Posted in creation, theology

Following the North Star: a Sailing Story

By Elizabeth Prata

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I lived on a sailboat for two years. We made passage from Maine to the Bahamas and back, twice. For much of the time along the eastern Seaboard, we traveled the Intracoastal Waterway, a series of connected rivers, bays, and sounds that allowed for passage inside the landform instead of the open ocean. Though, we also made overnight passages on the ‘outside’ too.

It was a fun and interesting experience, a different way of living. Vagabonds, unfettered from the workaday concerns and free to dwell neither here nor there. It also taught me much about the natural world, and who I was. I wasn’t saved during those years, and the experience of living in harmony directly IN nature opened my eyes to the fact that there was a God who created all this; the seas currents, lands, skies, and the stars.

The Bahamas is an island country. It is made up of over 700 islands, and likely many more uncounted, strung out from northwest to southeast in the Atlantic starting at mid-Florida and extending down to mid-Cuba. Cuba actually isn’t our nearest ocean neighbor, The Bahamas is. West End is only 44 nautical miles from Boca Raton. To get there by boat, you must cross the Gulf Stream, that mighty mama of ocean currents.

Well, we did, and we enjoyed the ‘blue water’ of the Bahamas for a season, hopping from island to island to sample Bahamian life to learn of their history, and just relax on a boat that looked like it was floating on air, the sea was so clear.

One particular passage stays in my memory. To go from New Providence Island, where Nassau is, to the Abacos, a larger island string just north of New Providence, you cross New Providence Channel (deep water) and head due north. The mariner must leave at dusk in order to make it to the entry into the island string at dawn. This is so you can cross the coral reef channel safely without the sun in one’s eyes. At dawn, the sun will be behind you and you can see the razor sharp coral that if you run over, will slice your boat and you’ll be in the drink before you know it. So, this meant a night passage. This was OK since most of it was over the deep Atlantic.

Having made some night passages before, we were prepared. We left the cozy anchorage at dusk, sliding out from the arm of land that protected us and turned our compass heading due north.

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Seeing the stars over the ocean twinkle and glitter at night is magical. We look up through our sails, through the spreaders. A spreader is a spar on a sailboat used to deflect the shrouds to allow them to better support the mast. Shrouds are the pieces of rigging that extend down from the spreader ends to the deck and help hold up the mast.

As the boat rolls along, we look up through the rigging to see the carpet above us, littered with diamonds, peeking in and out of the cloud cover, or starkly winking at us through clear skies. We notice one particular star, the North Star AKA Polaris. It is at the end of the handle of the constellation known as the Little Dipper. It’s a unique and important star.

The reason Polaris is so important is because the axis of Earth is pointed almost directly at it. During the course of the night, Polaris does not rise or set, but remains in very nearly the same spot above the northern horizon year-round while the other stars circle around it.

If we put our right spreader tip at the North Star we could maintain a north compass heading. It was fun to navigate by the stars instead of the compass set in the binnacle where the steering wheel was and the technology blinking at the nav table below. Doing this as we rolled along in the night sea allowed for some pretty majestic and pondering thoughts. Where did the stars come from? Why are there so many? Why doesn’t Polaris move? Do the stars know us? Are we just an insect moving along on the earth or the sea as the unfeeling and unknowing stars go their way in the sky, night after night? What a gulf between us!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4)

As an ignorant pagan, I was asking the same things that have been asked by others. See, even the ignorant pagan knows there is a God. (Romans 1:18-20). Everyone knows there is God, because God made it plain to us that He exists and that He made everything we see.

Barreling along on a tiny yacht in a big ocean, under an even bigger sky, the night air cooling my skin and the stars brightening by the moment, I looked up…and wondered. If there is a God, how can I know Him? Who am I?

Polaris doesn’t move. Polaris exists, stays motionless, and all the other stars swirl around it.

Jesus is our pole-star. He never changes, He remains enthroned, while all of creation bows to Him. All our motions, our travels, wanderings, meanderings, eventually bring us all to Him- saved or unsaved. How can I know God, I’d asked? Jesus descended to us. He made Himself known.

He died on the cross and was resurrected as the sacrifice God demanded for sin. I am eternally grateful I know Him and I will meet Him on God’s terms, as a saved sinner, and not on my own sinful terms, as a wandering yachtsman, curious about Him but living in sin and loving it. In that case, I would be destroyed, sent to hell for payment of those sins.

But little did I know on that night, wondering about the sky and Who made it, that I would someday be given grace to be forgiven and enfolded into His kingdom to forever circle around Him, the unchanging, eternal, unique star, the God-Man Jesus.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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