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In 1942, during World War II, an American boy, Phillip, and his parents are living on the Caribbean island of Curacao where Phillip's father works at an oil refinery. German submarines begin to menace the islands, and Phillip and his mother leave on a ship bound for the United States. The ship is torpedoed, and the lifeboat Phillip boards tosses him into the water, where he receives a severe bump on the head. Waking from unconsciousness, Phillip finds himself on a raft with an elderly West Indian, Timothy, and the ship's cat, Stew. Within a day, Phillip's head injury causes blindness. The raft washes up on a cay where Timothy's concerns about their situation and Phillip's blindness lead him to teach the boy survival skills. Phillip struggles with his blindness and his ambivalent feelings toward Timothy. His mother's teachings of racial prejudice are at war with his experience of Timothy as a strong, caring individual. A hurricane tests their relationship, when Timothy protects the boy at the cost of his life.