Voyage and Shipwreck
T O appeal to the great Roman Cæsar the apostle Paul now set sail for his longest voyage. A convoy of prisoners was starting for Rome, and with them Paul embarked at Cæsarea, a new Roman seaport named after Cæsar: with a fair wind the ship soon reached Sidon. It was the last city on the coast of Syria he ever saw.
Leaving Sidon, the old Phœnician port, the wind blew from the north-west and drove them to the north of the island of Cyprus. Still beating against a contrary wind, the ship reached the shores of Asia Minor, and put into the port of Myra, one of the great harbours of the Egyptian service. Here was a ship carrying corn from Alexandria to Rome, a large merchant vessel, which had probably been blown out of her course and taken refuge at Myra. On board this ship Paul and the prisoners were put, and off they sailed once more. Slowly they sailed south against heavy winds and high seas till they reached Crete, where in the harbour, which is known as "Fair Havens" to this day, they anchored to wait for a change of wind.
Time passed, and they were still wind-bound: autumn was coming on, and it was time for navigation in the Mediterranean to cease. The old ships were not fit to brave the storms of winter in the open sea. A discussion took place as to whether they should winter in Crete or push on farther. The owner of the ship was for going on: Paul advised caution.
"Sirs," he said, "I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the cargo and ship, but also of our lives."
In spite of this advice, however, they determined to make for a safer harbour in which to spend the winter. With a south wind blowing softly they set sail, and had neared their desired haven, when a sudden violent wind came down from the mountains of Crete and struck the ship, whirling her round so that steering became impossible. An ancient ship with one huge sail was exposed to extreme danger from such a blast as now blew. The straining of the great sail on the single mast was more than the hull could bear, and the ship might any moment founder in the open sea.
The hurricane blew her southwards, away from Crete, and towards the dreaded quicksands of the African coast near Cyrene.
The violence of the storm continued. After drifting helplessly at the mercy of the wind and waves for two days and nights, they began to throw overboard the cargo to lighten the ship, and then "with our own hands," says the writer of the Acts, "we threw away all the ship's fittings and equipment."
Here is a striking picture of the growing panic. Still the wind blew, no sun shone by day, no stars lit the dark sea by night; cold and wet and very hungry, they drifted on towards death and destruction.
At last Paul made his voice heard above the storm. "Sirs, ye should have hearkened to my counsel, and not have set sail from Crete," he said; "thus you would have been spared this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but only of the ship."
The gale continued day and night for fourteen days. At the end of that time, towards midnight, the sailors heard the breaking of waves on a shore.
They were nearing land, but the danger was still great, for the ship might be dashed on the rocks and go to pieces. In an agony of terror they waited for the dawn. No coast was visible, only a wild waste of waters. The sailors, under pretext of casting anchors, lowered a boat, intending to row off and leave the sinking ship and its two hundred and seventy-six passengers to their fate. Paul saw their intention.
"Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved," he said to those in authority. They had learnt to listen to the words of this remarkable prisoner. The ropes of the boat were instantly cut, and the sailors' selfish plan failed.
"This is the fourteenth day that you watch and continue fasting, and have taken nothing. Wherefore I beseech you to take some food: for this is for your safety."
Again Paul's advice was taken. Daylight came, land was visible, and they made for a pebbly beach and ran the ship aground. By means of boards and broken planks they all reached land safely, while the old ship which had borne them through the storm went to pieces before their eyes.
They had reached Malta, and the bay where they landed is known
For three months, until February opened the sea again to navigation, they stayed at Malta. Then another corn-ship from Alexandria—the "Castor and Pollux"—took the passengers on board, and sailed for Syracuse in Sicily. Here they waited three days for a good wind, which carried them through the narrow straits of Messina, dividing Italy from Sicily. They passed between chains of snow-clad hills, till at last the merchant ship sailed into a beautiful calm blue bay to unload its cargo, and very soon Paul found himself in the great city of Rome herself.
He had already sent a long letter or epistle to the men of Rome.
"I long to see you," he had written to them three years before this; "I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are in Rome also."
Now he was among them. True, he was a prisoner: a light chain fastened his hand to that of a soldier who was guarding him, though he had his own house in the city.
And here Paul preached the good news he had brought, and the Romans became Christians in such numbers that they were recognised in the city by the emperor.