Monday, April 21, 2014

Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? Part I

I ran across a website recently in which Dan R. Hender wrote regarding a Chilean landing site in which he began by talking about “truth and reason,” that while truth is reason, reason is not always truth, and that “just because something seems logical and reasonable given the known facts, and our reasoning and logic assures our limited academic mentalities of such as truth; when given all the facts of which we are total y unaware, we may be actually dead wrong as to the real truth of the matter.” 
   After such an auspicious beginning, he then goes on to write, as his truth, a vary erroneous belief: “First the logic and reasoning which supports the Chilean Landing Site of Lehi's Book of Mormon Colony in the Americas. Nephi built a 'sailing' ship as it was driven before the wind and they did 'sail.' The Pacific trade winds and currents from the Middle East across the Indian and Pacific Oceans favor such a Chilean landing site in the Americas as being most probable and logical.
“The Seaman’s Guide to the Navigation of the Indian Ocean and China Sea,” W.H. Rosser and J.F. Imray, 1867 (located in the Penobscot Marine Museum—the oldest maritime museum in Maine). A careful look at the prevailing and trade winds and ocean currents shows that they run north and south, and those running to the north curve back to the west, precluding any movement of blue ocean vessels (deep sea sailing ships) from moving in the direction “driven forth before the wind” that Hender claims 
    As a result of these winds and currents, no deep water ship, like Nephi built, capable of sailing blue water—across oceans rather than along then coastal trade routes, would not have “driven forth before the wind” Nephi’s ship eastward from Arabia, but south and later southeast. Nor would seasonal monsoons taken the vessel past India, since these monsoon winds and currents drive into land on the west coast of India or drive a ship southwest away from India.
Two monsoon seasons; Orange arrows shows April to September monsoon blowing into land; the Blue arrows shows November to February monsoon blowing southeast through the Arabian Sea and into the Indian Ocean—the course “Lehi’s Travels—Revelation to Joseph the Seer” states as it curves around the South Indian Ocean Gyre and heads southeast into the Prevailing Westerlies and West Wind Drift
    Finally, the trade routes that so many like to reference, were for coastal trading vessels. Ships that did not go out into deep water, and sail the worlds’ oceans—they were not strong enough to withstand the constant pounding of waves and currents such vessels required to cross the seas. It wasn’t until the age of discovery that ships were built to withstand such pounding.
Map shows the wind driven surface currents that are driven by the trade winds and the mid latitude westerlies, with the surface currents forming large gyres in all the main ocean basins. There are five subtropical gyres; two in the Atlantic and Pacific (north and south of the equator) and one in the South Indian Ocean. Note: the arrows indicate the direction of the main currents. Also Note: These currents in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean flow in opposition to Henlder’s wanting Lehi to sail east
    It should be kept in mind that while coastal vessels did sail eastward from Africa to Indonesia, they did so along the coastal waters where the heavy pounding of deep-sea currents did not exist and where oars could be supplemented when the winds were not favorable, or the vessel could be set in to land during the night. However, as we know from ancient mariner’s reports, logs, and records, it was not until the 15th century onward Age of Discovery that mariners learned how to sail in deep water and coastal areas through tacking and the manipulation of sails—why they had such large crews on those small ships since changing, raising and lower heavy canvas was a herculean job.
Top: Trading route to Indonesia; Middle and Bottom: Types of coastal vessels around the 8th to 10th centuries A.D. Not one could or did stand up to deep sea sailing.
    Historically, square-rigged sailing ships were not replaced until the 2nd Century B.C. in the Aegean Sea on small Greek craft; soon after, the first fore-an-aft rigged sailing ship appeared in the Mediterranean Sea (Greco-Roman spritsail). By the 2nd Century A.D., the Mediterranean Sea was filled with fore-and-aft vessels, and according to Lynn White (Diffusion of the Lateen Sail, Medieval Religion and Technology, University of California Press, pp 255-260; 1978), the lateen sail, once thought to have originated in the Indian Ocean by Arabs, has now been shown to have been borrowed from the Portuguese lateen sail of the Mediterranean, which first appeared on the Arab dhow in the Indian Ocean around the early 14th century A.D. Until then, the Indian Ocean vessels were all square-rigged.
The Portuguese main vessel was the lateen-rigged caravel (left) meant for long-distance exploration, and quickly became the workhorse of early ships during the Age of Discovery. As an example, Columbus’ Pinta and the Santa Maria were both highly-maneuverable caravels. But even these had to sail the known ocean currents and winds, thus Columbus did not head straight west from Europe toward America, but dropped down to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa to pick up the southern loop of the North Atlantic Gyre that then took his ships westward across the ocean.
    Evidently, not understanding anyh of this, Hender compounds the problem with the continuation of his statement:
    “Under the normal prevailing status quo of the Pacific Ocean as we understand it, this is a most logical and probable site for Lehi's party to have landed at thirty degrees, south latitude, on the coast of Chile near where La Serena is today.”
    While it is true that this area is the perfect landing sight, it could not be reached b y a ship “driven forth before the wind,” from the north or west—only from the south, coming off the Prevailing Westerlies and West Wind Drift onto the Humboldt (Peruvian) Current. Thor Heyerdah’s Kon-Tiki “drift” voyage showed that the currents moved northwestward off the Peruvian coast into the South Pacific Gyre and either crossed the Pacific toward Australia or swung down, as the Kon-Tiki did, on the westward current.
The trade winds and strong equatorial currents flow toward the west from the Western Hemisphere (South and North America). At the same time, an intense Humboldt (Peruvian) current causes upwelling of cold water along the west coast of South America, which is driven westward by the Peruvian coast jut westward to pick up these currents
    It happens, however, that when the Humbolt (Peruvian) current reaches 30º south latitude (nearing the Tropic of Capricorn or Southern tropic), it dies down to nearly a standstill, as does the wind, with both westerlies and trade winds blowing away from the 30º latitude belt, where the surface winds are light, and air slowly descends to replace the air that blows away. This makes Coquimbo Bay the perfect landing site, and just so happens to be at 30º south latitude, about six degrees shy of the Tropic of Capricorn which, today, is at 23º 26’ 14.400” south of the equator; however, since it moves northward, currently at the rate of 0.37 arcseconds, or 15 meters, per year, in 600 B.C., 2600 years ago, the Tropic of Capricorn was closer to 30º south latitude. Coquimbo Bay, of course, is a coastal strip between La Serena and the Pacific Ocean. 
Image G - Approaching Coquimbo Bay from the south. It is about 205 Nautical Miles from Valparaíso. Except for Valparaíso, Coquimbo is the only natural harbor along the entire coast of Chile until you near the Peru border. Here, a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn at the 30º South Latitude where the winds and currents die down and provide a perfect chance for landing a sailing ship "driven forth before the wind" 
    This makes 30 south latitude not only the perfect landing site for Nephi’s ship, but the only location along the coastal area where the winds and currents would have taken his ship that was “driven forth before the wind.”
(See the next post, “Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part II,” for more on this information and Hender’s statements from the website in which they appeared)


