.
McLaren is given a week to learn new things in his new rank before being shunted over from this smaller ship to the biggest ship in the fleet. On the day of sailing to the Far East, he finds his Captain in an apparent state of drunkenness and resolves to sail the ship himself. He encounters resistance to that from other officers on board. McLaren duly sails the ship, and the voyage leads to a sea adventure unparalleled in the British Merchant service. It is a story about how McLaren wins over officers and crew, and completes an epic voyage.