Crete to Malta

As the ship left Fair Havens, the wind changed, and it appeared that they might make it to Phoenix, the winter quarters they had in mind.

Map of Crete

The gentle wind took it along the southern shore of Crete. To their right the ship's company and passengers may have noted the myth-encrusted mountain range called Mt. Ida, where legend says Zeus, father of the gods, grew up in a cave.

Below, Mt. Ida, the highest mountain range on Crete; its principle peak, Mt. Psiloritis, rises to a height of 8058 feet above sea level.

Mount Ida on Crete

But, they scarcely rounded Cape Matala than the wind changed again. A hurricane-force "northeaster," known to sailors as Euraquilo, blew the ship off course and out to sea. Since the ship could not be steered before the strong winds, the captain gave up and let the ship be driven along.

Twenty-three miles south of Phoenix, Paul's ship passed to the south of the small island of Cauda (below), now known as Gavdos, about 23 miles due south of Phoenix. It is the southern-most border of Greece and Europe.

Gavdos Island

Cauda or Clauda

Sheltered by Cauda, the crew did everything it could in preparation against the storm. A small boat was being towed behind the ship and it was interfering with the steering. It was brought on board, and ropes were tied around the ship to keep it from being broken apart.

Boat caught in hurricane force winds

As they drove into the gale-force winds, they feared they would be blown onto the Syrtis, a stretch of sandbanks and quick sands off the north African coast (ancient Tripolitania and Cyrenaica; modern Libya).

Syrtis sand banks satellite view

The western Syrtis was called Syrtis minor, the eastern was called Syrtis major; The latter must be the one referred to in Acts 27:17. Although Paul's ship was  still far away, such a severe storm could drive the ship a long distance. To lighten the ship they threw the cargo overboard, retaining some bags of grain. To keep from being pushed farther off course, they lowered the sea anchor*

*The original Greek, translated as "sea anchor" in the NIV, should perhaps be rendered "mainsail."

For many days the clouds were so thick that they could not see the sun or stars, making navigation impossible. Finally, after all hope of being saved was lost and after many days without food, Paul stood up before them and said:

"Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.' So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island."

After two weeks of being driven before the storm, the sailors began to sense they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was one hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they again took soundings and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing they would run aground, they dropped four anchors from the stern. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers,

"Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved."

So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away.

Then, just before dawn, Paul urged everyone to eat in order to give themselves strength. Presumably some of the remaining grain was made into flour and baked. When all of the 276 on board had eaten, the rest of the grain was tossed overboard to further lighten the ship. At dawn the next day, the sailors cut loose the anchors and untied the ropes holding the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sand-bar and ran aground.

We next read that the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners, for they knew they would executed in their place if any escaped. But the centurion, wanting "to spare Paul's life," kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest floated on planks or pieces of the ship, and all made it to shore safely.

As Paul had promised, no one died, but the ship broke apart on the shore on the island of Melite, now known as Malta (below), 60 miles south of Sicily. In two weeks the storm had carried them 600 miles.



Malta to the port of Puteoli