They call a certain stretch of water in the Caribbean “Hurricane Alley.” Severe storms in that region are common. Captains of sailing vessels know enough to consider the warnings and plan accordingly.
But even skilled sailors and captains of ships are no match for forces well beyond their control. Thus was the fate recently of the cargo ship El Faro. It left port in Jacksonville, Florida, almost two weeks ago… never to return. Along with its sinking went the souls of thirty-three crew.
Experts continue to debate the wisdom of the decision to sail, let alone to take that specific route. There is no clear cut answer. The storm turned treacherous quicker than estimated — jumping past hurricane categories 1, 2, and 3, until it settled at 4.
What that meant for these sailors was a horrifying congestion of wind, waves, and rain. The seas were raging at 50 feet. Winds howling at 125 miles per hour. As the ship listed some 15 degrees with its full load of containers and cars, it began taking on water. It wasn’t long after that the engine failed. Steering was now impossible.
No survivors were found. There was one body that surfaced in a survival suit meant to keep people afloat. Other than that, a cargo door, an empty lifeboat, and a range of flotsam and jetsam is all that could be immediately found.
It’s important to note that, despite all of our advancements, we still have these sailing tragedies today. And this one happened in a relatively short course sailing run of 1200 miles! Today’s maritime world has sophisticated weather equipment, advanced navigation, and sailing technology. Lifeboats for everyone. Survival suits.
Makes you wonder, on Monday’s Columbus Day, how they made it from Spain to cross the Atlantic in the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The Santa Maria ran aground near Haiti and came apart. Oops.
The other two ships were smaller and each carried about 25 men. Close quarters, my friend. Probably no antiperspirant.
As one history site notes, “All told, there were about 120 crewmen for the combined fleet. They lived on hard biscuit, salted meat, and fish. They drank beer and water. Of course, they could not drink sea-water because of the high salt content. In that day they had not yet developed methods for distilling the sea-water to remove the salt. Living conditions were difficult.” Ya think?
The article goes on to explain that the sailors slept on a hard deck, often exposed to the weather. And because of fire danger aboard a wooden ship, any fire needed had to be strictly controlled. And cooking was done in the forward part of the ship.
And lest we forget the importance of that historic day, a few more notes from an article titled “THE FOUR EXPLORATIONS OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS”:
“Early on the morning of October 12th land was indeed sighted, and a landing party arrived on an island in the Bahamas and named it San Salvador. It had been thirty-three days since the three ships had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. The natives must have been surprised to hear that their island now belonged to Spain. Over the next few weeks landings were also made on Cuba, named Juana by Columbus, and Española, now known as Hispaniola, and shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”
“Columbus’ ships covered approximately 150 miles a day. His seafaring instincts were extraordinary. Columbus relied on “dead reckoning,” which used not only navigational instruments but also experience, intuition, observations, and guesswork to determine his ships’ positions.”
Now I realize that in this current age there are mixed reviews on the motives and behavior of the Columbus expeditions. For my purposes today, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions. (You should read the original documents and diaries.)
My point in sharing both of these stories is twofold: 1) to show that people have taken great risks and made tremendous sacrifices for our betterment, and 2) some jobs, more than others, require bravery in the face of known risks. Or call it courage.
Your job, whatever it is, may require another kind of courage. Making tough decisions. Knowing when to step out on your own. Handling employee challenges. In looking at a candidate for a job, we underestimate the importance of courage.
In the face of our challenges, when courage is needed most, it is comforting to know we can seek help from One whose power knows no limits.
As the Psalmist writes,
“You answer us in amazing ways, God our Savior. People everywhere on the earth and beyond the sea trust you. You made the mountains by your strength; you are dressed in power. You stopped the roaring seas, the roaring waves, and the uproar of the nations. Even those people at the ends of the earth fear your miracles. You are praised from where the sun rises to where it sets.”
– (Psalm 63:5-8, NCV)
Hope you had a Happy Columbus Day. May you have smooth sailing.
Originally posted on MarkElfstrand’s Blog.