  1. What if all the facts are known—is reason still not truth? After all, the air and ocean currents have been constant since the land masses were formed in their present position. These land masses, coupled with winds, currents, solar heating, Coriolis and gravitational pull (ocean currents move clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere), are constant, moving warm water into colder areas, and colder water into warmer areas, making many parts of the planet livable that otherwise would not be. In fact, NASA calls it the “Perpetual Ocean,” because ocean currents are a continuous directed flow of ocean water capable of traveling great distances as the wind currents drag the ocean along with them for surprisingly long distances within well-defined boundaries, almost as if they were rivers. And western boundary currents are the fastest, deepest, and narrowest of all geostropohic currents, transporting an extraordinary volume of water, moving currents poleward in each of the gyres, beginning with warm water that cools en route and eventually sinks at high latitudes. In all mapping of currents, from now dating back to 160 million years ago, these currents are constant and flow under the same principle as they do today. I think if more people truly understood the truth of matters, they would not try to belittle truth just because they do not agree with it.

  2. Thank you for your comment. It is interesting that at one time in the ancient past, early oceanographers believed the deep ocean was devoid of wind and assumed to be perfectly static; however, over time, experience and technology taught man that while surface currents are much faster, even the deep ocean has currents, and that these current velocities in deep water masses can be significant. It also might be of note that while the Bible states “paths of the sea” in Psalm 8:8, showing man knew about ocean currents 2800 years ago, though modern man (outside mariners) did not understand that until Matthew F. Maury, a Naval Commander in the U.S. Navy (and later CSA Navy) considered to be the father of oceanography (“Pathfinder of the Seas,” “Scientist of the Seas,” “Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology,” etc.), while bedridden during a serious illness, asked his son to read a portion of the Bible to him. While listening, he noted the expression “paths of the sea,” and upon recovery, Maury took God as His word and went looking for these paths. Among 20 books he wrote about sea and wind currents, his 1855 book on oceanography ("The Physical Geography of the Sea") was written after studying thousands of ships’ logs as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and head of the Depot of Charts and Instruments, is still considered a basic text on the subject and is still used in universities.

    In 1856, William Ferrel proposed the existence of a circulation cell in the mid-latitudes with air being deflected by the Coriolis force (named after French engineer-mathematician Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis) to create the prevailing westerly winds, and in 1890, Valfrid Ekman noted that these currents decreased exponentially with depth and that the surface current moved at a 45-degree angle to the wind direction. Of course, mariners have known for centuries that ocean currents flow along generally consistent paths—Columbus understood the westward flow of current around the Canary Islands a few years before he actually sailed across the Atlantic; Benjamin Franklin used ships’ log books to draw a map of the current from Mexico to Spain (Gulf Stream) in 1769. This is not to suggest that the Biblical Hebrews all understood ocean currents, or that they were well understood through the centuries, or that mariners have not long understood many, if not most, of them. The fact is, ocean currents are relatively knew in “constant and inarguable” knowledge (See the book "Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica," for a further explanation of this).

