John and his fellow sailors pick chase down and destroy a notorious pirate and must navigate their ship home without the help of a sextant. John Spencer is a sailor aboard the ship, the Dragon, who is happy to travel the seven seas with his family friend, Captain Stanley Butterfield. While John is on duty, he spies a small dory drifting at sea and he alerts his captain so that they bring the bedraggled man aboard. The man tells them his name is Horn and he says he was making his way to the Ivory Coast on his own simply on a whim. This story amazes the crew and the Captain offers to sign him up to work on his ship. Horn agrees, as he sees no other option. He signs the contract with a picture of an albatross. The rest of the crew are distrustful of his story as when they tried to rescue Horn, the man turned his boat away from them as if he were trying to run away. It is evident Horn is not telling them the entire story of how he ended up adrift at sea.
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As they travel aboard the ship, they think they see land ahead. It turns out to be a ship called the Meridian floating at sea, with all its crew dead and mummified by the sun. The Captain orders some men to sink the ship and bring the bodies aboard for proper burial. Meanwhile, Horn insists he isn't a bringer of bad luck. He shows everyone his collection of beautiful miniature ships that he crewed which he keeps inside glass bottles. He explains that he is a good luck charm for ships because while he was aboard all these ships, they were safe. Later, the Captain tells John that he doesn't know exactly where they are because they've blown severely off course and their sextant is not working properly. Horn advises them to travel north as he thinks they're near Martinique.
As they travel, every boat they meet seems to flee from them which is strange. The Dragon finally manages to dock at a port to unload their goods and do some trading. They find out that the reason why everyone was scared of their ship was because they thought it was another ship called the Prudence, a war ship that had disappeared a few months ago. Everyone thought they were seeing a ghost ship. One day, Horn shows John that he's made a little model of a ship inside a glass bottle that looks like the Prudence. John wonders whether Horn had anything to do with Prudence's disappearance.
Later, as they are scraping barnacles off of Horn's dory, they discover that the dory has the insignia of the Meridian on it. The Captain and John confront Horn about how he was involved in what happened to the people aboard the Meridian but Horn denies everything. He finally tells them that he was actually aboard the Prudence. He explains that the Captain of the Prudence was a young man named Bartholomew Grace that behaved more like a pirate than an admiral. Bartholomew Grace was a ruthless captain that abided by the pirate's code as listed in the Black Book and sent men to death for even the pettiest of infringements to his authority. Horn explains that it was Bartholomew who planned on attacking the Meridian and when Horn protested, he was punished and set adrift in a little dory. He explains that his situation is complicating because technically he's a deserter because Bartholomew is still an Admiral of the Navy. As Horn finishes his story, they see another ship on the horizon being chased by the Prudence which has been renamed the Apostle.
One day, they are caught in a sea storm and out of the storm the Apostle appears. The Apostle chases them steadily through the storm and they shoot cannonballs at each other. It seems to be toying with them as it doesn't speed up to catch them even though it could easily do that. A few days later, the Apostle passes right by them and onward to pursue another ship. As it passes, John glimpses Bartholomew Grace, who bows to the crew of the Dragon. The crew dock on an island to pick up fresh food and supplies, but unfortunately, some men pick up a jungle fever and half the crew becomes incapacitated.
The Captain decides to sail for Culebra to dock and allow time for the crew to overcome their illness. Horn tells them he knows that there is treasure somewhere on Culebra but the crew doesn't believe him. When they approach a bay in Culebra, they see an English Ship. John is sent out on a dory to speak to the crew of the ship. When he approaches, his dory is attacked by sharks and he is knocked into the water. He cries for the crew of this mysterious ship to save him but no one answers. When he climbs aboard the English ship, he sees, to his horror, that all the crew is dead. He turns to look for the Dragon and sees the Dragon taking off towards the south, leaving him behind, perhaps because they think he is dead since he fell off the dory into shark-infested waters.
A few moments later, John finds out why the Dragon left in such a hurry as the Apostle appears in the bay and docks. John spies on Bartholomew Grace and his crew and learns that they're on the island to find treasure. He recognizes one of the members of Bartholomew's crew, a man called Dasher. John speaks to Dasher in secret. Dasher explains that he joined Bartholomew's crew to save his own neck as he and his original crew had discovered treasure on Culebra that Bartholomew wanted. He tells John that when the Dragon returns, he'll escape with him and bring along some of the treasure. He reveals that Bartholomew has a plan to start a war between the English and the French by blowing up a ship full of gunpowder in the middle of the English fleet since war is good for buccaneers like him. When they climb a hilltop to take a survey of Culebra, however, John sees that the Dragon has run itself aground in a nearby island.
John comes up with a plan to prevent Bartholomew from starting the war by cutting the ropes, rigging and spars that tie down the Apostle so that the ship is set free and damaged. He and Dasher hide and wait for the opportune moment however a talking parrot flies out of the jungle and lands on Dasher's shoulder. Dasher has to reveal himself and John can't go through with his plan just yet because it might make Dasher look like the culprit. After waiting to make sure Dasher is safe, John completes his plan and steals a boat to row away to the neighboring island where the Dragon is docked. The crew of the Dragon are happy he is not dead and he tells them Bartholomew's plans. They decide to take down the Apostle while it is damaged.
After a lengthy sea battle, the Dragon emerges victorious and the Apostle releases the white flag of surrender. Horn insists that Bartholomew does not honor the meaning behind the white flag but Captain Stanley refuses to listen. When Horn's prediction comes true, the Captain tries to break free from the Apostle and Horn shoots one strategic cannonball into a barrel full of gunpowder, setting fire to the entire ship. The ship sinks and everyone assumes the sailors are dead. Suddenly, a head bobs up and they see it is Dasher who has been chained to Bartholomew's wrist. They bring the two aboard.
Captain Stanley wants to throw Bartholomew overboard but Horn pleads with him, citing that he needs Bartholomew to stand trial so that he can clear his name and not be seen as a deserter. Dasher asks the Captain to go back to Culebra to pick up his treasure but the Captain refuses as he thinks greed is the root of all evil.
As they travel back to England, Captain Stanley falls ill and becomes delusional. He puts John in charge. The ship encounters bad weather and Bartholomew Grace tries to convince John to free him from his chains and let him navigate the ship but John refuses as it is too risky. He tries to figure out how to use the broken sextant on his own. He finally thinks he has the hang of it and the ship is set for England when one night he wakes up to see that Bartholomew Grace has overpowered Horn and taken control of his ship.
One day, the Dragon again encounters a storm and John uses this opportunity to try to overpower Bartholomew. Bartholomew and Horn end up getting washed overboard. The ship clears the storm and John realizes they are in Northground Cape and he meets some friendly Cornish people who help them dock their boat safely. The story ends with John planning his next adventure on the seas.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like Bartholomew Grace. I thought he was an intriguing villain who started off his career as an admiral and quickly fell into the vice of greed and became a ruthless pirate. I think many of the sailors of the English Navy face that temptation, especially when they dock on all these uninhabited islands that may harbor treasure.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when John is knocked off his dory into shark-infested waters while trying to communicate with the English Ship in Culebra. I thought the scene was very suspenseful and also eerie because when John finally climbs aboard the English ship, he sees all the mummified and dead English sailors and hears a squawking voice saying "Come to Davy Jones Locker" (which turns out to be coming from a parrot).
Opinion about the main character:
I like that John does not panic even when he sees the Dragon seeming to abandon him on Culebra and even when he is surrounded by corpses and hears a creepy voice asking him to go to Davy Jones Locker. I also like that he's an honorable character who will do his best to save his friends, even when it seems impossible or inconvenient.