by Alan Ryden
Officially a "Storm Warning" in the weather forecast was coming over the radio, but I chose to leave anyway, because I just wanted to get home. I had taken a month off to go "Out West" fishing and already the rapidly shifting weather fronts common in the fall in the Western Gulf of Alaska, had stretched my time away to six weeks. "Just don't get in a hurry to get home," a friend had warned me a week earlier. Yet I was hurrying home to my family and church. I certainly didn't want to be stuck in some remote anchorage for a week or more waiting for another weather break. I was half way home, but clearly pushing the weather with my 42—foot vessel "Pacific Lady."
Running less than a mile from shore, I felt I was getting away with something and could keep going a little farther. Then just as I rounded Cape Providence and logged in at 2:30, the wind switched to the north, howling down straight onto my bow, and the seas were building to 12 feet. For protection I decided to turn back toward the Cape when I was hit by a gust of wind that could only be called a true "Williwaw," a term used by the Alaska Natives of the Aleutian Islands to describe notoriously dangerous wind gusts.
The "Pacific Lady" lay over beyond 40 degrees, the largest roll I had ever felt on this boat—and it just stayed there! My fishing vessel was literally blown over by wind! I realized within a few seconds that I was not going to be able to recover and was losing my boat. Water began pouring over the portside rail and in the galley door. I hurriedly grabbed the radio microphone, made the first "Mayday" call on the emergency channel, then waited for an answer. As sea water rose up against my windows, I hurriedly threw on a fleece jacket and began jamming myself into my survival suit, all the while calling out to the Lord, "Is there anything else I can do? Jesus, come on, save this thing for me! The boat's lying over and I've gotta' get out of here!"
No answer came on the radio, and as water gushed in the wheelhouse door, my world turned completely sideways. I was now swimming in chest deep water, trapped against the ceiling by the flotation of the suit and still inside the boat! I was thrown around inside the house and somehow muscled myself out the door against the rushing water. My main thought was toward the EPIRB (emergency position—indicating radio beacon) mounted on the top of the boat. But as I scrambled to release the raft and get free from the boat and all its rigging, I didn't think to grab the ERIRB which, if released, would have drifted with me in the water. I remained confident, however, because the hydrostatic release on the EPIRB would activate as soon as the boat sank. I had no idea that the boat would not actually sink until several hours later and the signal would not be sent immediately.
Power in the Spoken Word
Exhausted by the struggle to get out of the boat, the battle to survive began immediately. I was in seas that were building rapidly, drifting away from the protection of the Alaska Peninsula. I wrapped my hands rightly around the handhold lines of the raft and did all I could to stay in or on top of the flotation. As I fought to survive, I thought of the power of the spoken word and began declaring aloud, "I shall live and not die." These words were noticeably more powerful than some other declarations I made while in the seas and I account that to the fact that they were actually from the Bible. I kept repeating them with all the strength I could muster, trying to create an atmosphere for survival with my words.
In the early minutes my only hope (in the natural realm) was the EPIRB releasing and alerting the Coast Guard of my position. I figured it would take them at least an hour to launch a C-130 search aircraft and fly the approximately 150 miles to my position. I knew the sun would set around 6pm, so I had high hopes of seeing a rescue plane and helicopter before dark. But I also realized that if I didn't see anything flying overhead searching before dark, then the signal from EPIRB, (which has to be some ten feet under water before releasing,) was not activated and the possibility of another fishing vessel traveling in this weather anywhere near my position was slim to none.
In light of my slim hopes for a quick rescue, I knew the Lord was certainly with me, and wanted to tell me what to do. I had often felt the Lord answer my cries for help in less intense situations, so I began to build my faith with spoken declarations. One statement that came out of my mouth was, "I can't die because I have a word from the Lord that isn't fulfilled." I had recently received an incredible prophetic word, that I had a destiny unfulfilled, which was spoken over my life while at a pastor's conference in Albany, OR. At the time I had taken this word lightly, but in my present situation, I spoke the word out boldly, seriously encouraging my faith and helping to save my life!
The only way I can describe feeling God's presence as I drifted offshore trying to hang onto a 3ft x 4ft raft in 50—60 knot winds was that He was right there with me, communing with me. I did know what to do—in the natural, and that was hang onto the raft and keep my body core out of the cold water as much as I could. In the spirit realm, I believed I could create strength and confidence by my spoken agreement with God's Word. God had created by speaking when He said, "Let there be light..." So being created in His image, I counted it as truth that what I said with my mouth had the power to create life or death.
Hopelessness vs "Life"
The intensity of the battle increased exponentially as it grew dark and I drifted further offshore into increasingly larger seas. Many times I was pitched out of the raft by breaking seas. The waves would literally turn the raft upside down, holding me under for several seconds, and the ice cold seawater was getting inside the survival suit through leaks in the face seal. As the night drew on, I was reminded of the power of "contentment and thankfulness" and began applying it to every thing I could. Thoughts like, "Well, at least I am in a survival suit with a top of the line strobe light attached. At least I am in some kind of raft, and at least I got that fleece jacket on before I pulled the suit on." (The fleece jacket and pants I was wearing along with the capilene long underwear were obviously a huge factor in fighting off hypothermia.) "I do have a good EPIRB out there somewhere, and I am strong, a good swimmer, and have no fear of the water."
