Paul’s Shipwreck on Malta — Casting The Anchors and Dinghy

Acts 27:27 . . . about midnight the sailors began to surmise that 1they were approaching some land. 28 And they took soundings, and found it to be twenty fathoms; and a little farther on they took another sounding and found it to be fifteen fathoms. 29 And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak.

The captain and sailors on Paul’s ship found themselves in a very dangerous situation that called for a desperate measure—the casting of the “storm anchors” into the raging sea.

Please note, that under normal circumstances (relatively calm harbors) they would use “composed anchors” to secure the ship.

Two Composed Anchors on display in the Hecht Archaeological Museum in Haifa, Israel. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

A “Composed Anchor” is made out of a large chiseled stone and has at least three holes in it. A rope was tied in the upper hole—to lower and hoist the anchor—and wooden stakes were inserted into the two lower holes in order to grip the sea bottom. These anchors weighed between 45 and 170 pounds and could be lowered and hoisted by one or two seamen.  This type of anchor was used from the late second millennium BC on.  Please note that this type of anchor would not be able to secure the large Alexandrian Grain Ship in a raging sea!

Acts 27:40 “And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea.

These four anchors were very large and were “storm anchors.”  The “Isis – Sarapis” anchor stock found by Mark Gatt would be an example of this (as would the 3.5-ton anchor stock discovered in the same general area).

A replica of the “Isis – Sarapis” anchor discovered by Mark Gatt.

In this area please note that five “storm anchor” stocks were found that weighed 200, 489, 117, 500 pounds and the 3.5-ton stock plus the massive “Isis Sarapis” stock (Gatt p. 98 citing Scicluna).  These types of anchors were very heavy and were the last hope of securing a ship during a storm—both because of their weight and especially being fastened to the sea bottom.  But, once the storm anchors were cast overboard, and they were once secured on the seabed, they could not be lifted back on board, so they had to be abandoned!  As Acts 27:40 says, “And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea.

On the map note “Ancient Anchors.” This is where Scicluna noted all the relevant anchor stocks.  They had been abandoned as described above.

Acts 27:29 “they cast four anchors from the stern

The bow of a cargo ship with two “storm anchors” secured in place.

On this model the huge storm anchors are lashed onto the bow of the boat, ready to be deployed in a storm.  Under normal circumstances, the anchors would be lowered from the bow (see photo above) to secure the ship.  This would mean that the bow would be facing the oncoming waves because that would be the best way to deflect the waves and to ride out the storm.

But Acts 27:29 says they were lowered from the stern!  Gatt graphically describes how he thinks they were lowered and then the sailor had to quickly run, with ropes in hand, to secure them to the stern of the boat.  Gatt credits the wisdom of the captain in doing this, for this meant that the bow of the boat was facing the shore and it would be much easier to run it aground—once the time had come to abandon the storm anchors!

Acts 27:29 And fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the 1rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. 30 And as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship, and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the aropes of the ship’s boat, and let it fall away

A sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief.  The projection on the bow of the boat, on the left, may be a SSS sail, OR it might be a representation of a “storm anchor” with its anchor stock.

In the archaeological museum in Sinope Turkey, on the Black Sea, is a sarcophagus that has a sailing ship and its “dinghy” engraved in bas relief.  Behind it there is a small vessel, with a sail, that may be in tow.  Might this be a “dinghy” like the one described in Acts 27:30?

The Apostle Paul, and companions, may have sailed on such vessels. Note the steering oars at the stern of the ship, the billowing mainsail and what looks like a jib (Gatt, p. 18 calls this an “artemon”) near the bow of the boat—or could this represent a storm anchor with its anchor stock? Even the guy-lines are visible in the image.  An inscription on the sarcophagus reads: “Cornelius Arrianus is lying here. His age is 60.”

A line drawing of the bas relief on the sarcophagus in the museum in Sinope.

Alternatively, note that the “dinghy” has a  billowing sail and thus might be a second ship that is being depicted as being in the distance—and thus is smaller than the nearer vessel.

For information on our April/May 2022 trip to Malta, Sicily, and Italy Click Here.

For a complete discussion of the shipwreck of Paul see Mark GattPaulus The Shipwreck 60 A.D.  Second edition, 2017.  Malta: Allied Publications.

For a good discussion of the shipwreck, ancient anchors, etc.,  and a vigorous interaction with the views of Robert Cornuke, see Gordon Franz “Does the ‘Lost Shipwreck of Paul’ Hold Water?  Or, Have the Anchors from the Apostle Paul’s Shipwreck Been discovered on Malta?”


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