Gadabout opens with the narrator, Danny Walberg, delivering a brief sketch of his friend and mentor, Tony Rumson. They are living on the island of St. Barts. The year is 1989, before the condo-developers and mega-yachts, when the island is home to ex-pats and cruisers. Danny had stopped for a month of repairs but the month has turned into a year. His new friend Tony seems to have life figured out; Danny’s in need of some help. The two spend their days on their boats and their nights in the bars. Danny meets someone special; a beautiful woman named Sharon Morgenthau. He starts to think life could still have a happy ending. Tony thinks otherwise; he’s been there before.
When Sharon doesn’t show up, Tony takes the dejected Danny out on the town. Each week a new batch of tourists fly in for ‘A Hop’, three days of sun and fun, the perfect set up for two, good looking guys. They meet Beth Williams and Kelly McDowell. The two have come down with another friend for one last fling before Beth gets married. The three girl’s relationships are complicated; they've known each other since childhood.
Though Danny is down and out, Beth does a credible job of gaining his interest. They end up back on his boat and there in the middle of sex Sharon finally shows. It’s dark and neither one knows it’s the other. Kelly has gone off with Tony. The makings of a nice romantic comedy except for one thing – Hurricane Hugo – Paradise is about to become a living hell.
Sharon runs off and Danny goes looking. He finds her but things don’t go well, she tells him to go for a sail the next day so she can be alone in the town. Danny gets back to his boat and Beth is still there. They end up together again, declaring their one night of passion half a lost weekend.
The next morning at breakfast the couples are joined by some others, Sharon us still a no show. Joe Silversmith (another boat owner there on the wharf) and a mysterious woman named Rita add their perspective. Danny slips and mentions he is going for a sail so all of them end up coming, even Sharon, who gets there just in time and invites herself along. Beth and Kelly are starting to piece things together.
They spend a perfect day in Paradise. The conversation goes from one of discovery to one of avoidance, Danny is in a panic. They see another sailboat and it turns out to be an old friend, Captain Crunch, a one-time Merry Prankster and the man who first convinced Danny to buy his boat. He’s been gone several years and now returned in typical, Crunch-like fashion.
Danny suggests they go wave dancing while waiting for Crunch to catch up. Sharon refuses; she’s basically been a non-participant since coming aboard. Beth, on the other hand, is having the time of her life, and goes out over the waves with total abandon. Danny is coming to realize it is Beth, not Sharon, he wants in his life. He’s watching her when he sees something flash in the deep, a shark about to attack. Danny freezes, a flash-back is coming, Beth is helpless and the shark is there. Suddenly Billy cries out it isn't a shark at all but a dolphin. An entire pod comes to play. Danny attempts to hide his shame. The women, the shark, Crunch coming back: it’s too overwhelming. And then there’s the storm; Danny can feel it, the storm that’s followed him all his life.
The sail back is a wild one. Instead of twenty armed Contra’s or maybe a ton of marijuana in his hold, Crunch has returned with a wife and two year old son. He’s a different man. Beth, Kelly and Sharon have finally pieced things together. Seventy feet of boat isn't much space when a lifetime of friendship explodes. They get back to St. Barts and find the island is battening down. Later reports will claim the winds reached over two hundred miles per hour. A plan is devised and Gadabout must put to sea. Everything else is on hold.
As it did back in ’89, the storm turns south and Gadabout is caught in the worst quadrant. She is rolled, dis-masted and nearly lost. There are serious injuries. They return to St. Barts little more than a floating hulk; the island has fared no better, a way of life is gone. At a makeshift table near sunset, sitting with people he’s come to call family, Danny sees Gadabout slowly rising above the quay. Epiphany comes.
He never cried for any of them: not his parents, his sister, the girl he was going to marry. He lets the images come. He can see them all there in the kitchen, the battered oak table, his mother in her mother’s apron heating syrup on the big Tappan stove. The Sea is our Mother, his sister is chanting. She’s out on the flagstone porch arranging a herd of stuffed animals. Andrea sits at the table, sipping herbal tea now instead of coffee, a raven haired pixie in ten shades of blue; she can’t erase the smile of their secret. They’re planning to tell his parents at dinner. Out on the porch Chrissie raises her arms in arabesque. The Sea is our Mother, she dances and sings. The Sea is our Mother. The Sea is our Mother.
Danny looks back into Andrea’s eyes. Chrissie bows and the bears applaud.