"Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. And they took some soundings and found it to be twenty fathoms; and when they had gone a little farther, they took soundings again and found it to be fifteen fathoms. Then, fearing lest we should run aground on the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.' Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off. And as day was about to dawn, Paul implored them all to take food, saying, 'Today is the fourteenth day you have waited and continued without food, and eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take nourishment, for this is for your survival, since not a hair will fall from the head of any of you.' And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. Then they were all encouraged, and also took food themselves. And in all we were two hundred and seventy-six persons on the ship. So when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship and threw out the wheat into the sea" (Acts 27:27-38).
Two weeks at sea filled constantly with storms and exceedingly turbulent waters would wear down even the most seasoned sailors. Paul had tried to be an encouragement to the men previously, stating that he had received a message from God that none of them would perish, only the ship and cargo would be lost. At times many of them had given up hope, confident they would die at sea because of the horrible conditions they were enduring. Although they knew not where they were, they began sensing that they were approaching land around midnight one evening. Being unable to see, they regularly took "soundings" (i.e., measurements as to the current depth of the water). When the depth decreased from approximately 120 to 90 feet, they feared they might be about ready to run aground on rocks. So, they dropped four anchors from the back of the boat and wished for daylight, hoping that the anchors would hold and keep them back from destruction. The morning sun would allow them to see the land (and treacherous rocks) they believed they were nearing.
The experienced sailors, even with the potential of land nearby, had given up on the large ship and were planning to escape on the small boat. They had an "every man for himself" mentality and had more confidence in their survival in the small ship. They pretend they are going to go out and drop anchors from the front of the ship, but Paul knew their real plan. Before they were able to carry it out, however, Paul informed the centurion and the soldiers that they could not be saved if these other men left the ship. Although it is not fully explained, these men were needed for God to deliver the group (they were the ones with the skill to steer the ship come morning light). The soldiers, with full faith in what Paul spoke, cut away the small boat so no one could use it! This shows great confidence in Paul's message. It also teaches us a great lesson today. Paul was not presumptuous, even with the promise of safety he had received from God. He made use of all the proper means at his disposal to insure that, with God's help, their lives would be safe. Paul believed God's promise and even gave the sailors hope that they would be saved without the use of the small boat ("not a hair will fall from the head of any of you").
Paul then urged the group again, shortly before dawn, to eat for their own strength and vitality. He gave thanks to God for the food and began eating in front of them all. They, being encouraged by his example, followed his lead and ate. It seems likely that this also would help ease the tension among those on board. Tempers surely were worn thin after fourteen emotionally draining days, not to mention the agitation toward the sailors who were willing to leave others behind to perish. The sailors were certainly agitated also that their plan had been foiled. Getting everyone to eat would provide strength and a more peaceful disposition. They would need all the energy, enthusiasm, and cooperation they could muster come daylight.
Afterward, they lightened the ship some more and threw out the rest of the cargo. They are trying to give themselves every advantage once daylight comes and they begin to try to run the ship aground.