A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 27:6-12. b). A ship from Alexandria.
It was now that Julius the centurion (who, as Luke’s tale unfolds, wins our admiration for his kindness and common sense) found what he had been looking for earlier, namely a ship sailing for Italy. It was carrying a cargo of grain (see verse 38) and came from Alexandria, Egypt being Rome’s main granary. Sailing between the mainland and the island of Rhodes, but very slowly because of a contrary wind, they arrived off Cnidus, which is located at the south-east tip of Asia Minor. But there, instead of continuing west across the lower end of the Aegean Sea, the wind forced them almost due south towards Crete, and indeed a north-westerly wind ‘is precisely the wind that might have been expected in those seas towards the end of the summer’. Rounding Cape Salmone, they hugged Crete’s south coast until they reached Fair Havens. It was clear to everybody that they could not go on to complete their voyage to Italy; they would have to winter somewhere. The only question was whether they should lay up in Fair Havens or seek a better harbour further west. The adverse weather conditions had occasioned a serious delay. Already the Day of Atonement was past, which according to Ramsay fell on October 5 in AD 59. So they had entered the dangerous season for sailing, which always had to cease by the beginning of November. Paul, who had had a lot of experience of the Mediterranean Sea, warned them that to sail any further would bring the loss of cargo, ship and life (10). But the pilot and the ship-owner thought differently, and the centurion agreed with them (11) on the ground that Fair Havens was not a sufficiently protected harbour to winter in. So they decided to sail on a further forty miles to Phoenix, although there is some dispute whether this is to be identified with Lutro (which is open to the east) or Phineka (which faces west). The natural translation of the end of verse 12 is ‘facing both south-west and north-west’ (NIV) which favours Phineka, although Smith argued for Lutro by translating ‘in the same direction as’ the south-west and north-west winds, i.e. east!
2.) Storm at sea (27:13-20)
The gentle southerly breeze which arose deceived them into thinking that they could manage another forty miles (13). But *a wind of hurricane force (typhonikos,* ‘typhonic’), called the ‘north-easter’ (originally ‘*Eurakylon*, a hybrid compound of *Euros*, the east wind, and Latin *Aquilo*, the north wind’), swept down from Cretan mountains (14), forcing the ship to ‘scud before it’ (15).
Already the vessel was in great danger, for once blown out of the lee of Crete, there were no more harbours, only the open sea. It is fascinating to read the five precautionary measures which the crew now took in their desperate attempt to save their ship. First, briefly exploiting what little shelter Cauda (or Clauda) Island could offer them, they just managed to haul on board their lifeboat or dinghy (16). Actually, Luke writes that ‘we’ did it, because he lent a hand himself, though only with great difficulty, he adds, ‘probably remembering his blisters!’ Secondly, they ‘frapped’ the vessel, either by passing cables under her hull to hold her timbers together, or by lashing her stern and bow together above deck to prevent her from having her back broken (17a). Thirdly, fearing the Syrtis sandbanks, which, although many miles south off the Libyan coast, were dreaded by all Mediterranean sailors, they lowered either ‘the mainsail’ (NEB) or more probably ‘the sea anchor’ to act as a brake as they drifted onwards (17b). Fourthly, on the following day as the relentless battering of the storm continued, they jettisoned some of the cargo (18). Fifthly, on the third day of the tempest, they threw overboard as many parts of the ships tackle or equipment as could be spared (19). Then finally, after many days (eleven more, to be precise) of raging storm, with neither sun nor stars to guide them, and of course in those days no compass or sextant either the whole ship’s company seems to have given up all hope of being saved. But it was in that crisis of despair that Paul stepped forward with a word of encouragement.