An Unforgettable Experience
“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.” Ps. 107: 23-30.
Our Station activities were soon under way, but many other things were in demand for use on the field. It was decided that the “captain” and his crew of two Bahamians (we had taken on another seaman in the Bahamas) should make another trip to the States for these extra supplies, also have some needed work done on the fuel injectors of the diesel motors. Clearance was given and the farewells terminated, but trouble which developed a few hours from land necessitated a return to the harbor. Batteries were charged, and the injector points worked on, then after everything was supposedly in order we farewelled again. This time we had two passengers aboard — five of us in all. Everything went well until we were out in heavy seas where the sediments in the tanks were were mixed with the fuel; then trouble followed. One motor went out completely and refused to run again. We were then well on our way to Inagua, so decided to undertake the rest of the journey with the one motor, and get repairs in Inagua, rather than turn back to Haiti. The sea was exceedingly rough, but we were making headway, and a few more hours would have put us in sight of land and in smoother waters. It was then late in the night, but we had hoped to see land by the break of day. What! The motor dying! Yes, dead! All through the night we were pounded and driven by merciless waves. Though deathly sick, the “captain” stuck with the engines trying to get them started again. Such a night! Only the Lord and those who have worked in the engine room with dead motors on a stormy sea know what it is like.
For the next three days and nights the weather was unusually calm, or the breezes light. The motors utterly refused to budge, so there was nothing that we could do except to read and pray and do a bit of writing. During this period I translated two or three choruses into French by the help of one of the passengers whose language was French and Creole. We devised a sort of sail for the boat by bolting 2×4 timbers together, then using an old rubberized canvas and a blanket for the sail sheets. This had little effect for a boat this size. Big ships were seen in the distance, and signals were given with hopes that they might see us, but all our efforts were in vain. We could only guess our location, for in those waters the currents are sometimes much stronger than the force of the breeze. At least there was no storm raging, so we were thankful Most of those aboard were cheerful. There was plenty of uncooked food on hand, but there was not too much cooking done, for there appeared to be no big appetites, and too our water was getting low.
Late in the afternoon of the third day of our drift one of the weather-wise Bahamians knowingly scanned the heavens and said, “We will have a ‘northeaster’ tonight. Right then there appeared to be no special reason for his saying such a thing, but as the sun lowered upon the ocean horizon there were ominous signs of a heavy blow. Scudding clouds were soon racing above us like angry demons, then came the murky storm with swirling clouds of wrath. The day terminated with an unwelcome sunset, for already in the distance appeared the frightful fringe of Haiti’s rock-ribbed shores toward which we were being driven by wrathful winds. Subdued quietness reigned aboard the storm-rocked vessel, for who would not have been sobered by the sight of the defiant wall of death which seemed to lie across our storm-shrouded path. Tremendous thoughts crowded the minds of the boat’s occupants: thoughts of the yester-years and of the possible “tonight’s” eternity. There were thoughts of our homes and loved ones. I thought of my own dear family safely sheltered on Haiti’s shores, and breathed out thanksgivings to God that they were not with us aboard ship this wretched night. There were uncertain thoughts of when and where we would meet again — on the shores of Haiti or on the shores beyond the sunset and beyond the sullen sea where there shall be no sea, no storms, and no sorrow.
While with some of us there was peace, sweet peace, as the roaring and ruffled waters rolled about us, and yet there were serious thoughts of what the night held for us. Would our lot be that of drowning men, struggling, strangling, and choking while sinking to our graves in the dismal deep? or would it be that of being pounded to death upon the ragged rocks? or would the mighty God of the storm work a miracle and skillfully steer our stranded ship past the rocks of death and out into the open sea?
How it happened we may never know, but thanks be to God for the miracle of His mighty arm. No earthly hand held the helm of the ship that night, for there was nothing that man could do. As the darkness of this dismal night gave way to the gleams of breaking day we could see that we were passing the rocks of death more than a mile away. The sea about us was wild and white with rage, but our ship was being driven clear of land and down through the windward passage intervening Haitien and Cuban shores. The rolling, rocking, pounding, striking, pitching, tossing, creaking, crying, and moaning of the boat during the next three days and nights simply cannot be described. Preparing food was out of the question, so we did without. During all this time the wind never ceased to blow, and the mountainous waves threatened to capsize and bury the boat. We again had reason to praise God that we did not venture forth with the other boat. It was the Lord who had delivered us.
