Study Guide

The Great Wide Sea Summary

By M. H. Herlong

The Great Wide Sea Summary

Like a lot of sixteen-year-olds, Ben Byron feels like everything's wrong. And, in his particular case, he might actually be right.

First, his mom died in a freak car accident. Then his dad pulled Ben and his little brothers, Dylan and Gerry, out of school so the whole family could spend a year at sea. Destination: the Bahamas.

This plan doesn't go over well with the boys. The fam drives down to Florida, where they meet the boat that will be their home: the Chrysalis. She's a little bit busted, and the boys are thoroughly unimpressed.

It's rough sailing at first. No one's getting along, space is tight, and Captain Dad is a real pill. Fortunately, he softens up a little after an injury. The family finally falls into a routine that everyone can live with, and morale dramatically improves.

Of course, that doesn't last long. One morning, Ben wakes up to find that there is no sign of his father. He carefully searches the tiny boat just in case, but it quickly becomes clear he's gone. In their father's bunk, Dylan finds a sad poem his father wrote. Ben reads it as a suicide note, but Dylan insists that whatever happened must have been an accident.

Ben and Dylan have barely started arguing when they realize they have bigger fish to fry. They're blasted by a storm that's so bad that, at one point, Ben estimates that the waves are forty feet high. Ben and Dylan sail through the storm as best they can while little Gerry cowers in the corner. Everyone does a decent job, but they shipwreck anyway. The Chrysalis is slowly filling up water, and the boys need to find a new place to lay their heads.

Unfortunately, the only place in sight is an island that's totally deserted. Right off the bat, Ben wrecks their little dinghy (a sort of satellite boat for the Chrysalis), so our heroes are now well and truly stranded.

At first, they just sit around and wait to be rescued. They start to hustle more when their stash of food runs out. (Their desert island menus make school cafeteria food look like fine dining.) Dylan even rigs a machine that distills fresh water…which is pretty insanely impressive.

Everything's going okay—or as "okay" as you can be while stranded on a desert island—until Dylan falls off a cliff one day when he's off gathering hawk eggs. (For food. Yum?) Even though Ben performs amateur nightmare surgery on Dylan's broken leg, the wound won't heal.

Dylan gets sick. Like, really sick. With Gerry's blessing, Ben hops back in the water on a glorified raft he's made out of the old broken-down dinghy. He sails out into the sea with some iguana jerky, a jar of water, and the strong sense that he's about to die. Things aren't looking good.

Unbelievably, Ben bumps into a boat that plucks him off the raft, and then turns back for his brothers. Soon enough, Ben, Dylan, and Gerry are back among the living. Hey, guess who else made it back? That's right, dear old Dad is also alive, having been rescued after he fell off the boat.

Cue the moment where the whole family dynamic is confronted, complete with Ben's "I hate your guts, Dad," and all. He's about to take a job on a boat, refusing to take a plane back home with the family. But of course, once the cab with his dad and Gerry drives away, he feels all the tender feels and runs after them. 

And they buy a boat. But this time, it's just for the lake. 

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