It is 1843 and Captain Nathaniel Sir Drinkwater embarks on the paddle-steamer Vestal for an inspection of lighthouses on the west coast of England. Bowed with age and honors, the old sea officer has been drawn from retirement on half-pay to fulfill his public duty. The following day, tragedy strikes, and Drinkwater is confronted with his past life: his sins and follies, his triumphs and his disasters.
Drawing on a true incident, Richard Woodman deftly concludes the career of his sea hero. Drinkwater's complex character is revealed in its entirety. Far from being the reminiscences of an old man, the novel skillfully weaves the past with the present; the personal tensions below decks, the straining creak of a man-of-war under sail, the crack of a cannon shot and the plaintive mews of the trailing gulls are never far away. To the end, Nathaniel Drinkwater's life is full of incident and the unexpected, so typical of the sea officers of his day.
1798 — vor Korfu und Alexandria: Unter der Führung seines Flaggschiffs «Lysander» kreuzt Kommodore Richard Bolitho durch das Mittelmeer, während sich die französische Flotte vor Korfu sammelt. Bald ist er sich über die Absichten des Feindes im klaren: Die Franzosen wollen die Eroberung Ägyptens und damit den Zugang zum reichen Indien.
As 1794 draws to a close Richard Bolitho, commanding the old seventy-four-gun ship of the line Hyperion, leaves Plymouth to join a squadron blockading the rising power of Revolutionary France. After six months of repairs his ship is ready to fight again, but her company is mostly raw and untrained. Unfortunately, Bolitho finds himself under a commodore who is no match for the French admiral, Lequiller, whose powerful squadron uses guile and ruthless determination to elude him and vanish into the Atlantic. Hyperion, as part of a small British force, gives chase, the desperate voyage taking them from the Bay of Biscay's squall to the heat of the Caribbean – and for each mile sailed and every battle fought Bolitho finds himself being forced into the ever more demanding role of strategist and squadron commander.