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In 1840, ships are the international link to commerce for the United States, but their cargo is being jeopardized by the "salvage profiteers" who loiter in the Florida Keys waiting for hurricanes to dash the ships against the rocks. During one such storm, Mathias Widgeon, first mate of the Jubilee , which is owned by the Devereaux Company, knocks out Captain Jack Stuart and purposely crashes the three-master. Loxi Claiborne, a tomboy who runs an honest salvage business, takes her boat out to the site of the wreck with her pal, Captain Phillip Philpott, but King Cutler and his brother Dan, renowned cutthroats who contracted Widgeon to wreck the ship, get there first. Loxi stays on hand and rescues the unconscious Jack, taking him to her home to convalesce. They soon fall in love, and Loxi is inspired by Jack's dream of commanding the Southern Cross , the Devereaux company's first steamship. Jack believes that Devereaux lawyer Stephen Tolliver will prevent him from a promotion because of this latest wreck, and when Loxi travels to Charleston, South Carolina, to visit with her aunt Henrietta, she meets Stephen. Loxi flirts with the lawyer in hopes of swaying his opinion. Stephen, who has always intended to defend Jack to his employer, genuinely falls in love with Loxi, although he is unaware of her ulterior motives. Stephen insists that Commodore Devereaux send him to discover the Jubilee 's real saboteurs. Devereaux agrees to make Jack first mate of The Pelican , an old rustbucket, on the condition that Jack be sent ashore in Florida upon its arrival there until Stephen can prove his innocence. Loxi is the last to learn that Stephen has gotten her aunt's permission to marry her and publicly rejects him. Stephen, who has no intention of losing her, interrupts her hasty wedding to Jack aboard the Pelican , throws her overboard and knocks Jack out. After the Pelican sets sail, Stephen and Loxi take a different ship to Florida. Later, however, Loxi and Jack come to Stephen's aid when King Cutler sells Stephen to a whaler as a common sailor and sends his thugs, led by The Lamb, to shanghai him. Instead, after a struggle, Stephen sells the thugs to the whaler. In Stephen's jacket, Loxi finds Devereaux's orders giving Jack the captaincy of the Southern Cross , and she and Jack wrongly assume that Stephen planned to withhold this news from Jack. Jack then confronts King, who informs him that Devereaux has died and Stephen is now head of the shipping company. King convinces Jack that Stephen will never allow him to command the Southern Cross , and an angry Jack makes a deal with Cutler to wreck the steamship for his salvage operation. Stephen suspects the scheme when he sees that prices for the Southern Cross 's cargo are unusually low, and he and Captain Phil commandeer Loxi's ship to sail to Havana and stop the steamship. Loxi refuses to believe that Jack would sell out and sabotages her own ship so they do not reach Havana. Instead, they drift in a deep fog until they near the reef where Cutler's ship is lurking, and are on hand to witness the purposeful sinking of the Southern Cross . At the court trial, King steers suspicion toward Stephen, and it is revealed that Loxi's cousin Drusilla, who had been having a secret love affair with Dan, may have stowed aboard the steamship and died when the ship sank. The court is reconvened at the site of the wreck, and Jack and Stephen go underwater in diving suits to the shipwreck. They find Drusilla's corpse, but instead of killing Stephen as ordered by King, Jack rescues him from the grips of a deadly giant octopus. Stephen is unable to save Jack's life, however, and when he is pulled up, he displays Drusilla's shawl. Dan confronts his brother, who shoots him, and Captain Phil kills King. Their deaths free Stephen, and he and Loxi return to Charleston together.