The Shipwreck: Part 3 of 6 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
13 And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.
“The south wind blew softly.” It so often does! “Supposing that they had obtained their purpose.” We so often do! “When the south wind blew softly,” the mariners thought they could make the extra distance to Phoenix. Beware “when the south wind blows softly,”especially when it blows in the teeth of advice given by Paul. Too many have been lured away by the soft “south wind.” It is all too easy to take seemingly favorable circumstances as the deciding factor in the matter of guidance and ignore the sterner counsel of the Word of God.
The captain and the centurion both had an inner conviction. It was wrong. They decided that Fair Havens was too poor an anchorage for the winter; Phoenix would be much better. So much better, it seemed that it was worth a gamble.
They both had what seemed like confirming circumstances—“the south wind blew softly.” They congratulated each other, no doubt, on their remarkable good luck.
They also had the warning of the apostle, or, as we could say, the warning of the Word of God; which they rejected with disastrous results as being contrary to their own liking. Never ignore Paul. Never allow other considerations to outweigh God’s Word. Never make a key decision without finding God’s mind on the matter. Make your quiet time with God the most important factor in your life.
Life is a great sea and our lives are little boats. We can sail our boats by human supposition if we so choose. Friend, there is a storm blowing out there, a bit of a gale. The tragedy is that, amid confusion, world chaos, and darkness, most men are still guessing. There are a thousand human plans for building a better world. Yet everywhere we look we see failure we need men who know God.
14 But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called 14Euroclydon.
15 And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.
The course of the ship lay across the great southern 7bight to the west of Cape Matala. They had not gone far, however, before there was a drastic change in the weather. The ship was “caught” in a typhoon that blew with such violence that they were unable to face into it. Instead, they were forced to run before it, completely at its mercy. There must have been a sinking feeling in the heart of the centurion, who now I am sure wished he had paid more attention to Paul. Many a person, acting without God and suddenly caught by circumstance in which his own folly has placed him, has wished the same thing.
16 And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:
The sudden change from a south wind to a violent northerly wind is a common occurrence in those waters. There was no hope now of beating it back to Phoenix. Indeed, the wind drove them farther and farther offshore. The island of “Clauda” lay some twenty-three miles to leeward, and they were able to take a brief advantage of the smoother water on the lee side of the island to prepare the ship to face the full fury of the storm.
The ships “boat” refers to the dinghy used for ferrying passengers to and from shore and for other purposes. Normally it is left in the water and pulled behind the larger boat, but here it is hoisted aboard to prevent it from being smashed against the side of the ship. But what made it so difficult to hoist the boat onto the deck of the ship? It was probably due to the gale raging at the time, and the fact that the boat had been towed between 20 and 30 miles after the gale sprang up, and could scarcely fail to be filled with water.
17 Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.
“Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship.” In the meantime, the ship itself was showing signs of having suffered severely from the buffeting of the waves. It was imperative that measures be taken to prevent her from filling with water. A necessary part of ancient ships were cables, already fitted in place and winched tight, to facilitate the undergirding of the vessel when under severe strain.
The process of passing lengths of large cable around the hull or frame of a ship to support her in a storm is called frapping. The practice is not wholly unknown even in more modern times.
“And, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.” There are two gulfs on the North African coast full of shoals and sandbars; one is called Strtis Major and the other Strtis Minor. The sailors now feared they might be driven onto the first of those. Accordingly, orders were given to bring down the topsail and its rigging in order to make the ship more stable. That alone was not enough; the ship must set such sale as the violence of the storm would permit in order to head away from the shore. The ship was under sail (scudding, to run before a gale with little or no sail set was far too dangerous) with her storm sail set. Thus she drifted solely at an overall rate of about one-and-one-half miles per hour in a direction just a little north of due west. So ended a very dreadful day.
18 And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;
19 And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
Conditions on board must have been dreadful. Below deck, there must have been terror among prisoners and passengers and deep forebodings among the crew. Seasickness must have been prevalent. All night the vessel fought against the wind and waves, the darkness bringing additional terrors.
Next morning they began to throw the cargo overboard. There went the captain’s profits. Probably the water level had begun to rise in the hold as a result of sprung boards in the ship’s hull. For another night and the next day, all hands were busy with the work of heaving overboard the 9
tackling of the ship. That seems to mean the ships 8
mainyard, an immense spar, probably as long as the ship. It would take many of those on deck to lower it down to the deck. One would secure it if possible, but in the severity of this storm, they cannot afford the encumbrance created by retaining it. In a crisis like this one, no distinction is made between valuable and cheap cargo. They do not discard all the cargo here (27:38); ships carried at least 68 tons, large ones (such as this one) usually carried over 250 tons, and some could carry up to 1200 tons. Unloading such a ship once docked could take up to 12 days. Hurling merchandise into the sea required less caution, but the crew certainly could not finish the task in one day. The grain was probably stored in sacks piled 6 feet high which could be moved manually only with great effort, without the equipment normally available on docks—this would be made more difficult when the bags were soaked with sea water. Freed from that weight, the beleaguered ship would once again be able to brave the storm.
All had been done that common sense and good seamanship could suggest. They were now in the hands of God. They did not know it, but they had one man on board, one man and his two friends, who knew God. We can be sure that Paul was in touch with Him every one of the dark days that followed, praying them all through.
20 And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
Day followed day, overcast with thick clouds, an invisible sun revealing a wildly heaving sea and a tumultuous wilderness of gray, angry waves. Night followed night—thick, black, dark night with no sign of a single star. Their only means of navigation were hidden, so that they had no idea where they were (see 27:39). Dreadful days followed by appalling nights, with the wind shrieking in the rigging and the vessel lurching and plunging. And all the while the gale-force winds howled like tormented demons so that one could hardly think. On deck was a roaring nightmare. Between decks was a scene of horror, fear, and despair, made worse by seasickness and the fearful knowledge that even the sailors had given up hope.
Nobody knew where the ship was. It was being driven before the wind in a sinking condition, still shipping (taking on) water from the leaks in the hull. Their apprehensions, therefore, were not so much caused by the fury of the tempest, as by the state of the ship.