Voyage to Rome, shipwreck ahead
Paul sails away, with armed escort1 When the decision was made to sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a Roman officer named Julius. He served in the Augustan Battalion. 2 We boarded a ship from the home port of Adramyttium. The ship was planning to sail north along the coast of Asia, stopping in ports along the way. Traveling with us was a Macedonian man from the city of Thessalonica. His name was Aristarchus. 3 We left and then arrived the next day in the port at the city of Sidon. Julius was kind to Paul. He let Paul stay with friends Paul had there in Sidon. Those friends took good care of Paul while he was with them. 4 We left Sidon and put out to sea. We encountered some headwind, so we used the island of Cyprus as a windbreak. 5 When we reached the open sea, we sailed along the coast. We sailed past the provinces of Cilicia and Pamphylia. Then we arrived at the city of Myra in the province of Lycia. 6 There, the Roman officer found another ship for us. It came from Alexandria, Egypt. Like us, it was headed for Italy. So we got on board. 7 It was slow sailing for many days. It wasn’t easy, but we eventually arrived near the city of Cnidus. We couldn’t sail any further west. The wind wouldn’t let us. So we turned south and used the island of Crete as a windbreak, starting at the city of Salmone. 8 We sailed past Salmone. It was hard to make any progress, but we finally came to a place called Fair Havens, close to the town of Lasea. 9 By then we had lost a lot of time and were sailing in the dangerous season. The fast was already over. So Paul offered his advice. 10 “Gentlemen,” Paul said. “It looks to me like you’re planning to continue this voyage. If you do, you’re putting a lot at risk: the cargo, the ship, and our lives.” 11 The captain and the ship’s owner wanted to keep going. So the Roman officer took their advice over Paul’s. 12 The harbor at Fair Havens was too open. It wasn’t a good place to anchor a ship for the stormy winter. The majority of souls on the ship decided to sail a little further and try to reach the harbor at Phoenix, Crete. It was better protected, with just two exposed openings: one facing southwest and the other facing northwest.
Nor’easter pummels ship for two weeks13 A gentle wind started blowing up from the south. It was just what the captain ordered. They pulled up anchor and sailed alongside the coast of Crete, which was directly north of them, on the starboard (right) side of the ship. 14 Suddenly a typhoon-like wind blew in from the northeast, plowing right over the top of the island of Crete and smashing into the ship. People called this violent wind a Nor’easter. 15 Once that wind took hold of our ship, there wasn’t a thing we could do to fight our way back to the island. We gave our ship to the wind, letting it push us wherever. 16 We caught a bit of a windbreak from the island of Cauda as we plowed by. That gave us time to hoist up the small lifeboat we had been towing. It was a hard job, but we got the small boat secured. 17 Once we had hoisted the boat, we dropped ropes into the water and managed to slip them under the ship. This allowed us to wrap the hull with the ropes to help hold the ship together. As the storm blew us further south, we started to fear it would run us aground on the Syrtis shallows and sandbars off the north coast of Africa. So we lowered the anchor as a brake to help slow us down. 18 The violent storm kept pounding us. On the second day of the storm we started throwing cargo overboard. 19 On day three of the storm, we threw overboard the ship’s gear. 20 As the storm raged on day after day, blocking any possible view of the sun and stars, we gave up hope that we’d survive. 21 The crew hadn’t eaten anything in a long time. So Paul talked to them about it. He said, “Guys, I told you so. You should have done what I told you to do. If you hadn’t left Crete, you wouldn’t be suffering all this damage and loss.
Angel onboard22 I’m going to give you some more advice now. Cheer up. No one is going to die in this storm. The bad news, however, is that the ship won’t survive. 23 Tonight an angel stood by me—an angel of God. I belong to this God, and I serve him. 24 The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. You have to face Caesar. Listen to me, God has given you a gift. He has given you the lives of everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So cheer up, gents. I trust God. I believe he will do what the angel told me. 26 We do have to run aground on some island, though.”
Sailors try to abandon ship27 On the fourteenth night of the storm, the wind had driven us into the Adriatic Sea. At about midnight, the sailors started to sense we were getting close to land. 28 They took soundings by dropping weighted ropes into the water. The line measured the depth at 120 feet (37 m). 29 Afraid the ship would run aground onto the rocky coast, the men dropped four anchors from the stern (back). Then they prayed for daybreak. 30 The sailors decided to abandon ship. They sneaked the lifeboat down into the water, pretending they were dropping anchors from the bow (front). 31 Paul caught them. He told the Roman officer and the soldiers with him, “If these men don’t stay on the ship, none of you will survive.” 32 The soldiers cut the ropes that secured the lifeboat to the ship. The boat drifted away. 33 As dawn was about to break, Paul advised all the men to eat. He said, “For 14 days you’ve been so worried that you haven’t eaten. 34 Come on now and take some food. You’re going to need it to survive. And you are going to survive this. You’re not going to lose even one measly hair from your head.” 35 When Paul was done talking, he took some bread, and right out loud he thanked God for it. Then he tore off a piece of bread and started eating. 36 This encouraged everyone enough that they took some food and ate it, too. 37 There were 276 of us on board this ship. 38 When the men were done eating, they lightened the ship by tossing their wheat cargo into the sea.
Land ahead, steer for the beach39 When daylight came, no one recognized the land. But they spotted a bay with a beach. They decided that would be a good place to run the ship aground and get out. 40 They cut loose the anchors, which dropped into the sea. Then they untied the ropes that held the rudders. They hoisted the front sail and steered for the beach onshore. 41 They didn’t make it. They ran aground in the shallows offshore. The front of the ship lodged so firmly into a reef or a shoal that it wouldn’t budge—even while heavy waves started breaking up the back of the ship. 42 Soldiers decided to kill the prisoners so none of them would swim away and escape. 43 The officer in charge, though, didn’t want to see Paul die. So he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard and swim to shore. 44 Those who couldn’t swim were to float in on boards or anything else on the ship that could float. As it turned out, everyone got safely ashore.
