From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

(Authorized Version‘quicksands,’  Acts 27:17)

The Great and the Little Syrtis (Σύρτις μεγάλη καὶ μικρά) were the eastern and western recesses of the great bay on the North African coast between Carthage and Cyrenaica. Drifting before an E.N.E. wind (see Euraquilo), the crew of St. Paul’s ship knew that they were being carried in the direction of the Greater Syrtis (now the Gulf of Sidra), ‘the Goodwin Sands of the Mediterranean’ (F. W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, 1897, p. 568). The best comment on Luke’s words is supplied by Strabo (XVII. iii. 20):

‘The difficulty of navigating both this and the Lesser Syrtis arises from the soundings in many parts being soft mud. It sometimes happens, on the ebbing and flowing of the tide, that vessels are carried upon the shallows, settle down, and are seldom recovered. Sailors therefore, in coasting, keep at a distance from the shore, and are on their guard, lest they should be caught by a wind unprepared, and driven into these gulfs.’

The name ‘Syrtis’ may be derived from the sucking action of the treacherous tides-‘Syrtes ab tractu nominatae’ (Sall. Bell. Jug. 77). But it is sometimes connected with the Arabic sert, ‘a desert,’ which would refer to the desolate and sandy shore that marked the neighbourhood of the Syrtes (W. Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Geographyii. [1868] 1081). Virgil (aen. iv. 41) speaks of the ‘inhospita Syrtis,’ and there were many ancient tales, probably not a little exaggerated, of armies on land and even ships at sea being overwhelmed by clouds of drifting sand (Diod. xx. 42; Sall. Bell. Jug. 78; Herod. iii. 25, 26, iv. 173; Lucan, ix. 294 f.).

The crew of the scudding ship avoided the foreseen danger by laying her to on the starboard tack, i.e. with her right side to the wind. Luke’s phrase, χαλάσαντες τὸ σκεῦος (‘lowered the gear,’  Acts 27:17 Revised Version), only imperfectly describes this operation, as it leaves out an essential detail-the setting of the storm-sail. See J. Smith, The Voyage and Shipwreck of St. Paul, 1880, p. 110 f., and W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, 1895, p. 328 f.

James Strahan.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

 Acts 27:17

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

SYRTIS . See Quicksands.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(n.) A quicksand.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [5]

( Σύρτις , "quicksands,"  Acts 28:17). There were two quicksands on the coast of North Africa,.; between Cyrene and Carthage, whose shoals and eddies the ancient mariners greatly feared (Horace, Odes, 1, 22, 5; Ovid, Fast. 4: 499; Tibull. 2, 4, 91). The greater of these was named Syrtis Major, or Magna and the lesser Syrtis Minor; and old geographers used to tell many marvels respecting them (Strabo, 2,:123; 17:834; Ptolemy, 4:3: Pliny, 5, 4;. Solin. 27; Mela, 1, 7 4; Sallust, Jug. 78). Modern explorations find both of them to be highly dangerous bays, where the treacherous sandy shore is barely covered with water, and where terrific clouds of sand are suddenly raised by the wind, obscuring then sight and overwhelming men and even ships, The Greater Syrtis is now called the Gulf of Sidra, between Tripoli and Barea; and the Lesser the Gulf of Cabes. The former is specially intended in the account of Paul's shipwreck (q.v.). See Smith, Dict. of Class. Geog. s.v. (See Quicksand). Syrus, in Greek mythology, was a son of Apollo and Sinope, who is said to have given name to the Syrians.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

sir´tis ( σύρτις , súrtis ): the Revised Version (British and American) form for "quicksands" in   Acts 27:17 . These sandbanks, off the northern coast of Africa, have from early times been regarded as a source of danger to mariners. Virgil refers to them ( Aen . iv. 40 f). In Paul's voyage, the ship, driven by a tempestuous wind, Euraquilo, was in peril of being cast-upon them.