Friday, February 18, 2011

There Arose a Great Storm Part II

Continuing with the last post where it was shown that the Lehi Colony could not have been in coastal waters, moving along the trade route to the east as Mesoamerican, Malay, and other theorists claim, we now come to the question of where did Nephi’s ship encounter the storm?

As Nephi wrote, after three days of suffering through this enormous tempest, “and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me. And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began to be exceedingly sore” (1 Nephi 18:13-14) and their ship was “about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 18:15).

The most tropical cyclones over the past centuries in this region were in the south of the Indian Ocean, more than 300 miles south of the Equator. In this area, around the 15º to 20º South Latitude, and ranging from November to April, the most severe cyclonic storms have occurred—with a peak period from mid-February to early March.

When the storm Nephi described became so severe, the ship floundered and careened about under the weight of the winds and high seas, and the gunnels threatened to sink beneath the waves, Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were cowered to such an extent, they untied Nephi in hopes he might save them. At this point, the storm that “drove them back upon the waves” was in its fourth day and becoming quite violent.

Note that at this point, Nephi says: “after they had loosed me, behold, I took the compass, and it did work whither I desired it” (1 Nephi 18:21). Now, when Nephi was tied up, the Liahona ceased to work, “after they had bound me insomuch that I could not move, the compass, which had been prepared of the Lord, did cease to work (1 Nephi 18:12). Obviously, when the Liahona began to work again during the fourth day of the cyclonic storm, Nephi was able to steer the ship to where he would be free of the storm. And he prayed for their safety and guidance, and for the Liahona to show them where to go. He said, “and after I had prayed the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm” (1 Nephi 18:21). So, with the compass working again, Nephi was able to steer the ship out of the storm track and into calm waters.

It should be noted at this point that storms move inland and Nephi’s ship was being driven back in the direction from which he had come. Since ships move bow first, the ship was obviously turned to run before the storm and head back from whence it had come. It should also be noted that in the center of the southern Indian Ocean is the South Indian Ocean Gyre, which moves counter-clockwise. And in the center of this gyre is a low where storms originate, swirling counter-clockwise in direction, heading back toward the northwest. Thus, when the ship was sailing to the east of this inner current, the rebellious brothers took over the ship, but did not know where to steer it and became caught in the center of the storm area, which whirled the ship around and headed it back the way it had come.

After three full days, the ship had no doubt reached the northern limits of this gyre, where both north and south currents collide. When the compass began to work again, the boat could have been steered around the northern rim of this gyre and back down the east side, in calmer waters.

As a side note, we can determine about when Lehi’s ship was launched, for the winds and currents blow seaward from the Arabian shore only for six months of the year (from January to June), but Somalia Current blows into these southern winds and currents between April and December, thus the window for Lehi to set sail would have been between January and April.

In addition, the severe cyclonic storms originate in the Indian Ocean between November and April, but peak in severity between mid-February and early March. Therefore, assuming the severe storm Nephi describes was during the peak period of such storms in the area—a reasonable assumption because of its severity—Lehi’s ship would have had to reach the storm area between mid-February and early March. This means, the ship would have had to cover approximately 2200 miles from the Arabian coast (about 1/4th the distance Columbus sailed) to the storm area between January and mid- to late-February.

Under normal circumstances, Nephi’s ship would have averaged about 3-4 miles per hour (Columbus average 3 mph, with maximum speeds to 10-12 miles per hour), and reached the area in about 26 days. All other things being equal, Nephi’s ship would have left shore no earlier than January 15th and no later than February 6th. To have left at any other time would suggest that the storm Nephi described could not have occurred in the Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean.

Thus, within about 14 days of the wind changing and blowing out to sea, the Lehi colony left shore, after “the voice of the Lord came unto my father, that we should arise and go down into the ship” (1 Nephi 18:5), and after they had prepared all things, “much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance, and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us” (1 Nephi 18:6) they set sail for the promised land (1 Nephi 18:8) sometime between mid-January and early February.

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