The Ocean Crossing

with Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more | November 11, 2008

Anchors aweigh! The Pilgrims have boarded the Mayflower and set out for parts unknown! In today’s dramatic reading, you’ll feel their anxious thoughts and experience their excitement as they left the comfort of their homes to make the perilous crossing to lands to a land they had never seen before.

Anchors aweigh! The Pilgrims have boarded the Mayflower and set out for parts unknown! In today’s dramatic reading, you’ll feel their anxious thoughts and experience their excitement as they left the comfort of their homes to make the perilous crossing to lands to a land they had never seen before.

The Ocean Crossing

With Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more
November 11, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Have you every stopped to think what it must have been like for families to live in crowded quarters aboard a tiny ship for months crossing the North Atlantic from England to the New World?  If you have, then you can imagine the joy those families felt when they heard someone shout, "Land Ho!"

Narrator: After 65 days at sea from Plymouth, a total of 97 days from the first launch at Southampton, the pilgrims caught a glimpse of their destination – the new land where God would be worshipped freely and, in time, where freedom would flourish.  Shouting for joy and falling to their knees to pray, they celebrated by reading Psalm 100 – "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth, serve the Lord with gladness, come before Him with joyful singing, know that the Lord Himself is God, it is He who has made us and not we ourselves.  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him, bless His name, for the Lord is good.  His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations."

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 11th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we'll step aboard the Mayflower and imagine what it was like on that first crossing.

[musical transition]

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.

Dennis: Bob, Bob, do you feel that breeze?  Feel the sea breeze?  It's fresh, you can smell the salt in the air?

Bob: A little chill in the air.

Dennis: Chilly, yeah.  There's a reason why there is some sea breeze on FamilyLife Today.

Bob: It's because we're spending some time this week listening to the story of the pilgrims that was first captured in your book, "Thanksgiving:  A Time to Remember," which was written by …

Dennis: … my favorite person …

Bob: … your wife, who joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Welcome, Barbara.

Barbara: Thank you, Bob.

Dennis: Did you see that look she gave me?

Bob: I did see that look.

Barbara: What was it?

Bob: It was kind of, like, what do you mean your favorite person.

Dennis: You rascal you.

Bob: I saw that look.

Dennis: Who else would be my favorite person?

Barbara: Well, I should hope I would be.  I don't know what kind of look I gave you.

Bob: The book has also now become an audio book, and this week we wanted our listeners to not just hear about the story but to hear the story of the pilgrims, and some of what they're going to hear are things that people haven't heard for a while and should have heard, right?  There's a lot in this book that most of us just don't know about Thanksgiving.

Barbara: There's a lot to the story that makes it incredibly fascinating.  There's also a lot to the story that makes it very compelling for children, which is part of the reason that I wanted to write it, is I wanted my kids to know the stories of not just the men and women but the children, too, who made the voyage on the Mayflower over the Atlantic.  And on this portion of the audio story, we hear what it was like to be on the Mayflower.  And it was quite a journey to ride on that ship in November when it was freezing cold, when they didn't have nice, comfortable bunkbeds or even berths of any kind, and they were all crowded together underneath the deck.  It must have been something to cross the ocean like they did.

Dennis: I can't help but listen to this Scottish gentleman read the story and not think of that little boat and can you imagine the families who had risked all and put all their life savings just to be down in the hold of that ship and have sea water seeping through the deck down on you.

Bob: I think it's pretty safe to say none of us have had an experience that even comes close to the hardship – if you'll pardon the pun – of being on board the Mayflower.  How many days were they sailing?

Barbara: Well, they were actually on board the Mayflower 102 days. 

Bob: So that's four months almost …

Barbara: It was a long time.

Bob: Three-and-a-half months, and no hot meals …

Dennis: With families.

Bob: No hot showers.

Barbara: No showers, no bathrooms.

Bob: Just keeping the kids happy on board a boat for 102 days …

Dennis: I don't think happiness was the issue.  I think health and survival was the issue.

Barbara: That's correct.

Bob: Well, let's hear the story told.  This is part 2 of the story of the pilgrims from the book, "Thanksgiving:  A Time to Remember."

