After his mother's death, Pierre decides to leave his village and go to work as a seasonal laborer on the coast. He finds a room at Jeanne's, a captain's wife, and experiences anew each day how different the living conditions are for coastal residents: the men are not at home for a large part of the year, the women must fend entirely for themselves, and yet solidarity among the fishing families is great. Pierre falls in love with beautiful Marie, whose fiancé died during the last big catch. Pierre suspects that it is only as a seaman that he can win Marie and decides to follow the calling of the sea. After some smaller jobs in the port, he finally signs up on the "Charmeuse" and takes part in the fishers' several-month-long "spring catch." On board, he becomes familiar with the harshness of life on the high seas, the friendships and enmities, the quick alternation of joy and suffering, the nearness of death and the many facets of a fascinating and uncontrollable nature, the likes of which he has never seen before.