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Acts 27:16-17

Acts 27:16 (NIV)

As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure.

Acts 27:17 (NIV)

When the men had hoisted it aboard, they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Fearing that they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along.

Once again I will analyze multiple translations to get a complete look at the full meaning of the text.

Act 27:16 (NAS)

Running under the shelter of a small island called Clauda, we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control.

Acts 27:17 (NIV)

After they had hoisted it up, they used supporting cables in undergirding the ship; and fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis, they let down the [fn] sea anchor and in this way let themselves be driven along.

Note 42:   Notice that now it’s “we” not “they”

Luke writes As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure.” (NIV).  Notice how Luke now uses the inclusive pronoun “we”, as opposed to the use of “they”, which he used in verse 13.  The first “we” clearly refers to the ship and all the people on board. The second “we” may show that even Luke himself was part of a work force.

Note 43:   “…under the shelter of…”

Luke Writes, “As we passed to the lee of (under the shelter of – NAS) a small island called Cauda . . .” The Greek name for the island of Caude (spelled Clauda in the NAS and KJV) is Gávdhos.  It has also been known by a wide variety of other names as used by various historical writers.  The island is pretty small, only about 27 km² in area.  It is positioned  a short distance from Crete, about 26 nautical miles south.  It is nearly WSW (just a little south of due west) from the point where we think they were originally hit by the storm.  The lee side of the island provided enough shelter to give them a small window of time to get ready to ride out the storm.

Note 44:   “…secure the lifeboat…”

Luke writes, “…we were hardly able to make the lifeboat ( the ship’s boat – NAS) secure…” .  Virtually all sailing ships through out history used small boats (hence the name the ship’s boat) that were towed behind the ship. It was used to ferry crew and passengers from ship to shore while in port or as a lifeboat if the ship was sinking. This arrangement works fine while sailing in normal weather.    Since the wind was pushing them from behind they would be unable to control the boat and it would have been in danger of either sinking or damaging the stern of the ship or the steering oars.  As they came around behind Cauda (Gávdhos), they tried to bring it aboard and secure it.  Luke tells us this was a difficult task and “‘we’ were scarcely able” to get the job done.

Note 45: “Hypozomata” this is a BIG deal

After the boat was secured on board the ship they turned their attention to keeping the ship afloat.  Luke writes they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together.” (NIV). The term used in the text is “Hypozomata”. This equipment and the procedure are well documented from classical history, particularly with military ships.  These ropes would help hold the ship together and make it more water tight.  Being watertight, is a very important concept to a grain ship, because all types of Grain will swell dramatically when it gets wet.  So here we have a ship that is in danger of leaking, in danger of external pressure of a storm crushing from the outside, and also in danger of potential internal pressure created by swelling cargo which is pushing outward.

Note 46:   A Personal note**

From this shipwreck hunters perspective, this action of passing a rope under the ship may one day prove to be the key to identifying this shipwreck.

Note 47:   Quicksands of Syrtis…

Luke tells us what the greatest fear was among the crew: “ fearing that they might run aground on the shallows of Syrtis”. The varying translations refer to them as the “shallows of Syrtis” (NAS), the “sandbars of Syrtis” (NIV), and “the quicksands” (KJV).  (So was it shallows, sandbars, or quicksand?  Yes!)

The fear of running aground in these moving sand banks was quite real.  The shallows of Syrtis are great shallow areas located along the coast of North Africa near Tunis and Tripoli, Libia.  In fact, they are still dangerous today.  The real problem with the area is the large expanse of shallow water and the shifting of the sand, which changes where the danger is actually located and making it hard to sail near the area.

Note 48:   The Sea Anchor

The text tells us that these men took action to fix the problem of Syrtis:

“. . . they let down the  sea anchor (NIV)”

“ . . . they lowered the sea anchor (NAS)”

“ . . . strake sail, or struck sail (KJV)”

The KJV translation initially creates some confusion:  did they lower the sea anchor or the sail?  Personally, I do not believe the sail would still have been up at this point after “giving way” to the wind and being driven along as we discussed in 27:15.  So, if not the main sail, then what is a sea anchor?  A sea anchor, or sea brake as it is sometimes called, is equipment designed to slow the rush of the ship in a storm, thus giving the crew more control.  It can be made on the spot or can be purchased and stored on board as standard equipment.  Quite often, a sea anchor is made from sail material, so it looks like an underwater sail and, once deployed, works to slow the ship.

Depending on where it is attached to the ship, a sea anchor can also help steer the ship and make it change direction.  For example, in the event that an obstacle appeared in front of and to the left of a ship, the sea anchor could be used to slow the ship down and steer right away from such obstacle.  Thus, I believe they tied the sea anchor from at least midship on the starboard side (right side) to somewhere near the stern in an effort to help steer the ship to the right and away from the danger they feared most – the shallow sands of Sytris.

I never use Wikipedia as a reliable source. HOWEVER, there is a good write up about sea anchors, so check it out if you like.

Note 49: “…and in this way”

Remember the desperation in Luke’s words back in verse 15: “so we gave way to it and were driven along”.  Those words imply the lack of control over the wind, the ship or themselves that these men had on this ship.  The choice of words also conveys the hopelessness they likely felt at that point.  Then there is a quick reprieve by this small island.  This time Luke use different terms “. . . and in this way let themselves be driven along.” These words are missing the desperation.  These words show us how the actions taken by the crew somehow changed their spirits.

The phrase “in this way”, leads the reader to recap the recent turn of events:  they regained control of the skiff, brought it aboard, secured it to the deck of the ship, and under girded the ship with rope to help hold it together.  These actions reduced the dangers presented both from without and within the ship.  They made the ship more watertight and finally lowered a sea anchor which slowed the speed and changed the direction away from the danger they feared.  Now Luke writes “. . . in this way, they LET themselves be driven along”.  The word “let” as used here, seems to show that Luke has the impression they now had some measure of control over the situation.  In testimony from other shipwreck accounts, we find that people often feel an improvement in spirits when they or the crew take actions, especially if they believe the actions may help save them from sinking.  The shipwreck testimony from Luke appears to be no different.

In my personal opinion, Luke’s words imply a more optimistic tone as he continues his story.

We will soon find out whether things have turned around for our boys for good as they will soon pass from the protection of this small island into the open sea… again!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I just set up an RSS feed to automatically download each new blog post to Microsoft Outlook. Another good option for staying up to date. Click the orange “RSS” button near top-right to setup.

    Keep up the good work John!

    • August 20, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks Zack, I had someone else tell me they were using RSS. It sounds like an easy way to get all the post delivered as soon as they hit the blog. By the way, I am working hard on the Maps you suggested. I wish I had thoughts of using them from the beginning. They would have made it much easier to follow the text and the journey. Thanks, for all your help.

  2. Ronny Magnusson
    August 20, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Keep up the good work John

    • August 20, 2010 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks Ronny, I appreciate you reading all the post and your comments

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