But as the hours stretched on I found myself entertaining hopelessness in one form or another. The battle in my mind was intense. I cannot describe how hopeless this all seemed—watching the moon cross the sky, feeling that the boat must be still lying on its side and not sinking. I knew there was no way I would survive until the light of day in this water, and if nobody knew I was lost, the chances I would live to morning were nonexistent. When I realized negative thoughts were getting the best of me, I would yell loudly "I shall live and not die!" or my favorite "I have sons to raise and a wife to love and I am the one You chose to do it, so get me home!" There was definitely a grace from God to keep my mind on "life," but the battle to stay there was very real. I had to fight for every inch in my thoughts with my words.
One of the most amazing moments for my determination to survive was when I realized that, in the process of getting rolled out of the raft by breaking seas, I got worked over so hard physically that my body was totally warmed up by the sheer exertion. As I lay in the raft hyperventilating and catching my breath after one of these wave experiences, I realized that if this wasn't happening, I would be just lying on top of the raft in super cold wind and would have undoubtedly gone to sleep, never waking again. I laughed thinking of the Lord's method of keeping me awake, and I felt the Lord got a chuckle out of the wave rolling thing too. It was exhausting, but it was keeping me alive.
Angels to the Rescue!
Many times I wondered if some remote intercessor tuned into the heart of God was alerted to my situation, and I hoped the Lord would alert the people I knew who could hear from God as well. About six hours after my capsizing, I felt a revelation of Psalm 91:11 come into my spirit—that I have authority over the angels assigned to my protection. So I just shouted out, "Angels, go! Set the EPIRB off! Tell my wife that I'm in trouble! Alert the intercessors! Guide the Coast Guard to me! I knew there were strong intercessors in Kodiak and across the nation, including my wife, who were tuned in enough to hear the Lord wake them and would do battle in the spiritual realm if they knew I was struggling for my life.
In the natural, I needed the EPIRB to activate and I needed a Coast Guard helicopter ASAP. I found out later that the EPIRB signal, registered to Alan Ryden, Pacific Lady, was received at 8:51. The Coast Guard C-130 was launched to locate EPIRB and any survivors at 8:53. I firmly believe that all transpired in conjunction with the angels being dispatched to get some things done. I was walking in a new level of spiritual strength here, and I recognized that it could only have happened by my being prepared with a "spirit of a sound mind" from II Timothy 1:7.
A Little Raft and a Big Boat
The sound of a C-130, a large four engine plane, roared overhead, and did a direct pass over my head. They flew over several times dropping flares to mark my position, and my morale soared with each drop. They knew I was here! After several flare drop passes, I noticed a small light drifting towards me. As it loomed into view, I realized it was a small light on a life raft which was dropped from the air. It drifted right up to me and literally bumped into my little raft! I reached out, grabbed it, and rolled right in. As recounted to me by the Coast Guard 130 crew, it is an amazing drop if they get the life raft within 30 yards on a clear windless day in training. To drop it close enough for me to reach out and grab in 50 knot winds and accompanying seas is beyond belief.
The C-130 had to depart to refuel, but not before coordinating a search with a large fishing vessel they had found traveling in the area. The captain later mentioned, "I have no idea why we were traveling in that area," as he would usually have been far offshore in weather like we were in that night. His boat is called the F/V Heritage, and is owned by a Christian whom I have known for many years. By the time the sound of helicopter blades reached my ears, I had already seen the lights of the large boat off in the distance. The helicopter flew over fast a couple of times, marking my position for the boat to find me. The Heritage crew did an amazing job of laying the boat alongside a little guy in a raft in big seas. The boat crew pulled alongside me and threw a life ring perfectly within reach, and though my legs were cramping up when I tried to sit up in the raft, somehow I grabbed the life ring and held on. The crew dragged me and my suit, full of water, inside the galley. They helped me down into the engine room, the warmest part of the boat, where I began warming my body's core temperature. I looked at my watch. It was midnight! I had been in the water for over ten hours!
The Power of a Sound Mind
I pulled off my wet clothes and got into borrowed clothes in no time, then surprised everyone by walking out the engine room door within ten minutes, looking for a cup of coffee. "I am very much okay," I assured the captain and crew. I was on a boat again and alive! I heard later that both the CG pilots and Kodiak doctors were amazed I had not been hypothermic after that much exposure. A Coast Guard survival expert exclaimed during an interview a few days later, "You're the survival story of the year!" All I can say is, "God is good, and these are exciting days to be a Christian!"
I do feel the Lord is bringing a message through this story concerning who we are and what we can walk in if we choose to apply truth. It is imperative that we as Christians, the children of the King, walk in the authority Jesus paid for and then gave us to walk in. We are in a state of being actively deceived if we stay focused on our weaknesses and walk in anything less than who we are. The battle is definitely in the spiritual realm, and the enemy is well aware of what we can do if we actually believe the Word. I encourage everyone to apply the "Spirit of a sound mind" to your life and get full of the Word for this is what will sustain you when life gets real crazy!