Thursday, January 9, 2014

Was Nephi’s Ship a Mere Raft? – Part II

Continuing with the last post about the type of ship Nephi built, and whether or not it was a large raft as Stephen L. Carr and John L. Sorenson claim.   
    When one talks about such rafts, one must realize that these rafts, like Thor Heyerdah’s Kon-Tiki voyages, were drift-voyages, i.e., rafts riding on easy currents moving along in the same direction for thousands of miles (Kon-Tiki voyage from Peru to Tuamotus, French Polynesia, covered 4,948 miles).
    Taking nothing away from Heyerdahl’s miraculous fete where he and four others on board Kon-Tiki sailed the currents from Calleo (Lima) Peru across and down into Polynesia. Though fraught with the dangers of the sea, and facing the unknown, the five adventurers set out into the current that swept them along the Peruvian (Humboldt) Current and into the South Equatorial Current, which was the northern loop of the South Pacific Gyre out and down into French Polynesia.
Left: Map showing the course of Kon-Tiki, picking up the south gyre current (white arrows) and flowing with the current toward French Polynesia; Right: The Kon-Tiki in the first leg of the voyage
    The voyage was a simple one of riding the currents, which is what rafts are made to do, and the currents took Kon-Tiki in a rather simple, easy voyage. As one crew member said after the voyage, “The biggest danger was being swept overboard by strong winds,” which almost happened when one man was nearly lost, since the raft could not be turned around or stopped along its path. The winds and currents were what propelled the raft, and the current was what took the raft along its course. For the most part, it was a leisurely journey lasting 101 days. According to Knut Haugland, a crewmember on Kon-Tiki, “After 93 days at sea the expedition sighted land for the first time as the raft drifted helplessly past Puka-puka on the eastern fringe of the Tuamotu group. Four days later the Kon-Tiki passed so close to the island of Angatau that the natives ashore paddled out to the raft with their canoes, but once again we were swept past.” When Raroia was reached after 101 days, the raft was caught in the surf and wrecked on the windward side of a coral reef just off the island.
    Kon-Tiki was caught in two storms, one of which lasted for five days, but the balsa logs rode the waves with incredible ease, and as mass of water crashed down on the stern of the raft, it ran out through the gaps between the logs. A raft with a solid or near-solid floor would have been broken up by the waves crashing on it.
Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki design was of balsa logs and reeds stretched over the deck so water could flow freely through, upward and downward, thus avoiding any possibility of sinking
    In all this, we need to keep in mind that these were not family voyages with wives and children, but captained and crewed by hardy, adventuresome explorers, fully capable of defying death and discomfort for months on end. On the other hand, the rafts shown below are “living” rafts, or “homes.” They were found on rivers, or in large bays, or among close island groups. Rafts that were on the seas were typically for cargo hauling or trading, and were coastal vessels or moved with currents away from land. They were not sea-going vessels in the sense that some want us to believe today, and very few vessels moved too far away from land, even among islands, unless they knew that currents would take them there.
Sorenson in a “Journal of Book of Mormon Studies” (JBMS) interview talked about an 1810 drawing by Alexander von Humboldt depicting a raft from Ecuador with a garden at one end and cooking facilities at the other
    Sorenson also claims nearly identical rafts were used in southern China and Vietnam (as the above) for thousands of years and were likewise steerable and safe; however, these rafts were used in local waters and would not have survived in deep water over a 10,000 mile voyage. When these type rafts moved into deep water, they were moved along by the currents—drift voyages, such as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, RaI and RaII adventures, and did not cross currents or go against currents, for they would have been torn apart by the deep ocean waves. For cross-current sailing, the Polynesians developed an outrigger canoe and were able to withstand deep water because they could be moved over and through the waters with great speed by multiple rowers.
Polynesian single and outrigger canoes that were highly maneuverable with multiple rowers that moved their boats quickly across the water, like the ones Captain Cook reported seeing
    Another point to be understood is this ridiculous idea that ancient mariners sailed out into the unknown seas on any regular basis as Carr and Sorenson would have us believe. We have far too much written history of early eras, including journals from sea captains and logs to show the opposite, including those of Columbus. Whatever possibility there might be that someone took out over the deep sea, he was never heard from again and history has no record of his achievement—very probably, if he lived through the high seas, he died on some uninhabited rock or island somewhere—consider what would have been known of Thor Heyerdahl and his crew had they sailed the Kon-Tiki in a time before French Polynesia was inhabited. When they crashed there and lost their raft, they would have been marooned on Raroia, a small atoll with no opportunity to get homethey would have perished and their adventure never known.
The much heralded and legendary voyage around Africa by Phoenician sailors with Egyptian pilots in 600 B.C., though Herodotus’ account in Histories is in question, and may or may not be true, is quite often used as reference of these voyages; however, that trip as recorded, an awesome achievement at the time, was accomplished in single day voyages, putting in to land each night, sometimes staying over in an area for several days, before sailing on another day. It is even recorded that they stopped each year to plant grain and harvest it to continue their voyage.
    One exception to the idea of rafts is in the area of Indonesia and some of the South Pacific islands where groups of islands are closely clustered, and often can be seen from each other. These were mostly canoe and outrigger vessels being paddled with some having supplemental sails. Rafts, first used on rivers, then in bays and harbors, were sometimes used for living quarters, and might remain in a harbor indefinitely—few would have moved out into open seas.
    According to K.T. Weerasoorlya, Scientific Officer, National Aquatic Resources Agency, Bay of Bengal Programme, 1982-1986, rafts can be used “in shallow waters with a push pole; used as stealthy platforms for fishing shallow waters around lakes; in sheltered coastal waters, anchored or drifting rafts can become effective…and were traditional[ly] bamboo rafts used in Southeast Asia as an aggregating device.” In fact, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Education Center on Navigation, “water transportation began anciently with using rafts and dugout canoes in rivers, and in modern times steamboats carried passengers, and along with rafts, carried cargo,” and also that “adzes suitable for hollowing out logs were not yet invented, but giant bamboo, [was] ideal for rafts.”
(See the next post, “Was Nephi’s Ship a Mere Raft? – Part III,” for more on the type of ship Nephi built, and why it was not a raft as Carr claims, or a canoe as Sorenson claims)

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