    The problem of all this is, as you obviously know, that people are willing to write about, and especially criticize in support of their own cherished beliefs, things they often do not know a lot about.

  3. The Bernhisel Manuscript says:

    The course that Lehi traveled from the city of Jerusalem to the place where he and his family took ship: They traveled nearly a south-southeast direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of North latitude. Then nearly east to the Sea of Arabia; Then sailed in a Southeast direction, and landed on the continent of South America in Chile-- thirty degrees South latitude.

    All this makes perfect sense except one thing: "until they came to the nineteenth degree of North latitude." From my study, the trail that heads directly east in Arabia is not at the 19th degree, but more like the 21st degree.

    What do you make of this?

  4. First, the Bernhisel Manuscript, so named because it is a hand-written copy made by Dr. John Milton Bernhisel from the original manuscript of Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible. It has along history, said to contain three unpublished revelations (one of which contains the information about Lehi’s travel and landing site), and was left in the hands of Emma Smith (who would not give them to the Quorum of the Twelve or Willard Richards acting for Brigham Young), and then gave the work in 1866 to the (RLDS) Community of Christ Church who published it in 1867. Eventually the Church obtained the new translation, worked on it in a joint project, and eventually published it in 2004.
    Second, in regard to your question, the 21º north latitude along the Red Sea falls around Al Balad, which is ten miles south of Jeddah and west of Mecca. The Frankincense trail (considered anciently to be the most important commercial route throughout southern Arabia) did not run east from there according to old reports. In addition, around Jeddeh-Al Balad, the temperature during the summer is well over 100º F with nearly 100 per cent humidity. Steel products rust out quickly with salty air, high humidity, and high temperatures. This would have been where Nephi’s bow broke and the wooden bows of his brothers lost their spring.
    It is another 225 miles south to Al Qunfudhah, which lies at the 19º north latitude. From there, the ancient Frankincense trade route turned east and went up over the mountains, running “nearly eastward from that time forth” moving from 19º to about 17.5º where the trail turns abruptly south through the Qara Mountains along a similar path as highway 31 now does, into the area of Salalah, which was built around the ancient port of Samhuran (Smhrm) along the Frankincense trade route—a distance of approximately 1350 miles from al Qudfudhah.
    It was Dr. H. J. Carter, in the middle of the 19th century, who identified that it was along the slopes of these Qara Mountains, in the Dhofar region of southern Oman, where the frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra) grew wild and where the incense was obtained in ancient times to transport over caravan to the Mediterranean area, creating the Frankincense trade route.
    To me, this verifies the path Lehi took, being directed by the Liahona, from distant water hole to distant water hole. Though the largest sand desert in the world, this Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali) over which Lehi traveled is an underground seal, trapping large pols of water in aquifers. The inland underground reservoirs, called the Basalt Aquifers run almost the entire length of the northern and central parts of the trail, providing dependable wells and springs along its course. Obviously, the course of the Frankincense trail was not developed willy-nilly, but ran its course because it offered the traveler the best chance of surviving a crossing of the great desert.
    And by the way, for those who keep wanting to have other people living in the area where Nephi built his ship (at Bountiful) to help in the construction, this area of Sumhuran was not occupied until 400 B.C. (according to C-14 sampling), two hundred years after Lehi left the area, and was called Moscha Laymen around 60 A.D., as noted by the ancient Greek seafarer’s manual, Periplus of the Erythrean [Red] Sea, (naming the Khor Rori inlet at Salalah as Moscha) describing navigation and trading opportunities in the area. Archaeologists have unearthed a tablet that describes the ancient city of Sumhuran at Khor Rori dating to this exact period.

  5. As I was looking at the map of the swirling waters around South America and up into Central America.. it occurred to me... wait.. this would not be the way the land looked at the time of Lehi. South America and Central America are not connected above water.

    So that being true.. would not the ocean currents actually had been somewhat different?

  6. We have posted a couple of articles on this issue in the past. Keep in mind that land is not far below the surface in the cases of where it moves to the surface as it did both with the Panama Knot and also with eastern South America. As such, the shelf is close enough to the surface to effect tidal waters as well as major currents. It is one of the reason the currents through Indonesia and around some of the South Sea island chains are so difficult to negotiate at times because other parts of the islands are not far beneath the surface (not all islands, but many). Thus, while the land area that eventually rose to block off the channel between the Pacific and the Atlantic allowed for that waterway to exist, it was not so deep it did not effect the currents when we add in the Coriolis Effect from the gravitational pull of the Earth turning on its axis. For more information, see our posts on this.