The Best of One Ringing Bell by Beverly Varnado: The Golden Ray in the Golden Ray

After fourteen years of blogging and well over a thousand posts in the archives, this summer I thought I would revisit some of the most viewed posts. I'm starting with a remarkable story which you may have read a bit about in the news, but here is what Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story." This post first appeared here in July of 2022.

Many of us who live in the southeast followed the plight of the Golden Ray, a car carrier that capsized in St. Simons Sound just off the coast of Georgia in September of 2019. Miraculously, there were no casualties as all the ship’s crew was rescued by the Coast Guard.

Environmental concerns were high because the seventeen-story high ship carried 4200 cars, each of which held gas or diesel, as well as antifreeze. The ship’s fuel tanks contained 320,000 gallons of fuel.

There are several theories why the ship capsized including a data entry error that controlled the ballast and incorrect loading.

I first saw the ship in November that year—a mammoth mass of steel sitting out there in the sound. As I sat on a bench on the water’s edge near the Saint Simons pier, you could almost hear the saltwater corroding the cars. How in the world would anyone figure out a way to get all that metal from the ocean? It seemed impossible.

The ship had already been declared a total loss in October—eighty million for the ship and eighty million for its contents.

But despite my sense that the task was impossible, a contract was issued to T and T Salvage to remove the ship, which would involve cutting it into pieces for scrap.

Procedures to mitigate harm to wildlife were continually being evaluated and put in place and the fuel from the ship was drained.

Then a global pandemic struck in 2020. The salvage company needed housing for their workers to keep them in a bubble so that the work would not be interrupted. For this, they struck a deal with Epworth by The Sea, a Methodist retreat center on St. Simons Island. Epworth supplied rooms and twenty-four-hour meal service for the 115 salvors who came and worked shifts around the clock. 

For Epworth, this was an important contract. The pandemic had put retreat centers in crisis.  Large gatherings were at a standstill. The arrival of the T and T salvors enabled Epworth to bring back their staff.

Ministry continued at the retreat center as well. When the workers arrived, they were able to log into chapel services, and the center offered spiritual guidance to any who requested it. The salvors could leave prayer requests at Epworth, and there were those who would pray over them.

These people who came to dismantle a wreck walked paths under moss draped oaks and heard chimes playing hymns. At the Epworth Frederica River Pier, when they boarded the ship each day that carried them to the Golden Ray, they walked by a cross.

I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to spend fifteen months, which was how long it took to dismantle the ship. 

Over the course of the worker’s Epworth stay, thirty-seven of these workers gave their lives to Jesus.

We were back at the retreat center recently for a conference, and Jerry heard the director give this firsthand report.

I haven’t been able to get this story off my mind. A one hundred and sixty million-dollar loss, and yet out of it, the future of a conference center engaged in ministry for nearly seventy years was secured. And most importantly, the eternal destiny of thirty-seven people changed. This was the golden ray in the Golden Ray.

A tribute to the salvors of the Golden Ray has been erected at Epworth by the Sea. It includes a link of the chain used to cut the ship into pieces and sits beside the Frederica River pier that the sailors used.

On it is written Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” A perfect verse for those who did what seemed an impossible task.

This is a powerful lesson for all of us--out of the biggest shipwrecks in our lives, God can bring miracles. And when you face one, as we all do, remember Philippians 4:13 and what God did in the lives of the salvors of the Golden Ray.

Beverly Varnado's most recent book, In Search of the Painted Bunting, is a middle grade historical set in the late sixties. She is also the author of several small town romances including, A Season for Everything. In addition, a memoir, Faith in the Fashion District,  as well as her other books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee are all available at Amazon. She offers her art related items at her Etsy Shop, Beverly Varnado Art. 

To explore the web version of One Ringing Bell, please visit

Beverly Varnado copyright 2024