The Sequel – Day 22

April 29, Wednesday

St Paul: The Great ShipwreckOnce it was determined that we should set sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were put under the charge of a centurion named Julius from the emperor’s own regiment. We embarked on a ship hailing from Adramyttium, bound for the Asian ports, and set sail. Among our company was Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. On the following day we put in at Sidon, where Julius treated Paul most considerately by allowing him to visit his friends and to accept their hospitality. From Sidon we put out to sea again and sailed on the sheltered side of Cyprus since the wind was against us.

When we had crossed the gulf that lies off the coasts of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we arrived at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and we boarded her.  After several days of slow progress we approached Cnidus; but since the wind was still blowing against us, we sailed under the shelter of Crete and rounded Cape Salmone.  It was with much difficulty that we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which is the city of Lasea. We had by now lost a great deal of time, and sailing had become dangerous as it was so late in the year.

Paul warned them, saying, “Men, I can see that this voyage is likely to result in damage and considerable loss, not only of ship and cargo but even of our lives as well.”

But Julius paid more attention to the pilot and the captain than to Paul’s words of warning. Besides, since the harbor at Fair Haven is unsuitable for a ship to winter in, the majority were in favor of setting sail again in the hope of reaching Phoenix and wintering there. Phoenix is a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

So when a moderate breeze sprang up, thinking they had obtained just what they wanted, they weighed anchor and coasted along, hugging the shores of Crete. But we hadn’t gone far before a terrific wind, which they call a northeaster, swept down upon us from the land. The ship was caught by it; and since she could not be brought up into the wind, we had to let it drive us. Running under the lee of a small island called Clauda, we managed with some difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it aboard, cables were used to reinforce the ship. To make matters worse, there was a risk of drifting onto the Syrtis banks, so the crew set the anchor and drifted. The next day, as we were still at the mercy of the violent storm, they began to throw cargo overboard. On the third day, with their own hands the sailors threw the ship’s tackle over the side. After all that we were still being whipped around mercilessly by the storm without seeing sun or stars for days. All hope of our being saved was lost.

Nobody had eaten anything for several days when Paul came forward among the men and said, “Men, if you would have listened to me and not set sail from Crete, we would not have suffered this damage and loss. However, now I beg you to take courage; for no one’s life is going to be lost, though we shall lose the ship. I know this because last night the angel of the God to Whom I belong and Whom I serve stood by me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar. God has graciously extended His favor to preserve the lives of all those who are sailing with you.’ Take courage then, men, for I believe God. I am convinced that everything will happen exactly as I have been told. But we shall have to run the ship ashore on some island.”

On the fourteenth night of the storm as we were drifting in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that we were nearing land. When they measured, they found the water to be one hundred twenty feet deep. After sailing on only a little way, they measured again and it was just ninety feet. Fearing that we might crash against the rocks, they threw out four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

Some of the sailors wanted to desert the ship.  They got as far as letting down a boat into the sea, pretending that they were going to run out anchors from the bow. But Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay aboard the ship, there is no hope of your being saved.” At this the soldiers cut the ropes of the boat and let her fall away.

While everyone waited for the day to break, Paul urged them to take some food, saying, “For two weeks now you’ve had no food: you haven’t eaten a bite while you’ve been on watch. Now take some food, please. You need it for your own well-being, for not a hair of anyone’s head will be lost.” When he had said this, he took some bread; and after thanking God before them all, he broke it and began to eat. This raised everybody’s spirits and they began to take food themselves. There were about two hundred seventy-six of us aboard the ship. When we had eaten enough, they lightened the ship by throwing the remaining grain over the side.

When daylight came, no one recognized the land. In the dim light of dawn they could make out a bay with a sandy shore where they planned to beach the ship if they could. So they cut away the anchors and abandoned them in the sea.  At the same time they cut the ropes which held the steering-oars. Then they hoisted the foresail to catch the wind and made for the beach. But they struck a reef where the two seas converge and the ship ran aground. The bow stuck fast while the stern began to break up under the force of the waves.

The soldiers’ plan had been to kill the prisoners in case any of them should try to swim to shore and escape. But the centurion, wanting to save Paul, stopped them and gave orders that all who could swim should jump overboard first and get to land; the rest should follow on planks and on the wreckage of the ship. In this way everyone reached the shore in safety.