Aboard the convoy as ship's linguist is Wiki Coffin. Half New Zealand Maori and half American, Wiki speaks numerous languages and is expected to help the crew navigate the Pacific islands that are his native heritage. But just before departure Wiki, subject to the unfortunate bigotry of the time, is arrested for a vicious murder he didn't commit.
The convoy sails off, but just before the ships are out of reach Wiki is exonerated, set free to catch up with his ship and sail on. The catch: the local sheriff is convinced that the real murderer is aboard one of the seven ships of the expedition, and Wiki is deputized to identify the killer and bring him to justice. Full of the evocative maritime detail and atmosphere that have won her numerous awards for her nonfiction, Joan Druett's A Watery Grave is the mystery debut of a masterful maritime writer.
The story of Bully Hayes - so-called "Pirate of the Pacific" - is known throughout the Pacific, from the US to Australia and all points in between. He became the inspiration for a variety of fictional characters, writers from Robert Louis Stevenson to James A Michener and Frank Clune have used the Hayes legend, films were made based on his life (one starring Boris Karloff, another Douglas Fairbanks), and his name adorns bars and hotels all over the Pacific.
But the truth is both less noble and more intriguing than the myth. In large part, the Hayes of legend was a product of the popular press at the time, who were determined to construct a romantic figure to feed their readers' appetites. This book simultaneously sorts the facts from the fantasy and recounts an amazing true story of a genuine rogue and adventurer, against the backdrop of the great age of sail and trade.
This is the first proper biography of this legendary figure, and the only book that sets out to properly separate the myth from the truth.
From the author: No one is even sure what this American from Cleveland, Ohio, looked like, and yet his impressive physical appearance is part of the "Bully Hayes" legend. Most of the people who met him agree that he was six feet tall, and hefty in physique, that he had a bluff and hearty manner and a soft, persuasive voice. Everyone agrees that he had a beard, but whether it was cut to a point (like Captain Morgan) or flowing down to his belt varies according to the narrator, and whether it was brown, black or gray is equally vague. What everyone does say, though, is that he loved women. Captain Bully Hayes had several wives on shore, and a harem of beautiful brown girls on board his dashing little ships. And they also say that he had a magnetic personality. Today they would call it charisma.
Hayes was accused of every possible kind of crime - seduction, rape, bigamy, blackbirding, barratry, horse-stealing, cheating at cards, and the murder of his own family - but throughout his remarkable career none of this was proved. He was notorious for sailing away from ports without paying his debts, but that kind of easy dishonesty was so common in the days of sail that a term was made up for it - "paying with the foretopsail." It was a shabby sort of crime, and one he committed often, but not one to merit the "Bully Hayes" legend. Yet, though he never fired a broadside in his life, somehow William Henry Hayes became the pirate of the Pacific. Wherever he went, headlines sprang into the papers. As hundreds of editors knew, everyone wanted to read about "the notorious Captain Hayes."
But when they encounter a wrecked sealing ship and its desperate crew on the shoals of remote, uninhabited Shark Island, Wiki has little idea just how many of his skills are about to be put to the test. As soon as they board the wreck, a dead body turns up with a dagger firmly inserted between its shoulder blades. And it's not just any dead body: the victim of the brutal murder is none other than the enigmatic captain of the doomed voyage. What's more, Wiki's colleague and nemesis Lieutenant Forsythe is suspected of the crime.
Knowing full well that Forsythe is capable of such violence, Wiki nonetheless believes him innocent and is duty-bound to prove it for the good of the expedition. Was the murder a case of mutinous sealers taking the law into their own hands? Did the secrets of several mysterious long-ago voyages finally come back to haunt a dishonest and dishonorable captain? Or is Shark Island home to something more sinister than a few lonely goats? Something isn't quite right about the crew of the wrecked ship, and Wiki will stop at nothing to find out just what it is that they're hiding, and, in the process, unmask a vicious killer.
A New England whaler shows up, desperate to find the devious trader who has cheated him of a thousand dollars and a schooner. Wiki is assigned to find the missing ship, only to follow a trail of clues to a dead body, half-buried in a hill of salt, its skull picked clean by vultures. The adventure unravels in the impoverished village of El Carmen de Patagones, where the threat of French invasion is imminent, and business is at a standstill under the orders of General de Rosas, the tyrant of Buenos Aires.
Wiki must risk both life and reputation in pursuit of a vicious and determined killer who has set his sights on another target: the U.S. Exploring Expedition itself.
As the great flagship Vincennes leads the convoy under the dubious command of eccentric captain Charles Wilkes toward a dramatic entrance in the port of Rio, careless maneuvering leads one of the vessels to run afoul of a Salem trading ship.
The trader is owned and commanded by none other than the famous and larger-than-life Captain William Coffin, father to Wiki and sailor of all seven seas (plus another dozen or so he's managed to invent in his years of telling tall tales). The encounter sets in motion a series of chaotic events that reunite Coffin with his illegitimate half-Maori son and that will see two men dead, Captain Coffin on trial for murder, and Wiki working feverishly to unmask the real killers before the Expedition sails on—leaving his father at the mercy of an unforgiving Brazilian court.