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In Feb 1943, Lt. Rip Crandall of the U.S. Navy is promoted to his first command and arrives in a hidden harbor in the South Pacific, where he surveys a flotilla of destroyers. Crandall's heart sinks when, among the proud vessels, he spots his new ship, the U.S.S. Echo , a dilapidated schooner. Crandall is greeted by the eager Ens. Tommy Hanson, whose level of enthusiasm is matched by Crandall's level of dismay when he realizes that, except for Tommy, no one on the crew has ever manned a sailing ship and consequently, has no idea what a fo'c'sle is or that it is at the front of the ship. Aware that by refusing to sign his commission papers, he can escape serving on the Echo , Crandall conveniently leaves his papers behind and goes to see Cmdr. Wilbur Vandewater, the head of the base. Vandewater explains that Gen. Douglas MacArthur has ordered that the Echo be delivered to New Guinea, a journey that will take the boat across 400 miles of open water, and that Crandall, a former yachtsman, is just the man for the job. When Crandall still balks at the assignment, Vandewater, who is in league with Tommy, tricks Crandall into accepting the post by threatening to assign the inexperienced Tommy command of the ship. With just three days to get the crew shipshape, Tommy, Crandall and Chief Mate MacCarthy begin grilling the men in the rudiments of sailing. On the day of their departure, as the Echo pulls out of the harbor, it nearly collides with two oncoming destroyers. Later, Vandewater meets with Adm. Hathaway, who reveals that, once the Echo reaches its destination, Lt. Foster will take command and sail the ship into enemy territory. Because Foster has no experience on a schooner, Crandall will stay in New Guinea until Foster is proficient in handling the craft. Upon reaching New Guinea, the Echo unwittingly enters a mine field in the harbor. When the electric winch misfires, making the vessel difficult to control, the Echo nearly hits the dock, where it is met by the derisive Foster who insults both the ship and its crew. At headquarters, Crandall learns that the Echo is to be disguised as a native fishing boat and take Australian coast watcher Foster and his native guide Goroka to Cape Gloucester, New Britain, where Patterson, an Australian working with the Americans, will survey the coastline for enemy ships. Patterson dislikes the smug Foster and is impressed by Crandall when enemy planes strafe the base and Crandall, rather than taking cover with the officers, hurries back to the ship to join his crew. When orders are given for the ship to get underway, Crandall, fed up with Foster's imperiousness, usurps his command of the Echo and sets out to sea with Patterson and Goroka. With the ship camouflaged and the crew dressed in native garb, the Echo successfully eludes a Japanese fighter plane to reach New Britain, where it takes cover in the jungle. The crew then unloads boxes of Patterson's equipment and begins to trek it up the mountain while Crandall stays behind to man the ship. Two Japanese soldiers spot the caravan and manage to transmit a radio message before Goroka kills them. Upon reaching their destination at the top of the mountain, Tommy and the others spot a Japanese convoy heading toward the cape and hurry back to the Echo . When they reach the ship, however, they discover that it has been taken over by a Japanese patrol commanded by Capt. Shigetsu, an articulate graduate of UCLA. Tommy and Crandall are confined in the main cabin by Shigetsu, and when the Japanese major bursts in, Tommy and Crandall overpower the officers. Sneaking on deck, Crandall swings the boom into a row of Japanese soldiers, knocking them overboard. Fired upon by the remaining Japanese soldiers, the Echo revs up its engines and sails out of the harbor. Just then, the major jumps on deck and stabs Crandall with his sword, after which Shigetsu tries to demoralize the Americans into surrendering. When Tommy sends a radio message back to base pinpointing the location of the Japanese convoy, the convoy picks up the signal and begins to bomb the Echo . As Tommy tends Crandall's wound, Crandall gives the order to abandon ship and they all pile into the life raft and are spotted by an Allied plane. The information about the convoy's location allows the Allies to attack and destroy it. Six months later, Tommy is promoted to lieutenant junior grade and given his first command while Crandall, now in command of a destroyer, thirsts for more special missions.