God Moved the Boat

by Judy MacDonnell

“Judy, come and give me a hand!” my husband Bob called.  I ran out into the cockpit, where he was pushing buttons at the helm.

I must have knocked the autopilot off while I was working on something,” he continued. “Now I don't seem to have any manual control.  Here – see if you can get us back on course using the autopilot.”

I glanced at the compass and began pushing buttons, while Bob went to check the hydraulic fluid.  The swell was carrying us with it and we were 45 degrees off course.  We were en route to Vanuatu, midway between Australia and New Caledonia. Our mainsail had been torn in tremendously strong winds two nights before, in the same storm that had crippled a huge cruise ship also bound for Vanuatu.  

Now we were sailing with a small storm sail, able to run before the wind but not able to change direction easily.  Every time we had needed to change direction the wind had turned with us, so I knew God was in control. But now, when I tried to employ the autopilot, it complained.  

Beep beep beep beep beep!  “Off course,” read the gauge.

I’d have turned on the starboard engine, but a peg on the key reminded me that the alternator needed Bob’s attention before we reached Port Vila and the engine was out of action for the moment.

“Try it on manual again,” Bob called out.  I found myself holding the wheel hard over, pressing my foot against the side of the cockpit - as if that would help!

 “God, please help me,” I pleaded. “I can't do this on my own!”

Before I had a chance to draw breath, I looked up to see a strange, white wave speeding toward us from the east - against the wind!  It was long and low, torpedo-shaped, and its purpose was clear.  

"BANG!" It hit the starboard bow with a crash.  The boat shuddered and paused.  A second wave, identical to the first, came close behind.  "BANG!"  Spray flew halfway up the mast while I remained dry at the helm.  

I glanced down at the compass.  We were exactly on the course we needed.  I laughed out loud!  "Thanks, God!" I said.  Quickly I pressed the autopilot buttons to secure the course and the boat began to pick up speed.

How could those two strange waves have come at us from that direction?  For well over a week the wind had been coming from the west and the south-west, sometimes fiercely.  There had been no wind from the easterly quarter at all.  The swell had been carrying us towards the north-east – which is why we had had the problem in the first place! 

Ever since, whenever I think of how God turned our boat around, I can't help smiling.  Now I know why He didn't change the wind for us the last time we needed to turn – He wanted to show me something greater.


(By the way, we did not get the manual steering back again before we arrived in Port Vila, and entered harbour manoeuvring with engines alone.)




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