Many pine-covered islands rise above the vast marshlands of Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore. This is the story of one of them and its people who struggle to make a living from the surrounding waters. Tommy Elliott's father owns a shucking house fifty miles up the Nanticoke River and buys oysters from the Tilghman Seafood Company, who has a near monopoly on the middle bay's seafood industry that made fortunes for many in the early 1940's. Events cause Tommy's father to have a buy-boat built, the Sarah Ann, in partnership with Captain Ira West, a lifelong employee of the Tilghman Company. With it they buy oysters from independendent waterman to the company's increasing displeasure. Tommy works for Captain West on the Sarah Ann during his vacations from high school and becomes involved in life on the island and the dispute between the company and the independent watermen. Greed and evil fill a winter night of violent storms on the bay when strong men lose their lives and others survive through the heroic deeds of a determined few.