Like the many generations of watermen who have sailed the Mid-Atlantic's storied Chesapeake Bay, Jessie Andrews and her father make their living harvesting crab from its depths. Jessie's father is murdered - and his shocking, gruesome death contains a symbolic message: his killers are not finished. They did not find what they sought. Realizing she is in mortal danger, Jessie flees with her lover Meredith. Jessie disguises herself in male clothing, and finds work on her beloved Chesapeake Bay when Wash, a black waterman, hires her. He tells Jessie, "Sometimes I see things. I know things...I ought not to know." But even Wash cannot see the full extent of the danger closing in on them.