Picaresque seafaring. ""Six feet of jangling nerves and foul temper,"" Captain Ishmael Sintar is in his prime at moments of maximum danger--which is quite terrifying to Tom Barlow, at sea for the first time and not by choice. The crew's no better--a voodoo dolly carver, a cook who knows his poisons, etc.: ""It's a hell for every man aboard here, each man a separate hell of his own. Why? Because there's none of us known a mother's love, nor a kind word, nor a touch of softness, in all our lives."" But Tom has a defense, accidentally discovered when the crew leaves him and the captain aboard the burning vessel: he bakes his mother's scones, and the captain begins to melt. The crew returns and as Tom tells memories from his past, the captain adopts them as his own. When the boy grows confused, Sintar plays Rorschach with the clouds, sees a camel and a minaret and becomes convinced that their mutual future and the key to his past lies in the exotic East. And it does: delivering their cargo (dynamite), they anchor in an Arabic port and find an old lady on a throne who is--the Captain's long-lost mother. It's close to Fleischman in texture, although kids may find the end a little disappointing. Momism never looked so good.