The Cay Chapters 17-19 Summary
by Theodore Taylor

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Chapters 17-19 Summary

Ten days after the big storm, Phillip finds that he is tired of eating fish and decides to look for scallops or langosta at the bottom of the fishing hole. Carrying a sharpened stick, he dives beneath the surface and manages to catch a langosta after only a few tries. Greedily, Phillip continues diving in search of more. On his last attempt, he discovers the opening to a deep crevice. Phillip inserts his hand to see if anything is inside and is bitten by an unidentified attacker.

Phillip is able to push himself back to the surface, but the creature’s teeth have sunk in deep, causing great pain. He later concludes that he has been bitten by a large moray eel. He never dives into the fishing hole again.

Phillip listens for sounds from the sky constantly, and one morning in early August he finally hears the faint drone of a plane. Phillip lights the signal fire and stands on the beach, waiting in anticipation, but the plane does not come near.

Crushed with disappointment, Phillip momentarily loses hope that he will ever be rescued. After a while, though, his resilient spirit reasserts itself, and he begins to think about what might have gone wrong. Phillip concludes that perhaps the plane did not seen the signal because the smoke had most likely been white, and he tries to find things he could add to the fire to make the smoke more visible.

On the morning of August 20, 1942, Phillip hears the sound of explosions in the distance and the drone of an aircraft. He lights the signal fire again, this time adding bunches of sea grape to make the smoke black. Suddenly, there is a “deafening roar” overhead. Phillip is certain that rescue is imminent and feels ecstatic, but once again the plane flies away. In complete despair, Phillip returns to his shelter with Stew Cat and throws himself down on his mat. Looking toward Timothy’s grave, he asks, “Why didn’t you take us with you?”

About noon, Phillip is roused by the sound of a bell, the “slow chugging” of an engine, and voices. He runs down to the beach and finds a small boat and a man walking toward him. The man is an American from a destroyer that has been hunting German submarines nearby. The plane that had flown overhead had indeed seen the black smoke from Phillip’s signal fire and had radioed the ship for help. The sailor and his companions are shocked to find Phillip and Stew Cat on this cay, which is so small it does not even have a name. They are even more astonished when Phillip tells them he is from the S.S. Hato , which had sunk more than four...

(The entire section is 692 words.)