Although the winds were not abated during these testing days, yet it did change. At one time we were drifting toward Jamaica, another time toward Beliz in Central America, and still another time in the direction of southwestern Cuba. Both by day and by night we sighted boats in the distance and sought to gain their attention, but to no avail. As the sixth day wore away and the shadows of the seventh night began to fall about us our feelings cannot be told. We simply felt that we could not pass through another stormy night out there, for we had gone for days and nights with very little sleep, and had suffered from exposure. That evening the giant waves with their caps of whiteness reminded us of snow-crowned mountain peaks. One five seconds we were perched on the summit of these sea mountains, then within the next five seconds we were plunged deep into the valley.
As the sun was lowering behind these mountainous waves we caught sight of a ship in the distance and began with all our might to make signs with the flag by turning it upside down and hoisting and lowering it. About this time we took note of fire belching from its guns, then seconds later could hear the mighty roar. At this point our two Bahamian seamen became frightened, and one of them was almost ready to go overboard. The six days and nights had not produced the fear which followed the bursting shells. He tried to get us to stop signaling lest we be blown out of the water. Some of us, however, felt that this was our time of rescue or never. Shortly we were sighted from the crow’s nest of the battleship, and then the ship’s stem was turned in our direction. What hopes! What joy swelled up in our souls as the fighting ship sped toward us, and what thrills as life-lines were fired over our helpless ship! Your writer caught one of these lines which was secured to a larger cord, which cord was fastened to a larger rope, and the rope to a great anchorage line. Our Bahamian seamen were at home now and played their part as men who know how. We were soon being towed by the American Battleship in the direction of Guantanamo, Cuba, the American Naval Base. Such a rescue! Our drooping spirits were revived and our hopes were lifted high.
This rescue reminded some of us of the Lord’s rescue of the sinner sinking in shame and despair. Our motors were dead and there was nothing we could do to save ourselves but to call upon the ship that was able. Upon being secured to this powerful vessel we were soon splitting through the great waves with a speed never known to the Pelican before. We were saved by the strength of another ship. So it is with the poor helpless sinner. He can do nothing to save himself other than to call for the Life Line, and to call upon the Strong Man — the Man, Christ Jesus. “Whosoever calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” By His strength we are saved in spite of our weakness. Within about four hours we were entering a “haven of rest.” What a difference! Outside the storm was still raging, but within the precincts of the harbor all was quiet.
The news was soon carried about that a rescue had been made, and that hungry and shivering men needed attention. Food and warm drink was soon provided. After bowing our knees in thanksgiving to God for His abundant mercies, and for having brought us into the “desired haven,” we turned to our bunks for a night of peaceful slumber.
The naval shops had everything needed to put our motors in order, pump out the dirty fuel, and supply us with plenty of fresh fuel. Within a few days we were ready to battle with the wind and waves. In the meantime we had met and made friends with several of the Commanding Officers. One of these men asked if we could by any means supply the base with fresh fruits, specially oranges. Since they had been so kind to do so much for us I felt that we should help them. Instead of continuing our voyage on to the States we returned to Haiti. You can well imagine what mutual joy was shared upon our arrival in Cap Haitien.
What news to the poor natives when they learned that we would be needing some hundreds of bushels of oranges! Some of them sold oranges, others sold sacks made of a certain straw, others made crates for us, trucks were employed, but especially donkeys, to bring in the fruit. There was the sorting, counting, and loading. All of this meant an outlay of small money and many people ate bread as a result. The trip was made back to Cuba with the results that one thousand dollars were cleared within less than one week. Other trips were made, but not with the same results, for the fruit season was about over. While in Cuba on different occasions we were privileged to preach the Gospel both to men in the Service and to Cubans in their towns. We trust on that Great Day when all the mists are cleared away and we enter that other “haven of rest,” we shall find that our “bread cast upon the waters” was not in vain.