"The Shipwreck" Page 2 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
7 And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;
8 And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.
The voyage continued, but progress was slow. Luke says it took “many days” before “Cnidus”appeared off the ships starboard bow (the right-hand side of somebody facing the front of a ship). The distance between Myra and Cnidus was about 130 miles, and with a favorable wind it could have been covered in a day. The contrary winds were an omen of the whole voyage.
The question now was, should they put into “Cnidus” and wait for better weather, or should they sail on? The direct route to Italy would call for passing by the north side of the island of “Crete.” That would have been the choice but for one obstacle—the wind, which was evidently blowing somewhat to the west of NNW, which was usual towards the end of summer.
At “Cnidus” the shelter of the weather shore (windward shore) would cease unless they put into port to wait for a favorable wind. Evidently that alternative was rejected. Those in charge had good reasons for pressing on, given a reasonable margin of safety. The ship’s captain naturally wanted to make all speed to Rome with his cargo and the centurion was anxious to deliver his prisoners without costly delays. Although the ship could not be expected to weather the northern side of “Crete” under the prevailing conditions, it could aim for the eastern extremity of Crete and come under the lee of the island. The prevailing northwest wind could still enable them to creep along the southern coast of Crete as far as “Fair Havens,” where the land suddenly bends towards the north and the shelter afforded by the island stops.
The decision was made, then, to launch out away from the mainland, make the best of the weather, and head for “Crete.” Accordingly they ran for the eastern extremity of Crete, rounded Cape “Salmone” (A promontory on Crete’s northeast coast.), struggled along the southern coast, and finally dropped anchor at “Fair Havens,” the farthest point an ancient sailing ship could go in the face of northwest winds.
Everyone on board must have heaved a sigh of relief and felt that the harbor well deserved its name. The sailors would be tired in the landlubbers probably seasick and frightened.
9 Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them,
Delay after delay now forced a critical decision on the ship’s officers and the Roman centurion. “Paul,” as a seasoned traveler and one well versed in shipwrecks (In 2 Corinthians 11:25 he tells us that he has already suffered three shipwrecks and that on one of those occasions he remained in the sea a night and a day) felt he had a right to speak, too. Any decision to set sail at this late date was bound to be fraught with peril. Danger was so common at sea that some estimate that a fifth of voyagers faced significant danger on voyages; perhaps half of all voyages faced delays. Shipwrecks were so common that archaeologists have identified more than a thousand ancient shipwreck remains.
Luke gives us some idea of the date. “The fast was now already past” is a clear reference to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. That annual “feast of the Jews” was celebrated on the 10th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:27), which would be about the first of October in a.d. 59. The dangerous time for sailing ran from about mid-September to mid-November, at which time all navigation ceased until winter was over. Because winter storms could soon be expected on the Mediterranean, Paul spoke up and “admonished” those in the position to imperil everyone’s life by a rash decision, especially his friend the centurion.
It was now clear to everyone that it would be impossible to get to Rome before winter, therefore the consultations were to decide whether to winter in Fair Havens, or to try to push on to Phoenix, further along the south coast of Crete, which was thought to provide a better harbor for their purpose.
10 And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage
will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.
Paul was right, but the fact remains that Fair Havens was situated in a bay open to nearly one-half of the compass and, as such, in the opinion of the seamen, it was an unsafe harbor in which to pass the winter. Nevertheless, the anchorage was well protected by off-shore islands, so, although it was not so comfortable a refuge as, say, nearby Phenice, it was, in Paul’s seasoned opinion, good enough under the circumstances. To be caught in a sudden, violent, northerly gale while trying to make for the most spacious port Paul considered far too risky a venture to undertake. Too much was at stake for such a gamble; a valuable ship, its cargo, and the lives of all on board.
We see Paul under some real testing here. He certainly stands out. He makes a suggestion which, they will find later, should have been followed. The spiritual superiority of Paul is evident at this point. There is no confusion in the life of Paul, no uncertainty, no frustration. He is what would be called a poised personality. Paul knew the way he was going. “This one thing I do” was his declaration when he got to Rome. We can observe these qualities in his behavior, throughout the voyage. Paul lived his life as a man in touch with God.
11 Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.
master/owner wanted to chance it by attempting to reach the larger and safer port of Phoenix about 40 miles to the west, but by going west past Cape Matala, the ship would be exposed to the northern winds off of Crete. The captain’s opinion prevailed over Paul’s warnings. And that is the way it so often is. The scales come down on the side of the expert, on the side of science and scholarship, on the side of the men whose opinion is weighted by his position and authority, by his learning in his particular field. The voice of the humble believer in touch with God is ignored. The final decision seems to have been left to the centurion, because grain ships were considered to be in government service. He looked at Paul and he saw a prisoner, a missionary, and he underestimated him. He looked at the ship’s captain and he saw a successful businessman, owner of a large ship, and seasoned sailor, and he overestimated him. Having given Paul appropriate allowance for his learning (in other fields) and his experience at sea (as a passenger), the centurion decided that the professional should know whether or not it was safe to proceed. And in any case, Phenice was not far—just 30 or 40 miles westward along the southern coast of Crete.
12 And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part (majority)advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west.
The conference broke up. They would weigh anchor at once and head down the coast for “Phenice.” The expression “lieth toward the south west and north west” is generally taken to be a reference to the prevailing winds. The harbor evidently faced the direction from which those winds blew.
At “Phenice” (Phoenix) they would be able to spend the winter comfortably. Paul, having been overruled by the experts, no doubt retired to his cabin to pray earnestly that all would be well. For himself he had no doubts at all. He knew that whatever happened, he would end up in Rome (23:11); but what about his beloved Luke and Aristarchus? And what about his friend the centurion? And what about the captain and crew and the passengers and the prisoners—all those unsaved men now exposed to the possibility of storm and shipwreck? We can well believe that Paul prayed earnestly once the fateful decision was made. What a good thing, too, for that particular ship that they had a Paul on board, not a Jonah!
Events are going to prove that Paul was right. Throughout this voyage the captain, the soldiers, and the sailors were depending on human speculation alone. Paul was looking to God.