How was I going to turn the boat around without anyone noticing? The men I had invited out fishing were all depending on me. They had been so impressed with my abilities as a sailor, navigating the boat through the channels and shoals that led to the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. Just minutes earlier I had successfully dodged five forming waterspouts spawned by passing squalls and they had enthusiastically patted me on the back.
How could I let on that I had been going in the wrong direction for the last thirty minutes and that we may not have enough fuel to get back to Key West? Boating was my craft. I was a sailor and sailors didn’t make such blunders.
Maybe if I stopped to let them fish for a few minutes, they wouldn’t notice when I restarted the engine that we were heading back the way we had just come. Even if they did, surely they would understand. This could have happened to anyone. The haze left by the squalls limited visibility to less than a mile. It was hard to know which way to go. Sure, I should have checked my compass, but sailors have a built in navigational system. and trust their instincts.
Water depth and underwater topography told me all I needed to know about where we were. I had been out here a hundred times and I knew exactly where we were. In just a few minutes the haze would lift and we would see the island on the horizon.
The haze did lift, but there was no island. There was nothing but water in every direction. Trying to hide my panic, I swallowed my pride and glanced at the compass. We had been going in exactly the opposite direction of Key West!
As I struggled with how to get out of this situation without losing face, a shrimp trawler about a quarter of a mile away that I hadn’t noticed signaled us with a blast from its horn. The men onboard were frantically waving their arms trying to get our attention. I made a hard turn to port and sped over, happy for the diversion and the chance to once again show my seaman skills.
I pulled along side the “shrimper”, idled my engine and yelled above the drone of their larger engines “what’s the problem?” In broken English one of the Hispanic men yelled back “we lost in ocean, which way is to Keya Wesa?”
Well there it was. Now I was in the hot seat. I could avoid the issue no longer. My sins had found me out and it was time to pay the piper. I could see two of the men in my boat already starting to point in the direction that I had been heading and I knew that there was no escape for me.
I was a sailor and I was not about to put other sailors in harms way by giving bad directions just to save face. I could feel my crew’s shock as I waved off their attempts to point and quickly motioned in the correct direction, telling the skipper of the other vessel “that way set your boat on 115 degrees and it will take you right to Key West Harbor.
Now I was embarrassed. I had never fully understood that old cliché “the silence was deafening”. Now I knew. No one was saying anything and yet, so much was being said. The only way I could have felt more ashamed was if I had gotten seasick in front of my friends.
I was humbled and while I know humility is a good thing, it certainly did not feel good at the moment. Still, I had learned a very important lesson. Always trust your compass over your instincts.
That lesson carries spiritual significance for me as well. When it comes to my life’s direction, I need to consult God’s compass, the Word of God. As the compass is the guide in a sailor’s craft, so too is the Word of God the guide for a Christian’s vessel.
In I Kings 8:56 (kjv) we are told “ there hath not failed one word of all His good promises.” Solomon was assuring Israel that none of God’s promises fail. His instructions are always trustworthy.
Christians often trust their own judgments without consulting the “compass” of God. When we do this, we are asking for trouble and often find ourselves headed in the wrong direction.