[musical transition]

Narrator: The pilgrim band of approximately 46 people first had to sail from Holland to England on a ship named the "Speedwell."  After sad farewells on July the 22nd, 1620, the small ship headed across the English Channel to the seaport of Southampton.  The Speedwell docked at the slip next to a ship painted brown and gold.  It was the Mayflower. 

 Already on board this ship were Captain Jones, his crew, and 60 to 70 volunteers who had been recruited in England to give the new colony a larger population.  Some of these volunteers desired religious freedom but most were more interested in finding success and fortune in the new land.  Also on board were some servants hired to help the pilgrims from Leiden.  One of the hired helpers was Captain Miles Standish, an ex-soldier who would play an important role in the months ahead.

 Both the smaller Speedwell and the Mayflower sailed from Southampton on August the 5th, 1620.  This was late in the summer to launch such a voyage.  Even with a normal ocean crossing and no bad weather, the ships would not arrive until October – quite late to start building a settlement from the ground up.

 The first days of the journey hinted at difficulties to come.  The winds were unfavorable, and the ships could not make it out of the English Channel.  The passengers, bounced to and fro by the rough waters, became seasick.  Then the Speedwell began to leak.  Seawater seeped through the hull and filled the belly of the ship.  Both ships were forced to return to land, this time to the port of Dartmouth.  After a week, repairs were completed on the Speedwell, and both ships sailed west. 

After traveling about 300 miles into the Atlantic, the Speedwell again developed leaks.  With great disappointment to everyone, the ships returned a second time to yet another port, Plymouth.  More days of work and testing by shipbuilders passed before the Speedwell was labeled unseaworthy.  The smaller Speedwell had been purchased by the colony to remain in America and be a means of transporting supplies, goods for sale, and passengers back and forth to Europe.  But because the ship couldn't be repaired, the pilgrim leaders were forced to sell it.  This necessitated another decision.   Since there wasn't enough room on the Mayflower for the combined passengers of both ships, 20 volunteers would have to stay behind.  The passengers said the choice was not too difficult since by now they had spent much of the last month on board ship and had experienced considerable seasickness.  The volunteers came forward.

 William Bradford commented …

William Bradford: And thus, like Gideon's army, this small number was divided as if the Lord, by this work of His Providence, thought these few too many for the great work He had to do.

Narrator: When the Mayflower finally left England on the 6th of September, crowded on board were 102 passengers including 33 children.  Most of the pilgrims on the ship were in their 20s and 30s.  Surprisingly, at least 15 passengers were over 40 including William and Mary Brewster, who were both in their 50s.  Because of the delays the passengers and crew had already used much of the food and drink set aside for the voyage.  This meant supplies intended for use after landing in America would be needed for the sea journey.

The food was terrible – brine-soaked beef, pork, and fish, and stale, hard biscuits, which often were full of insects.  The rats living on board helped themselves to the same food supplies.  The rooms for passengers were crowded and mainly below deck.

Conditions were miserable – cramped quarters, seasick people vomiting into pails, if they were able to find one in time; no sanitary toilets; the hatches were sealed off because of constant storms, and so the passengers were unable to get fresh air.  A foul mixture of odors grew in such an environment. 

Another problem was the attitude of the seamen sailing the Mayflower.  These men did not like landlubbers, particularly religious ones, calling the pilgrims "Psalm-singing pukestockings," and worse.  The sailors ridiculed their passengers for taking time each morning to recite or sing Psalms and pray.  One young sailor was especially nasty, cursing the ones who were sick and telling them he looked forward to throwing them overboard if they died on the voyage.

About two weeks out to sea, this same sailor unexpectedly developed a raging fever.  Within just one day he died of an unknown sickness, raving and cursing as he breathed his last.  His shrouded body was buried at sea.  This sobered the other seamen, a superstitious group even in normal circumstances.  They wondered if their fellow crewman had died because of his treatment of the humble and God-fearing pilgrims.  Not wanting to risk a similar fate, the more superstitious sailors no longer ridiculed their passengers.

The Mayflower was nearly halfway across the Atlantic when it met a ferocious storm.  The wind wailed at 50 miles per hour, and waves towered 50 feet or higher.  The waves' vicious pounding opened cracks in the ship's wooden hull.  Icy cold seawater soaked the sailors and leaked into the passenger quarters below deck.  The ship groaned and tossed from side to side that terrified pilgrims hanging onto anything solid, crying out to God to deliver them.  The storm raged for days and became so intense that even the blasphemous sailors prayed.

