The setting of Theodore Taylor's The Cay is World War II. The narrative begins in 1942 and Phillip Enright's family lives in Curaco because his father has worked for an oil refinery located there since 1939. Phillip's friend Henrik and he hear and explosion at the other Dutch island of Aruba where
Like silent, hungry sharks that swim in the darkness of the sea, the German submarines arrived in the middle of the night--
The boys are chased away by soldiers armed with both rifles and machine guns.
Then they go to Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, which normally has much activity, but fairly quiet when the boys arrive. A military truck pulls up, and a soldier asks the people to depart. When he returns, Phillip upsets his mother who learns of his adventure; she has cautioned him about going down to the shoreline of their island where there is no protection, and is greatly frightened when she learns of the German attack that Phillip has been so near.
Another conflict ensues as a result of an argument between Phillip's mother and father. Mrs. Enright wants to return immediately to their home in Virginia, but Mr. Enright contends that it is too dangerous to travel the sea because of the possibility of other attacks by the Germans. But, Phillips mother keeps pressuring his father to allow them to return to the United States when water and food become in short supply.