In this third and final post we will show the importance of knowing and understanding the conditions of the eastern rivers and the difference between sailing a flat-bottomed river boat and a deep-sea ocean sailing vessel up a river.
Looking downriver on the Mississippi through New Orleans. On the inside bend is (Yellow Arrow) Algiers Point, 114 miles upriver from the Gulf, and across the river on the outside of the bend, (White Arrow) is the Governor Nicholls Street Wharf. The river flows (Green Arrow) toward the Gulf
The 2350-mile-long river is at its deepest point of 200 feet between Algiers Point (on its right descending bank) and Governor Nicholls Street Wharf (on its left descending bank), including the French Quarter, The Marigny (Faubourg Marigny) and Bywater (where Mardi Gras begins), an overall area referred to as “Sliver by the River,” after Hurricane Katrina because of its higher elevation. From this point upriver to Baton Rouge, a depth of 45 feet is maintained today, but beyond that point a system of 29 locks and dams are required to maintain a 9-foot depth, and at its headwaters outlet of Lake Itasca, Minnesota, it is just 3 feet deep.
To maintain these Federally mandated depths—45 feet between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and nine feet from there to Minneapolis, the Corps of Engineers continually dredges the river. Before their involvement, only flat-bottomed River Boats could negotiate north of Baton Route because of their shallow draft and ease of both running aground (without damage) and becoming disentangled from sandbars and other shallow depths.
To understand sailing up the Mississippi, even if there was keel depth to do so (which there was not), is based strictly upon wind and current—and the Mississippi, as is the case with all of that watershed, flows south, downriver! Thus, we need to understand the speed and strength of the water flow of the Mississippi River Nephi's ship would have had to overcome.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard Investigation and Report, the fully loaded downbound Chinese bulk cargo ship, Bright Field, under the command of Master Deng Jing Kuan, after losing propulsion power and unable to effectively steer, swung slowly to port and eventually allided (ship colliding with stationary objects) with the Riverwalk Marketplace complex near downtown New Orleans just above Algiers Point in 1996. Operated by Cosco out of Hong Kong, the eight-year-old Japanese-built ship rammed a pier, condominium, shops and hotel along the docks, causing some 17-million dollars of damage and sixty-six injuries.
This tragedy points out the importance of being able to steer when moving up and down a river like the Mississippi, especially in light of its treacherous currents and twisting bends. In fact, the Mississippi River around New Orleans is said to be the most difficult waterway to navigate in the world.
Add to this that the Mississippi in this area generally flows about 4.5 mph toward the Gulf, which is 268,525.584 gallons of water per minute past Algiers Point, which was one of the major factors, outside of equipment failure, that the Bright Field slammed into the docks in New Orleans. In fact, it was the flow of the current that increased the cargo ship to a speed beyond the ship’s rated Sea Speed.
In addition, because of the high rate of flow during high water periods, today the Corps of Engineers opens the Bonnet Carré Spillway (built in 1932, 33 miles above Algiers Point), which diverts ¼-million cubic feet of water per second. This lowers the river by 4 feet and reduces its flow to combat strong river currents for engine-powered vessels. If such is needed to aid powerful engines to drive a vessel upriver through and past New Orleans, think of Nephi’s ship in 600 B.C.—there was no such assistance possible—the Mississippi River flowed at its original velocity.
The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth largest in the world, extending from the Allegheny Mountains in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west, and measures about 1.2 million square miles, covering about 40% of the lower 48 states—and all rivers in it flow toward the Gulf of Mexico, or downriver, heavily affecting a sailing ship “driven forth before the wind” trying to sail upriver
Considering at maximum speed, Columbus’ Santa Maria could travel about 8.5 knots. Now the speed of a ship is based on its ground speed, i.e., the ship’s speed plus the speed of the following current (flowing in the direction the ship is headed). So if the current is 4.5 knots (5.2 mph), Columbus vessel could travel about 15 mph. However, when sailing against the same current, his speed would drop to 9.8 mph. And if he was sailing against the wind, then he would have no forward progress at all. In fact, he would be driven backward at the speed of 15 mph (unless he took down his sails, then he would be driven back at 5.2 mph). This is because a 15th century sailing vessel’s propulsion was strictly wind and current—just like that of Nephi’s ship.
When you consider all these factors and apply the speed of the current against Nephi’s ship, the shallowness of the Mississippi beyond Baton Rouge (nine feet because the Corps of Engineers continually dredges the river), the wind that usually blows toward the southwest (downriver), and the experience needed to even sail their ship up the Mississippi, let alone negotiate all the crossing eddies, sudden shifts in current, shallow sand bars, etc., it is simply foolishness to suggest that Lehi went up the Mississippi at all.
And for those who might claim that we don’t know what the Mississippi was like in 600 B.C., roughly 2600 years ago, they might want to realize that scientists who have studied the Mississippi for many years (it is perhaps the most studied river in the world), tell us that the Mississippi has not changed much in the past 10,000 years. Its course has changed from time to time, and certainly other rivers eventually flowed in and out of it, but its basic properties: flow, direction, depth, and the winds that pass over it, have not changed in the past 10,000 years, though man has made its entrance far safer and more reliable for navigation, according to Clint Willson, LSU professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Vincent A. Forte River and Coastal Hydraulics Lab, and an expert in Mississippi River hydraulics and sediment transfer. While the river mouth used to swing back and forth across the eastern half of the Louisiana coast, today it is "a highly engineered massive river system lined with levees and other control structures."
There is simply no way possible that Lehi could have sailed up the Mississippi River, nor as stated in the first of these three posts, sailed up the St. Lawrence River, to reach the area of the Great Lakes.