The pilgrims continued to pray and sing Psalms, their voices barely heard above the thundering waves and howling wind.  Without warning, one of the huge crossbeams supporting the main deck suddenly cracked due to the constant stress of the high winds.  Now the sailors were as worried as the passengers, but, as always, the pilgrims took their concerns and fears to God, asking Him to deliver them and provide a way of escape.

Pilgrim: Oh, Lord, deliver us.  Provide a way of escape.

Narrator: And He did.

Pilgrim: And protect our little ones.

Narrator: Their spiritual leader, William Brewster, remembered the large iron jackscrew the pilgrims had brought for lifting heavy beams when they would begin their building construction.  Similar to the screw on his printing press, the jackscrew was located in the cargo hold and carried to the 'tween deck where the sailors used it to crank up the beam to its original position.  The pilgrims gave God the praise. 

One man, a servant of John Carver named John Howland, became frantic after being cooped up so long during the long storm.  Though the worst of the storm was over, the main deck was still no place for passengers who were not used to rough seas.  He disobeyed both the captain's and his master's orders and went up on deck for some fresh air.  The waves were still huge and sprayed frigid water over the sides.

Suddenly, when the ship heeled over without warning, John fell overboard.  As the young man slammed into the surface of the icy water and went under, he instinctively reached up with his arms, grasping for anything to hold onto.  A rope was trailing over the side of the ship and, by God's amazing grace, it was there when John reached out.

A person can live in the North Atlantic in November for only about four minutes.  No one knows exactly how long John was in that cold, salty water before the sailors were able to haul him on deck.  His skin was blue, and he nearly drowned, but he did survive.  There is no record that he ever disobeyed an order again.

Another young man, a servant by the name of William Button, became an example to all the other passengers on the importance of obeying the captain.  It appears that William refused to follow the captain's and the ship's doctor's orders to drink a spoonful of lemon juice daily.  He became sick and died – the only passenger to die on the voyage.  His body was quickly buried at sea.  The pilgrims, especially the children, took notice.

In the midst of tragic events and hardships on the long voyage, the pilgrims also knew times of rejoicing.  A moment of joy came when one of the mothers gave birth in a smelly, crowded cabin to a baby boy.  His proud father appropriately named the lad "Oceanus." 

But after 10 week at sea, many passengers were falling ill and complaining of fever, chills, and swollen limbs.  The situation was grave, and there was still no sign of land.  The weather, however, had finally improved so that passengers could go on deck for exercise and fresh air.

Captain Miles Standish, in charge of security and military readiness for the colony, took this opportunity to drill the men on the basics of weaponry and tactics.  On November the 9th, several children squealed with delight when they saw a seagull dive above the ship.  Not long afterward, a sailor cried, "Land Ho."  After 65 days at sea from Plymouth, a total of 97 days from the first launch at Southampton, the pilgrims caught a glimpse of their destination – the new land where God would be worshipped freely and, in time, where freedom would flourish.

 Shouting for joy and falling to their knees to pray, they celebrated by reading Psalm 100 – "Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth, serve the Lord with gladness, come before Him with joyful singing, know that the Lord Himself is God, it is He who has made us and not we ourselves.  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him, bless His name, for the Lord is good.  His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness to all generations."

[Musical transition]

Bob: As you listen to that story, again, it's a profound statement of the conviction of these people to endure this kind of a voyage for the purpose of worship, for the purpose of being able to freely serve God.  It almost seems, Barbara, like there is a backbone present in these folks that you wonder if any of us have anymore today.

Barbara: I would agree.  And the thing that continues to be evident every time I read the story, and as we listen to the audio version, is that they always resorted to gratitude.  And here they are landing after that many days and, obviously, they would be grateful to be on land, but there was nothing awaiting them, and yet they were still grateful, and they still gave God praise, and it's just such a wonderful reminder that that needs to be our response to all of the circumstances that God brings us in life as well.

Bob: Which is a part of what you tried to emphasize with your own children as you read this year-in and year-out – you used this story as an opportunity to impress on them the fact that we tend not to be grateful for simple blessings from the hand of God, right?

