William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

In Peril On The Sea (Acts 27:9-20)

27:9-20 Since a considerable time had elapsed and since it was now no longer safe for sailing because the Fast was already past, Paul offered his advice. "Gentlemen," he said, "I see that this voyage is going to be fraught with injury and much loss not only to the cargo and to the ship but also to our own lives." But the centurion was persuaded by the master and the owner rather than by what Paul said. Since the harbour was not suitable to winter in, the majority proposed the plan of sailing from there, to see if they were able to reach Phoenice and to winter there. Phoenice is a harbour in Crete which faces south-west and north-west. When a light southerly wind blew they thought that their purpose was as good as achieved; so they weighed anchor and coasted close in along the shores of Crete. But soon a tempestuous wind called Euraquilo rushed down from it upon them. When the ship was caught by it and could not keep her head to the wind, we yielded to the wind and scudded before it. When we had run under the lee of a little island called Cauda we had great difficulty in getting the dinghy under control. They used their lifting tackle to get it on board and they trapped the ship. Because they were afraid that they would be cast on to the Syrtis Sands they loosed the gear and away they were driven. When they were making very heavy weather on the next day, they began to throw equipment overboard; and on the third day with their own hands they jettisoned the ship's spare gear. When neither sun nor stars were seen for many days and a great storm was raging, at last all hope that we should be saved was taken away.

It is quite certain that Paul was the most experienced traveller on board that ship. The Fast referred to is the Jewish Day of Atonement and on that year it fell in the first half of October. According to the navigational practice of the time, sailing was considered doubtful after September and impossible by November. It has always to be remembered that the ancient ships had neither sextant nor compass and in cloudy and dark weather they had no means of finding their way. It was Paul's advice that they should winter in Fair Havens where they were. As we have seen, the ship was an Alexandrian corn ship. The owner would be rather the contractor who was bringing the cargo of corn to Rome. The centurion, being the senior officer on board, had the last word. It is significant that Paul, the prisoner under arrest, was allowed his say when counsel was being taken. But Fair Havens was not a very good harbour nor was it near any sizeable town where the winter days might be passed by the crew; so the centurion rejected Paul's advice and took the advice of the master and the contractor to sail farther along the coast to Phoenice where there was a more commodious harbour and a bigger town.

A very unexpected south wind made the plan seem easy; and then struck the terrible wind from the north-east. It was a gale and the peril was that if they could not control the ship they would inevitably be blown on the Syrtis Sands off North Africa which were the graveyard of many a ship. (They have been called "The Goodwin Sands of the Mediterranean.") By this time they had managed to get the dinghy, which had been towed behind, on board, in case it should either become water-logged or dashed to pieces against the ship. They began to throw out all spare gear to lighten the ship. With the stars and the sun shut out, they did not know where they were and the terror of the Syrtis Sands gripped them so that they abandoned hope.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible