In God’s Hands

Recently I had the extreme pleasure of spending almost two weeks aboard my son Jeff’s newly acquired sailboat as he delivered it from it’s previous home port near Oriental, North Carolina to his home marina in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a 300 mile trip filled with excitement and wonder as well as frustration and anxiety. Jeff has lived and boated in an ocean environment for several years, but this excursion was an adventure which added quite a few novel experiences to my repertoire.

Motoring down the Intracoastal Waterway

Even though Jeff and I would have preferred going “off shore” on the ocean to sail to Charleston, several issues prevented our doing so. This meant that we would, instead, motor down the Intracoastal Waterway, stopping each evening at marinas or anchorages just off the main route. Several days into the trip we felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy as she plowed north through the Atlantic, eventually making landfall near New York City. We rode out the tropical storm conditions at a wonderful marina near Sneads Ferry, North Carolina. The storm’s swell caused tides and currents that were not normal, so numerous places along the waterway became shallower because of sand and silt washed in by the waves. Couple the storm’s effects with the fact that Jeff’s boat has a deep keel and needs at least 5 feet of water in which to operate. This (and because the water depth information on the navigation charts is outdated) caused us, several times, to become grounded particularly in low tide conditions, unable to move until someone towed us off with their motorboat, or until the incoming tide lifted us free from the clutches of the sandy bottom.

The Orenda has a deep keel, extending 5 feet below the water’s surface.

On our second night out on the waterway we decided to stop, just after dark, at a marked anchorage near Beaufort, North Carolina. It was a beautiful, warm, and starry evening. As we approached the anchorage, we saw that another sailboat had already set out their anchor and was floating serenely on the gentle currents caused by the outgoing tide. We puttered slowly toward a spot only a couple hundred feet from the other boat. To our surprise, we suddenly ran aground even though the chart indicated we should be in at least 8 feet of water. Jeff’s depth finder indicated we were in just under 4 feet of water, and the tide was going out! No matter what we tried, we simply could not get free. Jeff suggested we might use his dingy boat to carry the anchor out in deeper water, drop it, then use the boat’s winches to pull ourselves free. We ruled out this option because it was dark, the tidal current was very swift, and we had no idea where the water might be deeper in the areas adjacent to the boat. We were stuck with no good option but to wait for the tide to go out then to come back in, a process that would take at least 6 hours.

Needless to say, Jeff was very anxious and frustrated about this state of affairs. He had already proven to me that he was an extremely capable and careful sailor, and I was very proud to call him my captain. I observed that we had not gotten into this situation because he had failed – the charts were wrong, and only 200 feet away another boat was floating free having lucked out where we were not so fortunate. But Jeff did not know exactly what to expect because he had never encountered a similar problem before. He was worried about how the Orenda would handle the conditions at low tide, and what might happen as the swift incoming tidal currents began to lift the boat off the bottom. Would it bounce along, eventually becoming permanently grounded on the shoals that, at low tide, now appeared only 100 feet away? He made the decision that he could not sleep, but he’d need to remain awake ready to power off the bottom at the very first opportunity. Jeff insisted that I should go below and grab a few winks. I declined, preferring to walk completely through this once in a lifetime experience with my son.

As I mentioned before, the night was beautiful. The stars twinkled brightly, the waves lapped quietly on the boat’s hull, and from time to time we heard dolphins surface and clear their blowholes very near to where we were sitting. I saw a shooting star. Perhaps because I was not as aware of the negative possibilities I was filled with a sense of wonder and peace. Even as the boat, at low tide, heeled almost 45 degrees on it’s side I remained relaxed, and I worked hard to pass as much of the serenity on to Captain Jeff as I could. I can’t remember what all we talked about, but it was a very special time.

At midnight it was obvious the tide was coming back in. The current had shifted, and the boat began righting itself with no signs of any ill effects. At around 3 AM Jeff sensed that a significant part of the boat’s weight was off the keel so he tried powering off the shoal. We did move a bit only to become stuck again on the bottom. Eventually, after several more tries, we became totally free, and we very carefully explored the area finally finding a good place to anchor and grab a few hours’ sleep. It took me a while to fall asleep because of the adrenaline and because worship songs and Bible verses kept going through my mind, like these verses from Psalm 139:

If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.

(Psalm 139:9-12 ESV)

Days later, as Jeff and I recalled some of the high points from our 2 week long trip, I mentioned that the night we ran aground at the Beaufort Inlet was my favorite. With a bit of dismay Jeff said “Dad, are you crazy? I was on the edge of throwing up that entire time!” Even though Jeff was the Captain on this trip, I took the opportunity to be a fatherly spiritual mentor, explaining that situations where we are humbled make us better people because we come to an end of ourselves. They allow us to put our trust in God and to see ourselves as being held in the palm of His hand. It’s in times like these that we put legs on our faith, and we grow in spiritual maturity as a result.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

~ Horatio G. Spafford


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