Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to header Skip to footer
Web Original

Our sailing adventure

From The Christian Science Journal - May 22, 2013


The Customs and Immigration officers were blunt. They told us to vacate our boat and to take nothing with us but the clothes we were wearing. The skipper of the 46-foot sloop we were on repeated that he had contacts at CNN—a major cable news channel based in the United States—who knew where he was, and he could reach them by satellite phone if we needed help. My wife and I and an Eritrean cook in her early 20s stepped over the side of the boat and climbed into the officers’ inflatable craft. The skipper followed.

My wife and I lived on a sailboat in San Francisco, where the skipper was from, and had signed on to help crew his boat through the Middle East, then on to Asia. We now found ourselves unexpectedly held up near the Ethiopian border.

After we’d traveled 15 minutes at top speed, the officers delivered us to the Port Authority in Assab, Eritrea, where we were escorted to a mostly vacant building. The skipper and our cook followed the agents to a room, where a naval commander waited to interview them. In the early ’90s, when our cook was a teenager, she had served as an Eritrean Freedom Fighter against Ethiopia. A border clash between the two countries had started again in May 1998. It was now February 1999 and we had been cautiously following the war’s development on the radio as we headed south from Eritrea.

The naval commander briefly questioned my wife and me about the purpose of our trip, and we were released to a room that held just a couple of desks and chairs, where we waited and prayed. The officials had legally boarded our boat and brought us back to their base, and we knew they could decide to confiscate our craft or detain us indefinitely. We were told that our building would be guarded, and we were not allowed to leave. The skipper became visibly concerned about property left behind on his boat.

Later, I walked out to a porch that overlooked the other vacant concrete buildings. Port of Assab was at that time being used as both a naval station and a customs port. Our skipper had told us that the port was on alert for possible deployment and could become a harbor for naval ships. But it felt as if any servicemen stationed there had left; the compound was so quiet. As the sun began to set, I heard a car start and saw the customs official and base commander speed away in a Jeep. The skipper joined me on the porch.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

“I’m thinking about how frustrating it must be for the commander to be on this desolate base, facing the prospect of war with no boat to sail away on,” I replied.

Our remote surroundings had alerted me that perhaps these officers were feeling envious. A war was brewing; we were foreigners not affected by this regional conflict; we had a boat to sail away on, even our cook was exempt from fighting because of her previous service record. I needed to affirm that envy could not influence anyone; envy was incompatible with the law of divine Love. We were where we needed to be, innocently doing jobs we needed to do, as were the people stationed on this base, and no friction or jealousy could interfere. Our freedom could not tempt the authorities to detain us without good reason.

The skipper looked at me and said, “That is a different way to look at things.” And then he gave his opinion of what these officers were doing, and how futile our position might be, based on his experiences cruising around the world.

I stuck with my past experience in turning to God and bearing witness to the truth about His children, as I’ve learned to do in Christian Science. I affirmed that God is good; His creation is good; and God governs. And like the biblical metaphor of the potter’s clay, man’s nature cannot take on a form or quality not derived from God, the Creator. As it says in the Bible: “Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? … I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways” (Isaiah 45:9, 13).

Some thoughts from a piece I’d written before our voyage came to mind then. I’d written about the impossibility of sailing outside of God’s care (see “A Prayer for a Voyage,” Christian Science Sentinel, Nov 15, 1999). I had shared those ideas with our skipper in Eritrea and he had appreciated hearing them. In fact, our cook and the skipper had grown accustomed to seeing my wife and me reading the Christian Science Bible Lesson each morning, and my wife often shared metaphysical ideas with the cook.

I also remembered a story a friend told me about a large ceremony at which he would be receiving a special award. That evening he had become very ill and called a Christian Science practitioner to explain his situation—how he was expected to go in front of a crowd and receive this recognition. The practitioner asked him, “Well, are you proud or grateful?” My friend was a bit confused by the question and said he was mostly sick, but the practitioner alerted him to watch his thinking about this activity and to protect himself against any unintentionally or intentionally negative thoughts coming from his colleagues. The illness quickly faded away, and my friend was grateful for the lesson to be alert to his thinking and the thoughts of others.

Recalling this story, I was certain that seeing these men in their true nature as good, purposeful, complete, valued individuals would protect us from experiencing any effects of fear, anger, or injustice.

About three hours later, the officers arrived back on base. A short while after that, some other men arrived in a large, open truck. These men took us back to our boat. They were smiling and polite, not intoxicated or rude as the skipper predicted they might be. I asked if they could stop by the small snack shop on the base so we could get something to eat. They did, and I split some candy bars with the men.

It was a long, chilly trip back. We hadn’t put on our boat’s anchor light, and we sped around in the dark for nearly an hour, searching for our boat. Our crew was huddled together by the time we tied up alongside the boat. I pulled out a couple of our extra jackets and passed them overboard for the customs workers to keep warm on their way back to shore. They were coming again in the morning to check us out for departure, and promised to bring the jackets back.

When the men left, the skipper said, “Well, that’s the last we’ll see of those jackets,” but I knew man’s true identity was intact and could not change or be degraded; that “Love is reflected in love” as Mary Baker Eddy says in her spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, and therefore respect would be reflected in respect (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 17). 

The customs officials arrived the next morning; we shared coffee with them and they returned our jackets. We’d planned for an early departure, but were delayed by heavy winds. We pulled up anchor and set sail just as the sun set.

About 20 hours later we were nearing our destination and looking forward to freshwater showers and a rest. We’d sailed through the night, beating into the wind and into the steep short waves. A wave swamped the cockpit once, and we had to work the bilge pump manually in a cramped space below deck because the automatic pump had given out. But we were grateful for the strength, calmness, and courage to cross what sailors we later met in Yemen called “Hell’s Gate.”

This experience taught us to “hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true …” (Science and Health, p. 261). I’m so grateful for Christian Science, which sheds light on the spiritual truths in the Bible. And I’m grateful for all those who have demonstrated in some degree this Science of the Christ. Proofs of healings and divine care encourage and strengthen our trust in good’s omnipotence and ever-presence.


Doug Brown lives with his wife and two children in Elsah, Illinois, and recently built an eight-foot sailboat with his son, Henry. 

Interested in more more Journal content?

Subscribe to JSH-Online to access The Christian Science Journal, along with the Christian Science Sentinel and The Herald of Christian Science. Find the current issues, the searchable archive, podcasts, audio for articles, biographies about Mary Baker Eddy, and more.

Subscribe      Log in

More web articles

concord-web-promo-graphic

Explore Concord—see where it takes you.

Search the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures