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Acts 27:41

Act 27:41

But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

Note 101: Well here we are.

We have reached the critical event of the wrecking process – the impact.  This is the most important passage in the entire shipwreck account of Acts 27.  Not only does verse 41, describe what happens to this ship, but also and more importantly, it tells exactly HOW the ship came apart.

From the beginning of this project, I have written my analysis of Acts 27 from the perspective of a shipwreck researcher, searching for evidence of the disaster.  Luke gives a precise description of how this ship died.

Note 102: …BUT

Verse 41 is just a continuation of the previous verse.  They had made a plan, made all the necessary preparations, cut the anchors and restored steering, raised the sail.  They are underway and making for the beach.  Then there is the infamous word…BUT.  Have you ever noticed there always seems to be a BUT?   It seems just when things were looking good you hit a snag, or a sandbar, or a reef or something. So let’s examine the text to find out what they actually hit?

Note 103: Where two seas met

The King James Version states events this way. “And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground”(KJV). The New American Standard states it this way: “But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground;”

The term, ‘where two seas met’ is generally thought to mean a place where two currents or wave patterns come together.  It could mean a place where water flows from one place and runs into water coming from another direction. There are several other theories that I will skip here because this phase could mean many things. This part of the passage is describing something these people could actually see, yet this phrase is not the focus of the event, nor the most critical description of the grounding. The most critical description is the next part of the translated phrases which states “They ran the ship aground (KJV) or the “ship…ran aground”

Note 104: The ship runs aground

I do not believe the text describes something they intentionally did when it says ‘they ran the ship aground’ as stated in the KJV. The structure of the sentence is not consistent with the theory of intentional grounding. Where this ship hits the bottom is not the spot they were aiming for.  We know this because the text says they were aiming for a beach.  Second, when these two verses are combined into a single sentence they read like this: “Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach, BUT…(emphasis added) If this were the beach they where they meant to run the ship aground, then Luke would not have used the word “but”. Running aground, at that moment, at that spot was not the plan.  It was what happened, but it was not where they wanted to end up because now they abandon ship and swim for their lives.  The location of this grounding  sounds like an unfortunate accident instead of a deliberate act by the crew.

Note 104: Was it a reef?

Striking a reef. The varying translations of this text throw us a little curve when some translators say they struck a ‘reef’.  We must decide which type of obstacle stopped the ship. Though it may seem like a minor detail, determining whether the ship struck a sandbar or a reef is critical in the quest to find this shipwreck because each of these obstacles produces dramatically different results when struck by a wooden vessel.

A reef is hard, very hard, they are most often thought of as a coral reef consisting of the hard limestone left by coral colonies.  It can also describe a large underwater rock formation, which Malta has an abundance of.  This  rock type ‘reef’ would also be consistent with the ‘two seas’ comment as well.  It is quite possible for the bow of a wooden ship to hit and become stuck fast in a reef.  This obstacle could be consistent with the narrative.  However, it is highly unlikely that any ship stuck on a rock reef would break apart as described here by Luke.  Any wooden ship stuck in rocks by the bow, would have been torn apart AT the bow, where the softer wood and the hard rocks meet.

Note 105: Was it a sandbar?

In a high energy surf zone, it is common for the bottom sand to become loosened by the action of the water so it turns into a thick soupy mixture. When the bow of a ship hits this loosened sand, it creates a pressure wave that then compresses the sand around the hull of that ship.  This compression creates a suction action against the hull and causes that bow to get stuck and held immovable in the sand.  The wave action would have little effect on the stuck bow, which is buried, however, the effect on the stern would be an entirely different matter. Since the bow is held fast in the cement like grip of the sand, the entire length of the ship then acts as a gigantic lever working to tear itself apart. In this case, the pressure from pounding waves tears the stern away from the bow. Other wooden ships have been destroyed in exactly this manner and the description of those ships would read exactly like Luke provides in this narrative. I am convinced this ship became stuck in sand and the leverage exerted on the stern by the surf tore the stern away from the bow.

Note 106: Luke’s Narrative

Luke’s account perfectly describes a ship becoming stuck in a sandbar as opposed to a rock reef.  The narrative further details that the bow of his ship remained stuck on, or rather ‘in’ the sand bottom. In fact, the bow was stuck so firmly that the winds of ‘hurricane force’ plus the ‘pounding surf’ could not dislodge it from the sand.  Even the leverage applied against the bow by the stern being torn away could not pull the bow free from the grip of the sand.  The physics described in Luke’s narrative about this shipwreck is consistent with how other ships have become stuck in sand bottoms over the years. The difference in his case is that the pounding of wind and waves actually ripped this ship apart.  The crucial element of Luke’s narrative is the guidance it gives us about whether the entire ship was destroyed or there were portions of the ship that were not destroyed that morning. Luke provides a precise description about how his ship was torn apart. Given Luke’s description of where the vessel actually separated, it is clear that the bow was embedded in the sand and was there to stay.

Note 107: My Conclusion

I have concluded that a portion of this vessel was indeed left behind that day and might still be below the sand and grass of a bay in Malta to this day.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Rebecca
    October 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    When you and I spoke the other day, you mentioned the possibility that this ship is buried under dry ground. If you don’t see the ship in November, are there any geographical clues you might be able to see that will tell you whether part of the dry land that is in Malta today was previously underwater?

    • October 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm

      Yes there is. Salina bay which is the smallest of the three bays has been silting in for centuries. There are salt pans (used for evaporating sea water to gather salt) from the middle ages still there. Inland from the salt pans under dry land today are the remains of an old harbor. Archaeological evidence of wooden structures have been found here many years ago. Inland further is the remains of an Olive press. In fact a very large olive press that would have been working during the first century. I do not believe this area will ever be excavated so if a ship is there then it is there for good.

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