Literally a centurion, a commander of a unit of about 100 soldiers.
Literally a cohort, a unit of about 500 soldiers. Archaeologists have found two inscriptions referring to this cohort. It was stationed in Syria. Many of the soldiers there would have been Syrians, not Romans.
Adramyttium was a city along the west coast of what is now Turkey, more than 100 miles (160 km) north of Ephesus. Today the city is called Edremit.
Asia was a Roman province in what is now Western Turkey.
Sidon was about 75 miles (120 km) north of Caesarea.
Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Lycia were Roman provinces in what is now Western Turkey. The harbor at Myra was more than 500 miles (800 km) from Caesarea.
Cnidus was a city on the Southwest corner of what is now Turkey. It was about 130 miles from their previous stop at Myra. That would normally take just a couple of days with good winds. But they were apparently sailing into a headwind. In the fall of the year, when they were sailing, it’s common for the Mediterranean wind to blow in from the northwest.
This “fast” probably refers to the only day of the year when Jews are instructed to fast (skip a meal): Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement. It’s an annual day of repentance among the Jewish people. The fast usually falls somewhere in late September or early October. The risky season for sailing in the Mediterranean during the autumn typically begins in mid-September. When possible, merchants tried to avoid having their products on the sea during the late fall and throughout the winter, when storms are most common.
It might sound presumptuous for a minister and tentmaker like Paul to offer sailing advice to sailors, but by this time in his career he had traveled thousands of miles—many of them by sea.
Phoenix, Crete would have been about 50 miles (80 km) west of Fair Havens. That’s about a one-day voyage during fair weather, sailing alongside the coastline.
The ship needed to sail west, along the Crete coastline just to the north of them. A gentle wind pushing them north would allow them to stay close to the shore, without getting blown out into the dangerous waters of the open sea at this risky time of the year for sailing.
The Greek word for the wind is typhonikos, from which we get “typhoon.” It means a strong wind, like a typhoon, hurricane, or whirlwind. Not a fun time for sailing.
The northeast wind would push them southwest, toward the African coast and in the opposite direction of Italy, where they wanted to go.
The wind, in Greek, was called Euraquilo. It means “a northeast wind.”
Cauda (in some ancient manuscripts spelled “Clauda”), today Gavdos, was about 20 miles (32 km) south of Phoenix, Crete, where they had hoped to weather out the winter.
Syrtis was in what is now called the Gulf of Sidra, off the coast of Libya. Infamous for its sandbars and shoals of shallow water, it was a graveyard for ancient ships blown aground and splintered under the hammering storm waves. It was about 400 miles (650 km) south of Crete.
By lightening the load, the ship sailed higher in the water. The higher the ship floated, the less likely it would take on water from waves breaking in on them.
The discarded gear, or tackle, may have included extra ropes, winches, sails, and masts.
That’s about a third as long as a football field.
Cargo ships that also carried passengers could accommodate up to 600 people, according to first-century Jewish history writer Josephus. The ship Paul sailed was from Alexandria, Egypt. If it was one of the famous Alexandrian grain ships carrying corn and other grain to Rome, it could have stretched more than half the length of a football field. One such ship, the Isis from the AD 100s, ran about 180 feet (55 m) long and carried three masts loaded with sails, according to second-century writer Lucian (AD 120-180), from what is now Turkey.
They may have loosened the rudders so they could lift them out of the water so they wouldn’t drag on the ocean floor. The sailors could then steer the ship using just the sails.
The writer of Acts seems to make this trip with Paul: “We boarded a ship” (27:2). Early church leaders said Luke wrote it. He was a physician who sometimes traveled with Paul. In fact, he was with Paul in Rome when Paul, under arrest, wrote his last known letter: “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11 New Living Translation). If Luke was, in fact, the writer, what does it say about him that he would make this trip? And what does it say about Paul?
The Roman officer was a centurion named Julius. He commanded a unit of about 100 men. And he apparently took some of them with him to guard Paul and some other prisoners. Whenever Roman soldiers lose someone they’re guarding, they usually seem to end up dead themselves (Acts 12:19; 16:27; see also 27:42). Why on earth do you think Julius allowed Paul to stay with Paul’s friends in Sidon (27:3)?
It seems the 276 souls on board took a vote and a “majority of souls on the ship decided to sail a little further” (27:12). They were going to pass Fair Havens, Crete and sail on to the better protected harbor a day’s voyage further down the coast. Given what you understand were the circumstances, how do you think you would have voted?
Of all the efforts the ship’s crew made to try to save the ship, which effort do you think would have frightened the passengers most?
Does it strike anyone else odd that the crew tossed their gear overboard before they tossed their wheat cargo (27:19, 38)? As far as the writer reports it, their cash cargo was the last thing to go.
LIFE APPLICATION. At one point in the voyage, the writer said “we gave up hope that we’d survive” (27:20). Most of us haven’t been in situations like this, when we gave up hope of survival. But we have been in situations where we gave up hope about something that was important to us. What’s that feel like? Besides “hopeless.”
LIFE APPLICATION. Everyone survived. But all they had left was their lives. Anything else they brought on the ship was likely gone. That must have left a bittersweet taste in their spirit. Sweet to be alive. Bitter to have lost everything else. We see it today after tornadoes, fires, and floods. What do you think something like that does to a person’s spiritual relationship with God?