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Acts 27:28-29

Act 27:28

They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep.

Act 27:29

Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.

Note 69: soundings

The next actions taken by the crew was They took soundings”. Sailing ships carried lead sounding weights tied to long lines used to find out how deep the water was.  A sailor would throw the weight in front of the ship and let it quickly sink to the bottom.  As he brought it back up, he would measure the line with his arms, one full arm span, measured from tip to tip, equals about six feet or one fathom. This procedure would tell the captain how much water was beneath the hull.  Sometimes they took multiple soundings, off each side of the ship.  Sir Francis Drake became stranded once on a reef in the Pacific. Sounding on one side revealed six feet of water, yet from the other side, only about 40 feet away, they were unable to find the bottom.  Completely stuck on this reef, he jettisoned eight Bronze cannon to lighten his ship in an attempt to free his ship.

Note 70: Mark Twain

Remember Mark Twain our national treasure of a writer?  His real name was Samuel Clemens.  He took the name Mark Twain from his early days on River Boats.  As the lead sounding line was thrown over the side, many times the sailor’s report shouted to the captain would be,  “Mark Twain”, meaning two fathoms of water under the boat.  Clemens adopted Mark Twain for his name.

Note 71: finding the bottom

“They sailors found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep.” The Greek term was twenty orguias (about 37 meters) and the KJV translation (English) named it 20 fathoms ( the Royal British Navy used the term fathom). But regardless of the term there was 120 of water under the vessel, so the ship was actually safe from grounding at that moment.  But remember, they are still drifting along, pushed by the wind.  So the text says “a short time later they took soundings again.” This time they found the water was only ninety feet deep.  The bottom is coming up fast, meaning they are approaching land and it is happening fast. Now everyone on the ship starts to move more quickly.

Note 72: Fear is very motivating

Verse 29 says “Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks,” . It is still shortly after midnight and before daylight so the sailors would be unable to see any rocks.  I am unsure if the crew even knew there were actually rocks.  Perhaps they could hear the waves crashing on rocks but Luke’s writing says it was rocks they faced.  He says they were afraid of being dashed against the rocks.  This is the most common terminology used by sailors to state their fears, even if it does not describe the exact hazard they might be facing.   In this case, rocks are exactly the hazard these sailors are facing.

Note 73: Hit the brakes

Every person knows when driving a car and faced with a fast approaching danger, HIT THE BRAKES. That’s exactly what this crew did when “they dropped four anchors”. Sailing ships carry multiple anchors. We know this ship carried at least six and probably more. At this point they drop four anchors to stop the forward progress of the ship.  They would not have dropped all four at the same moment, so the ship would not have stopped immediately. I estimate they would also have to have had a minimum of 300 feet (probably 400 feet) of rope attached to each of these anchors. There is a ratio of line length to water depth required to get the anchors to hold the bottom.

Note 74: From the stern

Luke continues to help us understand events in Verse 29 when he states the anchors were dropped “from the stern”.  This is not the usual position for dropping anchors. Remember these ships are pointed on both ends. The bow was aiming north northwest (NNW) due to the tackle they have been dragging as a sea anchor giving the ship this heading (verse 17). They could drop the anchors in a manner that would catch and hold the ship and cause the bow of the ship to swing around from NNW to a westerly direction.  They would then be facing the land they have been rapidly approaching.  By actually facing the island, they would gain more control for steering the ship.  But for now at least the anchors have caused the ship to stop it’s rush toward the rocks of the island.

Note 75: alone in the dark

Luke finishes his narration about the sudden flurry of movement by the crew to save the ship saying “they prayed for daylight”. Sooner or later everybody prays.  Christian, Jew, pagan or atheist, sooner or later everybody prays.

Note 76: Details

Notice the details that Luke could have left out of the narrative and still told a complete account. How deep the water was, how many anchors were dropped, from which part of the ship they were dropped. He continues to add details that help us understand the fullness of the events and actions of the crew.  Through his choice of words we can verify not only what happened, but figure out why they reacted as they did.

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