Friday, January 10, 2014

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

Continuing with the last post on the type of ship Nephi built, and whether or not it was a large raft as Stephen L. Carr and John L. Sorenson claim, or a more sophisticated ship.
Anciently, in most parts of the world, to move logs down rivers, the idea of rafts was invented, replacing the driving of logs (floating logs individually), which was both dangerous and difficult. Tying logs together, a temporary hut could be built on top and the raft steered by oars, which grew into rafting other cargo, such as raw materials like ore, fur, and game, as well as man-made products. Rafts were used solely in rivers, or very calm waters where drift currents could help guide and propel the raft—but rafts were never used in the oceans except in island areas, such as Indonesia and close island locations of the South Pacific where one island could be seen from another.
Top: Aerial view of today’s Singapore with thousands of house- boats and rafts, making up the living quarters of half a million people; Bottom Left:  Rafts and boats in Hong Kong harbor, and Right Bottom: Typical Asian houseboat, the modern rendition of the ancient house-raft
However, in Indonesia and the South Pacific, rafts were found mostly as living accommodations, and usually closer into main islands, like Sumatra, Java, and Malaysia or along the mainland coast of areas like China, India, and Australia. No one in their right mind would have chosen to try and cross open ocean in log rafts. Only drift-voyages, such as Kon-Tiki (and later others) demonstrated where a raft was launched into a drift current, and you simply went where the current took you. There was no maneuvering, steering, guiding, except for very small course corrections. Sails were added, but only to increase speed within the current itself, as Thor Heyerdahl did with his specially-built rafts.
Left: Ancient Chinese trading vessel; Top Right: 3800-year-old ancient Egyptian ship; Ancient Indonesian trading ship. Note that in all these ancient ships had gunwales, prows and though the material may have been different, the designs were basically the same
    The point of all this is to show that a raft had a certain purpose in the ancient world, but it was not something anyone took on long sea voyages unless that voyage could be assured to flow with a current the entire way—then there would be the problem of a return trip. As for the Polynesians and their remarkable navigation abilities and their long voyages, these were not in rafts, but special outrigger canoes with paddlers to move the canoe along with or without the aid of a sail, depending on winds. Manual power, after all, can overcome currents and winds where a sail could not in the ancient world, but confined the craft to move with those winds and currents.
    Now Carr, Sorenson and others would limit Nephi’s ability, under the tutelage of the Lord, to build a ship of any size, limiting him to a simple log raft, large as it might be, that would cause his brothers after Nephi “had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord” (1 Nephi 18:4)
Nephi, from the experiences and building abilities he demonstrates throughout the scriptural record, would have been able to construct a ship such as this one with the simple woodwork involved
    One factor Carr and Sorenson seem to have overlooked is the fact that Nephi’s ship would have to brave deep water for thousands of miles, without an island to set into—the vessel would have to be extremely sturdy to withstand the constant pounding of the deep ocean, waves, storms, etc., as well as capable of moving swiftly in the currents that drove his ship “before the wind.” Rafts and canoes simply do not fit this criteria, and no matter the rhetoric to claim so, did not sail the deep oceans except in very small craft moving cross-currents by paddle-power between Hawaii and Polynesia. In addition, they ignore the attitude of the rebellious brothers once the ship was completed.
    Consider that the brothers had been along the seashore of what they called Irreantum, meaning “many waters,” and continually looked outward from shore at a never-ending sea while the year or two it took for the ship to be built, knowing that when the ship was finished, they would get on it and sail out into the unknown. They would not have looked upon a flat raft, even a large one, and feel secure, let along feeling good about taking their wives and children on board. They had, after all, traveled for some time down the Red Sea and seen numerous Arab dhows with their high prow and sides, and large sail. A raft would not have humbled them unless it was in fear of going aboard on the high seas.
Typical Arab dhows, similar in size and construction of 600 B.C. These were simple ships, built for five to fifteen people or sometimes more, that sailed up and down the Red Sea in Lehi’s time
    Also consider that coming down the Red Sea, they would have seen the smaller Arab dhows, knowing that a ship had a prow, sides (gunwales), and a large sail. Then consider that if Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were to look upon a raft, no matter how large, would they have been impressed? Would they have considered “the workmanship exceedingly fine”? Would a raft have engendered in them a desire to “humble themselves again before the Lord”?
    After all, no matter how well made, a raft is still a raft, and a canoe (outrigger or not) is still a canoe. We are talking about Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael trusting their wives and children to go to sea in a raft or canoe—how many family men would do that? Especially ones that had been so vociferous in their complains and objections to almost everything. This adventure with ship-building began with them chiding Nephi, “Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters” (1 Nephi 17:17), and “We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work” (1 Nephi 17:19). If he would have completed a simple raft, would not his brothers chided him further about so puny a work? What kind of ship would have silenced them, humbled them, and caused them to appreciate “so fine a work”? Certainly not a raft!
    It is difficult to imagine these rebellious sons thinking a large raft or canoe would be safe on the high seas. It should also be kept in mind that the celebrated drift-voyages such as Kon-Tiki, RaI, RaII, Tangaroa, etc., all had crews of under nine, some as few as five. The double-canoes, or outriggers, of ancient days traveled from island to island, a rather short distance, though Kon-Tiki traveled almost 5,000 miles, drifting with the current
Left: The Samudra Raksa (Defender of the Seas) was an 8th century Borobudurship built strictly from (Right) bas relief drawings in Indonesia. A 1982 expedition sailing from Indonesia across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar
    When we talk about a ship that was to carry upwards of 50 people or more, along with supplies and equipment meant to start a new life in a new world, we are not talking about a raft, no matter how designed. The Kon-Tiki and other such drift voyages were built and meant to show that currents drifted in certain directions and would have shown that a people along the West Coast of South America, particularly around Peru, would have drifted in a simple raft all the way down to Polynesia, four or five thousand miles away. Drift, by its very name, means to drift with the current—not sail cross currents, against currents, etc. And as Kon-Tiki showed, the lack of steering of a raft meant it could not be stopped at will, but ended up crashing into the rocky outcroppings of an atoll. Other drift voyages, well covered by secondary craft, helicopters, planes, GPS, radio, etc., were guided at the end to a landing—but Lehi would have had none of these modern advantages.
Nephi’s ship was “driven forth before the wind,” but it was also steerable, obviously with some type of important rudder system, and had all the other conveniences mentioned in the first of these three posts. A raft or canoe would simply have been out of the question, and far too simple to need the Lord’s constant instruction.

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