In October 1772 Richard Bolitho waits at Portsmouth to join the Gorgon, a seventy-four gun ship of the line. Although only sixteen, Midshipman Bolitho is already a veteran of four years in the King’s Navy, and is determined that in this, his second ship, he will not make the mistakes or forget the lessons of his earlier experiences in the hard and demanding ways of the sea. Many of the ship’s company are new and untrained, and when the hazards of bad weather, and the relentless hardships which are the daily lot of the common sailor, begin to show themselves, the midshipmen soon discover that authority, no matter how junior, is no easy thing. England is at peace with her old enemies, France and Spain, but the growing menace of piracy across the trade routes, worsened by rich and brutal trade of slavery between Africa and the Americas, make sea travel no less perilous. Gorgon’s captain is ordered to take his ship to Africa’s west coast and ‘show the flag’, and by example and swift action to destroy those who challenge his authority. From the captain down to the midshipmen it becomes evident that their new enemy is as dangerous and as skilful as any who fights in the line of battle.