The Black Joke is a sleek, swift fishing schooner built by her owner, Jonathan Spence, and his now-deceased brother; and named after the 18th century pirate ship their ancestor sailed on. She is his pride and joy, and he is determined to hold on to her. But this is Newfoundland in the 1930s' depression, and cod markets are vanishing. Other fishing vessels are passing into the hands of local merchant Simon Barnes, as payment for debts. Although Spence is not yet indebted to him, he soon could be: He has a family to feed, and supplies are running low.
Barnes has a secret special interest in the speedy Black Joke because of the price it can fetch from rum-runners. So he lays a trap. He hires Spence, ostensibly to deliver a rush order of timber, but really to be framed in a deliberate channel collision. The plan is to sue Spence for damages he cannot afford, so he will have to sell the boat - and Barnes will buy it.
Unaware, Spence sails off with his son Peter, his nephew Kye, and Barnes, straight into Barnes' trap. He is arrested on a small island still under the jurisdiction of France, just off Newfoundland's Burin Pennisula. He knows virtually no-one here. The retainer for a lawyer is, alone, more than he can afford. The court proceedings are all in French. "Victims" and "witnesses" lie.
Realizing he has no chance for justice here, he asks a local skipper he trusts to organize a fake, drunken riot around midnight, a distraction so that the Black Joke can try to escape from the three-mile territorial waters surrounding the island. It's a good plan - until one of the players lets word of it slip to Barnes; and that's just the start of the complications.
This report prepared by vjm