You know how some books have a short one or two sentence summary? You usually see in on the back of the title page, and in library catalogs. The summary for this book says: "Still mourning the death of their mother, three brothers go with their father on an extended sailing trip off the Florida Keys and have a harrowing adventure at sea." While that is factually correct, it does nothing to prepare you for this book. Much better is the paragraph on the second page of the prologue:
"I don't tell about the morning when we woke up and Dad was gone. I don't talk about the storm. Or when we wrecked on the coral reef. I don't talk about--I never will talk about--when I left Gerry alone, standing there on the empty beach of that desert island with Dylan dying at his feet."
With THAT as an introduction, you start off the book with a deep sense of foreboding, alert for the coming disasters.
After their mom dies in a car accident, Dad goes off the deep end. Without telling the boys, he puts the house up for sale and purchases a sailboat which they will pick up down in the Florida Keys and then sail around the Caribbean for a year. He gives a book to Ben on small engine repair because Ben will be the engineer and a book on navigating by the stars to Dylan since he will be the navigator. They have a very short time to pack what they want to keep, but only what will fit in a duffel bag. Ben is especially upset when his dad packs up everything that belonged to his mom; it's as if his dad had already forgotten her and wants to wipe every trace of her away. On board he becomes a tyrant, never discussing things with the boys, only telling them that this is the way things will be done. Every day, Ben's anger grows until he is barely able to speak to his dad.
Harrowing is a good word for what happens to the three boys. After their father disappears, Ben is forced to make decisions that have life or death consequences not only for him, but for his brothers as well.