Convinced that Napoleon was about to declare war once more, the British Government ordered a secret press of seamen in 1803. This book records how the ensuring events affected one man in particular, Joesph Bates, a 21-year old merchant seaman who proved to be of exceptional ability rising to the rank of lieutenant.
The book is based largely on the logs of the two ships in which he sailed, the frigate, HMS Cerberus, and the sloop of war, HMS Racoon, supplemented by eye-witness accounts, official letters, medical notes and the secret diary of one of Joseph's shipmates.
Pressed in Chatham on 6th May, a few days before Britain declared war on France, he spent the next 12 years before his release from the Royal Navy.
The author brings to life the detail of everyday events on board as Joseph is promoted from able seaman servicing in the foretop to coxswain, quartermaster, midshipman, master's mate and lieutenant.
Joseph's service, however, was full of more dramatic events: deaths by drowning, falls from the rigging, cholera or tuberculosis. He was engaged in battles, attacks on the French coast, the capture of a town in the Caribbean, an explosion in the Racoon that killed many of the crew and the near-sinking of the ship.
But there were lighter moments: the celebrations on crossing the Equator and riding horses borrowed from the Mexican army. One highlight found in the secret diary of a shipmate is his single-handed attempt to transport a very large hog back to the ship.
After 'capturing' the last American fort on the Pacific coast, Joseph's ship sailed to Hawaii and Tahiti, hunting American shipping. Her mission completed, Racoon once more rounded to the Horn and as a final duty escorted a convoy back to England.
Joseph's service was ended.