Saturday, August 18, 2012

More Covino Comments Answered-Part XII-Hagoth’s Shipyards, a Curious View

In one of the most bizarre and imaginative passages, that some might even call whacky, Covino has yet mentioned on his website: True Book of Mormon Geography, is about Hagoth’s shipping enterprise. He writes on a page he labels Errors 6-10, under #7, Narrow Passage – North to South:

“The fact that the people sat and watched Hagoth build ships; then put them forth and sail in a course "northward," with a visibility of 40+ miles it does not allow for any kind of an hour glass isthmus where he was sailing west. More details on the Narrow Passage page."

One can only admire someone who can build an entire scenario out of nothing but his imagination. Perhaps Covino should have taken up fictional writing.

The only place in the entire scriptural record that mentions Hagoth or ships that sailed northward into the West Sea from the narrow neck of land, or anything like it, is found in Alma 63:5-8. Rather than repeat the four verses here, they merely describe Hagoth as a curious man who built ships, people entered into them, took their course northward, and were not heard from again. In addition, there was one ship that sailed to an unknown destination. But for people sitting and watching Hagoth build ships, that they could see for forty-plus miles, and that their view would not allow for an “hour-glass” isthmus, is all made up out of Covino’s imagination.

First of all, we do not know exactly where Hagoth’s shipyard was. We only know they were “on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation,” adjacent to the West Sea, “by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.” Common sense tells us the ships were built in some type of cove, bay, inlet, harbor, etc., that would be protected from the wave movement of the West Sea. We do not know if there was a higher ground somewhere around the shipyards upon which people could sit and watch the construction; we do not know if their view would have allowed them to see the curve of the inlet, the shore of the sea for forty miles, etc. We simply have no idea of the exact or even general appearance of the shipyards, docks, launching ways or pads, or the course the ship could take.

Covino is simply making this up as he goes! Why? Because he wants to prove that the Land of Promise was not shaped like an hourglass! Or more importantly, support his claim that: “The entire width of all Book of Mormon lands, whether in the north or south, were a day and a half wide.”

Nor does his reference to his own  “Narrow Passage page” add any light. On that page, Hagoth is mentioned three times, but nothing adding to the information from which Covino mysteriously draws the scenario mentioned above—no support in that sense to his shape for his Land of Promise.

One would think that the purpose of Mormon including these four verses in his abridgement would be to show 1) The Nephites knew how to build very large ships, which verifies Helaman’s comments (Helaman 3:10, 14); 2) That there was a Land Which Was Northward, evidently beyond the Land Northward; 3) That 5,400 men, plus their women and children (perhaps as much as 20,000 or more), sailed to this northern land, and were basically not heard from more; and 4) That the West Sea was both adjacent to the narrow neck of land, and that it was large enough to provide a path for sailing to another land.

At the same time, it is doubtful that either Alma, or Mormon in his abridgement, thought a future reader would claim it showed the overall shape of the Land of Promise, as Covino claims.

We might also, for the sake of clarity, consider the size of Hagoth’s shipyard. In this shipyard, he built “other ships” besides the first one. And the first one was “exceedingly large.”  The word “exceedingly” in the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, is defined as: “to a very great degree; in a degree beyond what is usual; greatly; going beyond, excelling, excess, superfluity (greater than wanted); great in extent; unusually large.”

In addition, the word “ship” had a very specific meaning in 1828 New England and that was of a 3-masted sailing ship, with a main mast, a fore-mast and a mizzen-mast, each composed of a lower-mast, a top-mast and a top-gallant-mast, and square rigged. What Hagoth’s ships looked like, or how they were rigged, we do not know, but from Joseph Smith’s choice of words he knew, we can conclude two things: 1) the ship was extremely large, and 2) it was along the lines to some degree of what a ship was like in Joseph’s day. That is, it was rigged with sails and had multiple masts. Had it been other than that, Joseph would likely have used the term “vessel,” a common word of his day which meant any type of ship down to as small as “brigs, sloops, schooners, luggers, scows, etc.”

A typical 3-masted sailing ship of Joseph Smith’s day. This is not to say that Hagoth’s ships looked like this, only that the word “ship” meant this type of vessel in Joseph’s day

Thus it seems likely that Hagoth’s ships were very large and could carry a very large number of emigrants. We can also surmise that with the number and size of the ships involved, that Hagoth’s shipyard would have been of considerable size to accommodate such ships. We can also surmize that this was obviously a business for the purpose of making a profit (Helaman 6:8). Thus, the mere size of the yards would seem to preclude anyone from sitting around and seeing over the vast area. In addition, for someone to see out to sea for 40+ miles, one would have to have a considerable height advantage, and even then, a forty-mile-line-of-sight is very far for the human eye to pick up a ship on the sea moving away--impossible in fact!

As an example, when we took a cruise ship out of San Pedro in California to sail south past Baja and to the "Mexican Riviera," we actually sailed due west for 3.2 miles down the San Pedro-Avalon channel and out of the San Pedro Harbor before passing the harbor "breakwater" line and Angel's Gate Light. There we actually "entered" the Pacific Ocean where the Captain turned the ship southward. No one in the cruise line or shipping industry at San Pedro would lay claim to the ship sailing westward, but that it went southward on its voyage. And standing atop the 12-deck cruise ship (equivalent to standing on a 115-foot hill), we could barely make out another similar sized cruise ship sailing ahead of us just three miles furrher out the channel. When it turned north and we turned south, it was out of sight with less than ten miles separation on the open sea.

The San Pedro-Avalon Channel. Note the final southward direction. When we were less than halfway down the channel and the lead ship was turning north, it was not more than a small white speck on the sea (Inset: the cruise ship we were on)

In addition, we cannot be certain from the record, how many ships Hagoth built. We know he built one that took its course northward and later returned. We know he built other ships, emphasis on the plural. We also know that one of these ships went north carrying Corianton, and that another ship sailed to an unknown destination. How many more ships set sail, on what course, and for what destination, we simply do not know.

What we do know is that Covino, and any other writing about Hagoth, can claim more than the simple facts of these three things: 1) The Nephites were involved in building and sailing ships; 2) The Narrow Neck of Land was along the West Sea, and capable of housing a shipyard of some size; and 3) From this shipyard, a ship could set sail a) northward, and b) in another direction, presumably west.

(See the next post, “More Covino Comments Answered-Part XV-Another View of the Narrow Neck of Land”)

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