Rocks Ahead! Turn Around for Heaven’s Sake!


On the 10th March 1967, one of the world’s largest crude oil tankers of the time, the Torrey Canyon, ran aground on rocks near the Scilly Isles off the South West coast of England carrying 120,000 tons of crude oil. At the time it was perfectly calm and excellent visibility. The skipper, Captain Pastrengo Rugiati, was neither drunk nor asleep, yet he chose that day to overrule his second-in-command and take a shortcut to go a slightly quicker but more dangerous route between Lands End and the Scilly Isles. Between those two points lay a line of rocks called the Seven Stones. To navigate past them would require pinpoint navigation, with an error of only one mile proving fatal. Bear in mind that the length of the ship was over 1000 feet and its draught 50 feet.


Near that point was a lighthouse with men on guard guiding ships away from the rocks. They saw the Torrey Canyon coming toward the rocks and fired their warning rockets. They could see the ship’s danger but Captain Rugiati could not. The lighthouse put up their warning flags as well—but on the Torrey Canyon swept, sailing at full speed, 16 knots (approx. 18 mph). At the very last minute, Rugiati realized his error and ordered his helmsman to swing the wheel hard to port, perhaps seeing the tide causing white breaker waves on the rocks themselves. But nothing happened. Horrified, Rugiati remembered that he himself had locked the steering wheel into automatic pilot. He quickly turned the autopilot off and slowly the great ship started to turn. But it was too late. At 8:50 A.M. the Torrey Canyon struck the first of the Seven Stones rocks.

Those who reported the accident in detail told how their captain stood on the bridge, speechless as three-quarters of the hull was split open and all the oil released into the open ocean heading for the beaches of England and France, one of the biggest disasters of European history. Captain Rugiati had steered his ship and its precious cargo onto well-charted rocks in broad daylight and on a calm day. All of this happened because Captain Rugiati wanted to take a shortcut. At his trial, there was one sentence that the Captain kept repeating: “If only I’d had another 30 seconds.” But he could have changed course an hour or two hours before. He didn’t even slow his ship down! He refused to see his danger until 30 seconds before hitting the rocks. He was guilty because he refused to take the appropriate action at the appropriate time.


Can I ask you, dear friend, are you also on automatic pilot? Going one day to another, heading for an unknown eternity? There is still time to change course—like now, this moment. Life has a way of hiding the rocks that are in front of us. Can you think of this short devotional as God trying to get your attention like the lighthouse firing warning rockets and waving flags? The time to turn the ship is now…you don’t know how much time you still have. Take your life off of autopilot mode and get on your knees and plead before the God of the universe to spare your life. Ask Christ to save you from an eternity without God. His substitutionary death on the cross was for you and as you. He will forgive you for the things you have done wrong in this life if you will turn the ship of your life around. Believe (trust) on Him and ask Him to come into your life and be the Pilot of your life. He will give you new life if you will trust Him. Keith Thomas


Partly taken from a tract published by Grace Enterprises, 41 Old High Street, Folkestone, Kent, England.