Ask any sailor and they’ll tell you that changing weather conditions are a big headache, especially on a long passage. Most skippers embarking on a journey will research various forecasts and cross-match the information to get an accurate picture of what lays ahead. Many subscribe to specialised weather programmes, they check out online tools, listen to Coastguard weather reports and even radio ahead to boats who are further along in the journey. Once you clear customs in a country, you are required to leave immediately, so finding the perfect weather window for a passage is crucial.
Before leaving New Zealand for Vanuatu, Rob did all the usual weather checks. The goal was to find a 10-day weather window which would ensure a smooth passage north. He checked and double-checked before finally deciding on a set-sail date right at the tail end of a storm. The thinking was simple. The low-pressure was coming across the top of the country, which meant it was a good two days sail from where he was starting out. By the time he and his crew reached the path of the storm, it would have blown by and they would catch the end of the winds for a great point of sail. All the calculations suggested it would be smooth sailing from there on in, but apparently you can’t calculate for the unexpected.
The low-pressure system that was supposed to pass by, slowed right down and settled in. In what was supposed to be a calm sea, the crew were faced with 6-8 metre sea swells and wind swells of 2-3 metres coming from the adjacent direction. Winds were consistently blowing 35-45 knots, and they were being hit with gusts in the high 50’s. If you’re not familiar with the language of weather, let me put it this way: They were stuck in one big ocean-sized washing machine.
Then, just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. Another low-pressure system started barrelling in, sandwiching them between two storms. They lost the propeller from the port hull and the port side trampoline broke away from the bow. A split appeared under the bridge deck, allowing water to seep into the starboard hull, then before they knew it, seawater contaminated the fuel tank causing them to lose their second engine. This passage was definitely not going to plan.
However, regardless of the conditions they were in, they could not turn back. While they were slightly closer to New Zealand than they were to Vanuatu, turning back would mean staying in the storm. The only way out was to keep pressing through. After several days the winds started to ease and eventually Rob and his crew arrived in Port Vila, stronger sailors than when they left.
I can’t help but think that storms at sea are a bit like storms in life. You can prepare for the journey all you like, but sometimes the unexpected happens and you find yourself being pushed around by the waves. As much as you want to turn back, often you have no choice but to keep pressing through. In those times it’s easy to feel frightened or overwhelmed, but God’s word encourages us to hang on. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us that “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
I know that sometimes letting go of fear is easier said than done, but learning to trust fully in the goodness of God is the only thing that brings true peace. If God brought you to it, He will bring you through it. And you’ll be much stronger when you come out the other side.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-5 (NIV)