Barbara: That's right, and that was one of the reasons that I wrote the book, is I wanted my children to hear the example of others and that they might even, in some small way, want to model their lives after the children and the parents and see in them that quality of gratitude and want to emulate that in their own lives.

Dennis: Thanksgiving ought to be a time when every believer does an inventory.  It shouldn't wait until the end of the year, December 31st, to shut down the warehouse and do the inventory.  You've got to do the inventory a little bit before Thanksgiving so that when you celebrate Thanksgiving Day, that day can be a rehearsing of what God has done for you over the past 12 months, perhaps the past couple of years, but the idea is move it from being focused upon me or self to focusing on God and His provision and His many acts of goodness on our behalf.

You know, I don't think there is a finer moment of worship anytime in our family than Thanksgiving when our family joins together in that time of reflection, Bob.  We just don't pause and give God the praise like we ought to, and Thanksgiving is a natural holiday where things do stop, and we are together, and there is that great feast, but there is also a time when we can celebrate.

Bob: Do you still have your adult children do what you asked them to do when they were little, where they write down things that they are thankful for from the past year?

Barbara: Yes, we do, and that's one of the things that I wanted to do from the very beginning, was teach my children to be grateful like the pilgrims were, and so every year we have our children write down five things that they are grateful for, and sometimes it's hard to limit it to just five, because once you start thinking about all God has provided and all He's done and all His goodness, it's hard to stop at five things.  But I wanted to train my children in having a heart of gratitude, and so even the little grandkids are starting to do that.  And they can't write very well yet, but they'll tell their moms what they're thankful for, and it may be "blankey" or it may be "my toy," but it still is a beginning point in teaching them to be grateful.

Dennis: "Papa" – they're grateful for "Papa."

Barbara: Are they grateful for Papa?

Dennis: That's me.

Bob: One of the things that we were not able to include in your Thanksgiving book or in the audiobook is your reflection on some of these family traditions that have been a part of your family Thanksgiving, and we've put on our website some of these reflections, along with your now-famous Company French toast recipe, that you serve every year at Thanksgiving, right?

If our listeners don't have a copy of your book, "Thanksgiving:  A Time to Remember," what we've decided to do this year is take the book and the audiobook, put them together, so that listeners get both the book to read, or the audiobook to listen to.  You can either keep them both or give one of them away as a gift and, in addition, we're including a resource to help guide you through your own Thanksgiving meal together, as a family -- what you can do to help reinforce this message of Thanksgiving and gratitude around the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day.

So you get the book and the audiobook and, by the way, that includes the CD that has Thanksgiving music on it and the resource to help you prepare your Thanksgiving meal -- at least prepare the spiritual side of your Thanksgiving meal.  Go to our website,  There's more information available on the Web about these resources and about how you can order them.  They are available at a greatly reduced price in order to get as many as possible into our listeners' hands, and if you'd like to get quantities to pass out to others, there is special pricing for quantities as well.

All the information is on the website,, or you can call 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  When you get in touch with us, someone on our team will let you know how you can have the resources you need sent to you.

I know, Dennis, that, for years, you and Barbara have said that one of the most important things about Thanksgiving for you was that it gave you an opportunity to coach your children and to teach them about the character quality of gratitude.  And, as parents, I think we have a responsibility not only to teach our children these kinds of character qualities but also to pray that God would instill them in the hearts of our children.  He would save them, and then He would grow them in grace.  And one of the evidences of that grace is going to be that they are going to develop a heart of gratitude; they're going to show Thanksgiving.

We have friends, Anne Arkin and Gay Harrell, who have been guests on our program and have talked with us about a book they've written called "While They Were Sleeping."  It's a guidebook for parents so that we can pray for specific qualities like kindness or humility or forgiveness or obedience or gratitude.  You pray for these character qualities, and then there are also some activities you can do with your children to help reinforce those character qualities.

This month, if you are able to make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we would love to send you a copy of this hardback book called "While They Were Sleeping."  If you are interested in getting a copy, when you make a donation online at, just type the word "sleep" into the keycode box on the donation form or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone and ask for the prayer guide for parents called "While They Were Sleeping."  We're happy to send it out to you.  It's our way of saying thank you for your financial support of this ministry.

Well, tomorrow we're going to hear about the first winter in the New World and how difficult it was for the those pilgrims who settled in New England.  I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas -- help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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