During the long days of summer, Karana sits on the cliff, scanning the horizon for ships. When the first storm of winter comes, she knows that no ship will come until spring. The winter storms blow onto the rock where Karana sleeps, and she is forced to move her bed to the foot of the rock. The dogs come the first night she sleeps there. She makes a fire to keep them back and kills three of them with her bow.
During the storm, Karana decides to travel across the sea to look for her people. When the storm ends, she goes to the place by the cliff where her people left their canoes (the ones they would have used to escape the Aleuts if they came back). The food in the canoes is still good, and Karana brings some water from the spring. Taking the smallest of the canoes, she leaves the island of the blue dolphins.
By dusk, her home has disappeared from sight. The sea is rough and Karana is afraid, but she uses the stars to find her way. During the night, she realizes her canoe is leaking, and plug the crack with fiber form her skirt. When dawn breaks, Karana sees she has drifted south of her planned course. She adjusts her heading, now using the sun to direct her. Soon she finds another leak, which she plugs in the same way as the last. Seeing that the planks of the canoe are weak, Karana knows that she must turn back. She is reluctant to do so, however, because the island to which she must return is so lonely and desolate. As water again starts to leak into the canoe, she turns and heads back. On her way, a swarm of dolphins begins to follow her boat. "Dolphins are a good omen," and though Karana is tired and despairing, the sight of the dolphins gives her the strength to continue. Another night passes, and Karana's canoe begins to leak, but as dawn breaks, she sees her island on the horizon. She reaches the island around noon and, forgetting the danger of the wild dogs, crawls onto the beach and falls asleep.
Karana awakes and leaves the beach the next morning, and returns to her home. Looking out over the island, she is filled with happiness. Surprised at this feeling, since only a few days earlier she had decided she could not bear to live on Ghalas-at any more, Karana knows that she will stay on the island until a ship takes her away. Because she must wait until that day, Karana decides that she must build a house and a place to store food. She scouts two possible sites for her settlement. One is near the wild dogs' cave; the other is on the headland. A third site looks good as well, but it is near the old village, and Karana does not want to be reminded of the people who once lived there.
Karana finally decides on the headland, where the sea elephants are very noisy. She begins to plan her new home, deciding that the first thing she needs is a fence to protect her food supply. It rains for the next two days, and on the third morning Karana heads toward the beach to gather materials for her new home.
Karana's loneliness peaks in this section, and it grows so strong that she can no longer stay on the island of the blue dolphins. He loneliness stems mostly from the realization with the first winter storm that the ship would not come (at least not until spring). "My hopes were dead. Now I was really alone," Karana notes as sits on the headland during the storm. That these two statements are placed together shows how closely they are related. Objectively, Karana was just as alone before the first storm of winter as after it; however, she does not feel truly lonely until the first storm of winter marks the point beyond which no ships will come for her until spring. Hope is what kept her from being really lonely, even when she was alone. When her hope is gone, she despairs and feels she must leave the island.
When Karana returns to her island, she finds that her loneliness has partially abated. She is just as alone as she was before she left the island, but she understands that factors besides a lack of human companionship can contribute to her sense of loneliness. Originally, Karana loses hope because winter comes and she knows the white men will not soon return; she is in the same predicament when she lands back on Ghalas-at, but she feels joy where before there was loneliness. The turning point for Karana is actually not when she arrives back at her island but when she is on her way back. It is when the dolphins come to swim with her boat that she first reports not feeling as lonely. "I was very lonely before [the dolphins] appeared," Karana notes, "but now I felt that I had friends with me and did not feel the same." When Karana returns to her island, she looks out onto it and feels "happy to be home." One of the familiar sights she lists as things on the island that "[fill her] with happiness" is the otter, the animals that she had earlier called friends. The otter, and the other familiar sights of the island of the blue dolphins, are friends to Karana, and in them she is able to find some of the companionship she had so missed when her people left for the land across the sea. Now that her loneliness has subsided, Karana begins the symbolic gesture of building a house on Ghalas-at.