As a junior seaman I entered St Paul’s Bay in foul weather.
We were in a ship’s boat on a training trip.
I was a 16 year old and serving with the seventh destroyer squadron based in Malta. I knew the biblical account of the ship wreck here that St Paul and all on board survived in classical times.
How that ancient captain managed to beach his ship and save his passengers on the only narrow bay on this rocky coast amazes me still.
St Paul’s Bay
The steer board tore against his grip,
Storm waves rose all about.
His reefed in sails they might yet rip;
His soul felt clouds of doubt.
He thought of Byblos and his home
Above the wine dark sea.
He swore no more now would he roam,
He feared this destiny.
Ahead a sea bird glided by
Across those raging seas.
He heard a faint bewitching cry;
Such birds soar with such ease.
The shearwater was heading west,
Dark skies loomed sour and grey.
That bird she seemed serene and blessed;
Would she show him the way?
He eased about towards the lee
And went the way she flew.
He rode crests of that monstrous sea
With all the skills he knew.
He prayed that bird take him safe on
Towards some safe shore line.
Inside of him some faint Hope shone;
Could this bird be some sign?
Two passengers sat calm serene
Where waves crashed all about.
There faces wet with watery sheen,
Still now they seemed devout.
He was paid well for them to go
To Rome to face some fate.
Yet now they sat here all aglow
Mid seas that raged of hate.
Ahead the sky was black as black,
That shearwater part white.
With darker feathers on her back,
She came and went from sight.
A ships boy there came to him then,
Said “Birds lead to mischief,
They nest away from beast and men
On rocky shore or cliff”.
A panic gripped his heart and mind,
He thrust the steer board out.
Mid such spray that he seemed half blind;
He heard his Bosun shout:
“We missed those rocks you saved us all”,
As cliffs loomed to his right.
The bird let out a frantic call,
A bay came into sight.
He drove his ship straight at the shore,
The prow ploughed through the sand.
Her planking creaked then cracked and tore;
Death still seemed near at hand.
A wave took two men overboard
And straight onto the beach.
They stood and cried out to their Lord,
Then Death slunk out of reach.
The sea became becalmed at last,
That wrecked ship’s days were done.
With broken keel and shattered mast,
Against that storm she’d won.
And Saul of Tarsus walked some way
Up from the low shoreline.
He stopped but briefly, stopped to pray,
“God, could this be a sign”.
Back by the ship the captain stood
And spoke with fervent joy,
“Bosun”, he said “That boy did good”;
“Who sir, we have no boy…”.
His mind it reeled, his mind it spun,
Upon that low shoreline.
He saw rays of a rising sun,
“God, could this be a sign”?
A demon spirit left that bird
She settled on her nest.
That demon stuttered word on word,
“Satan, I failed your test…”!
And Saul of Tarsus travelled forth
To Rome to lose his head.
In that great city to the north
His cause would not lie dead.
From: The Tale of Frigar