Dana Parker is a young man who knows how the world works, or at least thinks he does. His confidence is shaken when he must decide where to place his loyalty when he joins the crew of the Great Lakes ore carrier Herbert C. Hobart. Eric Erickson is a masterful seaman, brave, a leader aboard ship and charming rogue ashore. Harry is thoughtful but bland, considerate and modest, but a closet drinker, too. Eric and Harry are bound by old friendship and animosity, and a shared love for Erics wife.
Eric hides his own secrets. Behind a confident pose, he is a drug addict, womanizer, and abusive father and husband. As Dana grows to know both men, he must come to terms with the truth in ways that affect the lives of all three men, and those of their loved ones ashore.
Human nature is not the only danger. The Great Lakes, alternately transcendent and brooding, demand payment. When an early winter storm strikes the ship, Dana Parker must find the will and means to survive, and the courage to meet irrevocable change.