Only Scott O'Dell could turn an uneventful cruise up the Pacific coast into a suspenseful adventure based entirely on his growing suspicions about the reliability of the Arctic Star's hired skipper and, at the same time, conduct a grand tour from the confines of the boat's cabin. The psychological warfare between O'Dell and the happy-go-lucky Rod grows as Rod backs up his reluctance to work by suggesting O'Dell reread passages about the slavedriving captain in Two Years Before the Mast (adding hints of shipboard mutiny to what might be merely a personality dash). The culmination comes in a smashing storm scene where the O'Dells are on hand to see Rod, who has jumped ship previously, sink his new employer's boat and still come out a hero for saving passengers from the wreck he caused. In the lulls between his clashes with Rod, the author spins tales (about Father Serra, Kit Carson's ordeal on Starvation Peak, and Jed Smith's encounter with a grizzly bear), mourns the passing of California's sea otters and the depletion of the ecologically important kelp beds, and looks back to his own arrival in the state as a young boy. While the Arctic Star is real, this is definitely a novelist's interpretation, the voyage a framework for all those scenes from the California past which the author has obviously long had in his imagination. It's worth going along.