The vessel on which Paul and 275 others were aboard (Acts 27:37) was first pushed near the island of Clauda (modern day Gavdos, Acts 27:16) which lies south of Crete. Here the crew would have the advantage of a temporary lull and of comparatively smooth water for a few miles. The most urgent necessity was attended to first.
The boat used to go ashore in was hoisted on board but after towing so long, it must have been nearly filled with water and under any circumstances the hoisting of a boat on board in a gale of wind is a work accomplished with great difficulty.
The next precaution that was adopted betrays an apprehension lest the vessel Paul was on should spring a leak, and so be in danger of foundering at sea. They used the tackling which provided "helps" in such an emergency (Acts 27:17 - 19). They "undergirded" the ship with ropes passed round her frame and tightly secured on deck. And after this, or rather simultaneously, they "lowered the gear."
The more marked incidents of the second and third days of the gale are related to us (Acts 27:18 - 19). The violence of the storm continued without any intermission. On the day after they left Clauda, they proceeded to lighten the ship by throwing overboard whatever could be most easily spared. On the third day both sailors and passengers like Paul united in throwing out all the spare gear into the sea. Then followed several days of continued hardship and anxiety (verse 20). No one who has never been in a leaking ship in a continued gale can know what is suffered under such circumstances.
The gale still continued without abatement. Day and night succeeded, and the danger seemed only to increase till fourteen days had elapsed, during which they had been "drifting through the sea of Adria" (Acts 27:27). At the close of the fourteenth day, about the middle of the night, the sailors suspected that they were nearing land.
The roar of breakers is a peculiar sound which can be detected by a practiced ear. When it was reported that this sound was heard by some of the crew, orders were immediately given to heave the lead, and they found that the depth of the water was twenty fathoms. After a short interval, they sounded again, and found fifteen fathoms. Though the vicinity of land could not but inspire some hope, as holding out the prospect of running the ship ashore and so being saved, yet the alarm of the sailors was great when they perceived how rapidly they were shoaling the water. There was the utmost danger lest the vessel should strike and go to pieces.
No time was to be lost. Orders were immediately given to clear the anchors. But, if they had anchored by the bow, there was good ground for apprehending that the vessel would have swung round and gone upon the rocks. For a time, the vessel's way was arrested but there was too much reason to fear that she might part from her anchors and go ashore.
And fearing that we would come upon rocky places, they cast four anchors out of the stern and wished for day to come (Acts 27:29, HBFV).
The coast was invisible from Paul's ship, but the breakers were heard in every pause of the storm. The rain was falling in torrents and all hands were weakened by want of food. But the greatest danger was lest the vessel should flounder before daybreak. The leak was rapidly gaining, and it was expected that each moment might be the last.
It is under such perilous circumstances we find the sailors making a selfish attempt to save themselves and leave the ship and the pasengers like Paul to their fate. Under the pretence of carrying out some anchors from the bow, they lowered the boat over the ship's side (Acts 27:30). The excuse was very plausible, for there is no doubt that the vessel would have been more steady if this had been done and, in order to effect it, it would be necessary to take out anchors in the boat. But their real intention was to save their own lives and leave those like the apostle.
Apostle Paul penetrated their design and he saw that, if the sailors accomplished their purpose, all hope of being saved would be gone. With his usual tact, he addressed not a word to the sailors, but spoke to the soldiers and his friend the centurion and they, with military promptitude, held no discussion on the subject, but decided the question by immediate action. With that short sword, with which the Roman legions cleft their way through every obstacle to universal victory, they cut the ropes and the boat fell off. If it did not instantly become swamped, it drifted off to leeward into the darkness and was dashed to pieces on the rocks (Acts 27:32).
Thus the prudent counsel of the Apostle Paul, seconded by the prompt action of the soldiers, had been the means of saving all on board. By this time the dawn of day was approaching. A faint light showed more of the terrors of the storm, and the objects on board the ship began to be more distinctly visible.
Still, towards the land, all was darkness, and their eyes followed the spray in vain as it drifted off to leeward. A slight effort of imagination suffices to bring before us an impressive spectacle, as we think of the dim light just showing the haggard faces of the 276 persons, clustered on the deck, and holding on by the bulwarks of the sinking and virtually shipwrecked vessel.
In this hour of anxiety the Apostle Paul stands forward to give those on board courage. He reminds them that they had eaten nothing for fourteen days and exhorts them now to partake of a hearty meal (Acts 27:33 - 34). So speaking, Paul set the example of the cheerful use of God's gifts, and grateful acknowledgment of the Giver, by taking bread, giving thanks to God before all, and beginning to eat (verse 35).
Thus encouraged by Paul's calm and religious example, those on the ship felt their spirits revive. They partook of food and made themselves ready for the labor which awaited them.
The sailors looked hard at the shore, but they could not recognize it. Though ignorant, however, of the name of the coast off which they were anchored, they saw one feature in it which gave them a hope that they might accomplish their purpose of running the ship aground. They perceived a small bay or indentation, with a sandy or pebbly beach. Their object was, if possible, so to steer the vessel that she might take the ground at that point. To effect this, every necessary step was carefully taken.
While cutting the anchors adrift, they unloosed the lashings with which the rudders had been secured, and hoisted the foresail. These three things would be done simultaneously, as indeed is implied by Luke and there were a sufficient number of hands on board for the purpose.
The free use of the rudders would be absolutely necessary nor would this be sufficient without the employment of some sail. It does not appear quite certain whether they exactly hit the point at which they aimed. We are told that they fell into a place between two seas (Acts 27:41) and there stranded the ship. The bow stuck fast in the shore, and remained unmoved but the stern began immediately to go to pieces under the action of the sea.
Paul, and all those on the ship, would soon learn that they shipwrecked close to the island of Melita (Malta).