Wrenched by tragedy from a peaceful and respectable middle-class home in Victorian London, Hannah Kemball finds herself accompanying her father, Captain Kemball, aboard the tea-clipper Erl King on a voyage to China. In Shanghai and Foochow, the crack British tea-clippers are loading the season's tea, preparing for the annual race to bring their valuable cargoes to the London market. Only one thing matters to the iron-willed captains: to be the first to make it home. Overconfident of victory, Captain Kemball strikes a wager with the sinister Captain Richards of the Seawitch. The stakes: Hannah's hand in marriage.