Sailing without a rudder


There are times in our life when our relationship with God drifts. It is at these times, we can hear him calling us back, if we'll listen.

This is a story, of a real experience I had a few years back when visiting my best friend.


It was 5pm on Friday when we finally set sail from Look Out Point in Maryland. Not many boats on the water, which was very surprising to me, since it was Labor Day weekend. We navigated out the channel, following the markers that would lead us into the Potomac, and out to the Chesapeake Bay. We had a fair wind of about 10knots. As we sailed across Chesapeake Bay, toward Smith Island, you could see a Navy battleship that had been anchored, and used for naval practice in the far distance. This was my first time sailing on a large body of water, and my second time sailing, on any body of water. I asked my friend what would happen if the rudder broke. He replied that would never happen. I could not stop thinking to myself, the analogy of the rudder and Jesus. Without a rudder we could not steer the sailboat. Without Jesus we could not steer our lives. The sun was setting as we neared the halfway point. The water was thick with jellyfish, since it was breeding season, and warnings were out not to enter the water. I've never been stung by a jellyfish, but hear that the pain is very intense, and multiple stings can kill. As nighttime fell upon us, we noticed that the winds were starting to pick up. We knew that there were small craft advisories, but this could not apply to us, since our sailboat was 21 feet in length.  We saw the faint silhouette of the battleship on the horizon, as we sailed toward our destination. The sky was dark, and the Milky Way was bright. The moon was not in the sky this evening, so light was scarce, except for the jellyfish that were disturbed, by the keel of our sailboat. The jellyfish lit up the water with an eerie light from below. About 3/4 of the way to the Island, the waves were growing larger, and starting to white cap. I was feeling uneasy, not being able to see much in the dark of the night, except feeling the spray of the water as it hit the sides of the boat. It was like sailing full speed, but without sight. I was hoping we would soon be able to reach Smith Island. We followed the markers as we neared the island, but noticed a many different lights of green, and red, which mark the channels. My friend who owned the sailboat, which he had inherited from his uncle, was sure we should keep left, and follow a pair of lights he had picked out. The sailboat was an older boat, probably from the 50's. It had a V berth, and to side berths, which could sleep 4, a small kitchen, and a portable toilet, which doubled as a seat.



As we neared the island, the map showed only one small narrow inlet to follow, with rock jetties, on either side, that could mean the end of the boat if we collided. I could barely make out land straight ahead, if we kept on following the left most light. We came to a decision to abandon that course and turn south, to another pair of green and red lights. It was a good decision, since the course we were on would have taken us into the rock jetties. As we entered the first pair of buoys, marking the entrance to the channel, we noticed a 31-foot sailboat, circling without any lights. Every minute or two, a hand held spotlight shined brightly, to mark as a headlight for the boat. They were in some electrical distress, and were glad to see us. The boat then followed us into the channel, thinking we knew where we were headed. We navigated the buoys, which counted from 1 to 20 with many turns into the harbor. The sailboat following us, ran upon ground, but was able to free itself and continue in.


We stayed the night, and left the next morning, heading back toward Look Out Point. As we headed out the wind was picking up about 25 - 30 knots. This should help us make good time back toward the mainland. Unfortunately we were heading straight into the wind with brief changes coming from a 2 to 3 o’clock position. At this time, the swells were reaching 6 - 8 feet. I have never been on the water when conditions like this existed, and in a 21 foot sailboat. With every swell and wave the boat crashed upon the water, showering us with a cool splash, Our supplies and cooler were thrown from one side to the other below in the cabin. It was daytime, so I was not that concerned. I held the rudder firmly as I tried navigating the swells. With each gust and wave, the rudder pulled against me, until a felt a snap, and told my friend that the rudder had broke. He looked at me with unbelief, and leaped into action retrieving the piece before the bay would have swallowed the piece, into the dark waters.


We were smack dab in the middle of the shipping channel. As I looked to the south I noticed a container ship headed straight for our position. The sails had to be taken down, since we were at the mercy of the wind and waves that were swelling sometimes to 10 feet. I made the life jackets accessible, in case we would need them. The waves kept turning us in every direction. Spinning the boat about, like a toy, in a child’s bath.

I guess you could say I was a little concerned at this time. We could not see land at either side, so that did not help the situation. Fortunately, we had an 8HP motor for trolling into harbors. My friend tried starting up the motor with no luck. He pulled and pulled, but could not a get a spark. The Container ship was drawing closer, as we turned helplessly in the wind. I retrieved the flare gun, and asked if we should send up a signal. My friend did not like the idea, only as a last resort, but I had believed we reached that point. After 10 minutes, he was able to start the motor. The small motor was all we had to steer the boat. Steering was very hard with each swell we came upon, kicking the rotor into the air, and out of the water, making a sputtering sound.


Somehow we managed to make our way toward the mainland at a very slow pace, against the eight-foot waves, and with a rudderless ship. I could not help thinking to myself, life would be this way everyday, without the rudder of Jesus to steer our lives.


All in all, it was an exciting weekend sailing on the Chesapeake  and a confirmation of truth.


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