|The scene is the deck of a cargo ship which is anchored off Port Harcourt, a port in West Africa. The wharf is full and the ship has been waiting for three weeks to get into port.|
|The captain has died on the voyage, and the first mate has taken command. He wants to be promoted, and so, to prove to the owners of the ship that he will make a good captain, he has ordered the crew to tidy up the ship, scrape it clean and repaint it. The seamen have had to work very hard on these jobs for the last three weeks. The first mate is very strict with them, and they hate him for it.
It is New Year's Eve. The first mate has allowed all the other officers - except the apprentice - to go on leave to Port Harcourt and have a good time so that they will speak well of him to the owners. The only others left on board are the bosn, the seamen, the cook and the cabin boy. The seamen are angry because they have to work on New Year's Eve while the others go on leave. When the first mate insults the bosun, the bosun gets his own back by allowing the men to break into the cargo in the hold and steal some rum. The first mate reappears and tells the cabin boy to bring some cocoa to his cabin. A short while later, the cabin boy runs screaming from the mate's cabin, scalded by the boiling water. The seamen, now slightly drunk, mutiny and put the mate on trial for his life .
At the end of the play, the signal comes from Port Harcourt to say that the wharf is free and the ship can move up river. But because it is New Year's Eve, there is no pilot available to guide the ship through the dangerous channels between it and Port Harcourt. There are several other ships waiting behind this one, and if it doesn't go now, another ship will go instead-leaving our ship to wait for several more days. The problem is, therefore-who can take the ship safely into harbour?|