The Cay by Theodore Taylor reveals the struggle for survival against the odds. Having left Curacao bound for America, the ship that Phillip and his mother are on is torpedoed and they are separated. Phillip finds himself afloat on a raft with no sign of any ship or even his mother and only Timothy, an elderly man from the Virgin Islands of whom Phillip is initially suspicious, for company. The two become firm friends as Phillip relies on Timothy for support and even more so because, presumably as a result of his injuries after the ship is torpedoed, Phillip goes blind unexpectedly and Timothy consistently finds ways to help Phillip and teach him how to survive. They eventually take refuge on a small island even though it may hamper potential rescue efforts due to its remoteness.
Timothy is tireless in his efforts to ensure that Phillip can manage in the event that something happens to him. He creates a catchment for rainwater, teaches Phillip how to find his way around the strategic areas of the island, how to sharpen sticks and encourages a reluctant Phillip to climb the coconut trees. He makes paths for the blind Phillip and even places poles with the "barbed hook and bolt sinker" attached and in a safe place so that Phillip can catch fish successfully. Timothy also makes sure that the matches are kept dry and when Phillip needs them to build a signal fire to attract a plane he hears overhead, he is ready. Unfortunately, the smoke is indistinguishable in the sky and Phillip has to find a way of making the smoke black so that his presence on the island is known.
Eventually, towards the end of the story, in chapter nineteen, a Destroyer arrives, alerted by another plane which saw Phillip's black smoke. They rescue the naked Phillip, and on Phillip's insistence, a sailor returns to the island to fetch Timothy's knife -"the only thing I wanted off the cay." When he returns from fetching the knife, this sailor sees the elaborate methods which Timothy left in place for Phillip and the hut and rain catchment which prompts him to comment that "You wouldn't believe what's up there."