Phillip Enright is a young man living in the Dutch West Indies who survives a shipwreck and is then blinded in the Theodore Taylor World War II novel, The Cay. Phillip's father is an oil company executive in Willemstad, Curacao. As German U-boats threaten the island, Phillip and his mother decide to head to safety in Miami. But their ship is torpedoed in April 1942, and the two are separated. After being hit on the head, Phillip awakes to find himself adrift on a raft with an old black man, Timothy, and a cat. Soon, his vision weakens, and he realizes that he is blind and must rely entirely on Timothy, a veteran sailor from St. Thomas.
But Phillip is not comfortable around black people, and he does not trust or respect Timothy, even after the old man saves him when he falls from the raft into shark-infested waters. After being adrift for several days, Timothy spots a small island and leads the raft toward shore. Timothy predicts a rescue soon.
"We mebbe 'ere two, tree days. We be libin comfortable."
But they soon realize they are on a cay known for its treacherous reefs, and boats rarely visit the area. Phillip becomes angry that they have not stayed on the raft, but Timothy knows that the sharks are more dangerous than the isolation of the island.
Weeks turn into months as the two count the days by placing pebbles in a jar. Phillip slowly begins to accept both Timothy and the limitations of his disability, and Timothy teaches Phillips how to get along by himself on the isle. Then one July day, Timothy notices strange signs in the sky. It is the approach of a hurricane. Timothy prepares for the worst, and when the storm hits, he lies atop the boy to protect him from the wind and flying debris. When waves reach their high ground, Timothy lashes the two to a palm tree, again protecting Phillip against the raging storm. They survive, but Timothy is badly hurt, and he dies the next morning. At the end of Chapter 15, Phillip and the cat are all alone.