In the early days of the 19th-century, Whitby is a thriving port. Both the Coulson and the Campion families make a living by the sea. Sam Coulson has three sons: Martin, Ben, and Eric. He has grand plans for expanding his whaling business; and as Seaton Campion has no sons, a marriage between Martin and Campion's eldest daughter, Alicia, will aid the fortunes of both families.
Ben Coulson, Sam's middle son, has turned his back on whaling to follow other pursuits. However, Ben is secretly working hard, waiting for the time to show his father he is not the wastrel he thinks he is.
Ruth Holmes also comes from a sea-faring family. Her father is the captain of one of Sam Coulson's whaling ships. Newly returned from France, she catches the eye of Ben Coulson, and he is instantly smitten.
But when Martin fails to return from his last voyage, their fledging relationship is put under threat. For not only does Sam blame Ruth's father for Martin's death, he sees little reason why his business plans should be thwarted by family tragedy. If Martin cannot marry Alicia, then it is Ben's duty to take his brother's place, regardless of where his own affections lie.