Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sailing a River to the Land of Promise – Part II

Continuing with the Great Lakes and Heartland theories that have Lehi sailing up a river from the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico to reach the theorists’ Land of Promise, we covered the St. Lawrence approach from the northeast out of the Atlantic in the last post, and showed how impossible that was in 600 B.C., as it was for 2400 years afterward before the channels were dug around the rapids near Montreal. In this post we will show the approach from the south, up the Mississippi River. 
    One of the troubles we have today in understanding all this is every boat, ship, schooner and yacht is equipped with powerful engines. Even “sailing boats” have engines. For the past many years, only the most experienced blue water sailor might think to go to sea without a backup engine.
Top Left: 26’ LWL Catalina 315 sailing boat has a 21 hp 3-cylinder diesel; Top Right: 36’ Gulfstar has a diesel inboard engine; Bottom: 48’ Elan 494 Impression has a 75 hp engine
    With an engine, of course, a boat small or large, can make turns, sharply maneuver, and work their way through narrows and around obstacles with comparative ease. However, there were no engines in Lehi’s day. There was no knowledge of tacking, booms, or hauling close to the wind. Boats had a fixed sail and you went where the wind blew it. Even today, sailboats cannot sail dead on end (directly into the wind), nor on a course that is too close to the direction from which the wind is blowing (“no-go-zone”), but in Lehi’s time, boats were not designed and sailors knew nothing of chock-a-block, or beating, or working to windward (sailing toward the wind just off the “no-go-zone”), that is, sailing “upwind.” Even when tacking was learned in the 16th century, it wasted a lot of time to sail in that manner and seldom done, especially on long voyages, and obviously a thorough knowledge of the winds had to be known and understood to use them in such a manner to reach a destination.
    Lehi’s ship, and ships into the 15th century “ran downwind,” that is with the wind coming directly behind the ship. This is called “running with the wind” today, and what Nephi called being “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8, 9). The other term is “going with the flow,” that is, to move with the flow of the current, which gave rise to the construction of ships with high sterns (poop deck) to keep from being swamped from high following seas when traveling in the current with the wind behind.
    Consequently, when a boat or ship entered the water in that ancient era, it automatically became “adrift,” meaning it was at the will of the wind and tide. This is why knowledge of winds and ocean currents became so important to sailing, and continued even into and past the Age of Sail. It is an issue that even today, “landsman” and “lubber” often fail to take into consideration when discussing sailing routes of the past. As much as half of the comments about ancient sailing on the internet today are made by those who know little or nothing about the period and the difficulties or challenges early seamen faced.
From the first sails, seamen took their ships where the wind blew them. These early routes across the oceans determined early development, exploration, trade and conquest
    Under such conditions, any approach to the Mississippi Delta in 600 B.C., would have been a hazardous experience for a sailing vessel “driven forth before the wind.” Whenever rivers meet the ocean, soil and dirt carried by the river are deposited at the mouth and new lands, shoals, and sand bars are created, forming a delta. As these rivers enter the ocean, they tend to get off course and branch into many directions, creating many small islands in the delta region. This is particularly true with the Mississippi Delta.
Top: Map of the Mississippi Delta today, with numerous channels and sub-entrances; Bottom Left: Satellite imagery of Bird's Foot Delta, green being built up land, dark blue being river waterways to the (light blue) Gulf; Bottom Right: Satellite view of created islands blocking the entrances in the delta
    Even as late as the 18th century, just entering the Mississippi Delta was dangerous and in 1718, the French had Bar Pilots who boarded all ships entering the Delta to help guide them through the dangerous eddies, channels, branches, and ever-changing sandbars. The French built a Pilot station called the Belize, meaning “beacon,” and built towers to mark the entrance. 
    When Louisiana was ceded to Spain by secret treaty in 1762, the Spanish built a station in the same general location and called it Balise, which was also a fortress to protect Louisiana from pirates and the enemies of France. The Spanish Pilots and their deputies were required to take frequent soundings of the bar with lead lines to determine where the deepest parts of the channel were. These Pilots were independent entrepreneurs and competition among them was fierce and often violent. The ones with the fastest boats reached the incoming ships first and got the job to pilot them in.
1744 French map of the Mississippi Delta East Pass, showing (yellow arrow) Fort de la Balize (“seamark”) on the lower right
    After 1800, because of the Spanish Pilot concession abuses, pilots from Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia, England and Scandinavia joined forces and sailed on Pilot cutters cruising the coast looking for sails on the horizon, and in 1805, the Pilot Act was passed, seeking to regulate the appointment of these Pilots who, within a few years, were called Branch Pilots because they piloted the branches of the Mississippi river delta. By 1853, Balize was called Pilotsville, and the town moved about five miles northwest on the west bank in the Southwest Pass channel, but in 1860, after succumbing to storm winds, the village was moved five miles upriver on the east bank, just above the Head of the Passes, where the main stem of the Mississippi branches off into three distinct directions at its mouth in the area called “Bird’s Foot Delta.” By 1879 there were 38 bar and branch Pilots, and no ship captain, concerned with the safety of his ship and crew, would dare to attempt entering the delta without one aboard.
Nor would anyone sail up the Mississippi, even in a steamboat, without knowing by heart the location of every snag, rock, sandbar, and landmarks, as well as the depth of the water, and strength of the current. Every Mississippi Pilot knew the meaning of differing colors of the water, of the ripples and swirls, in order to deduce new information about what lay ahead on the river, especially just below the surface. They learned from experience for the river was a strict, dangerously fickle teacher, that changed frequently.
    To think that a deep sea vessel, like Nephi’s ship that had crossed the ocean, with its deep “V” or rounded keel, could have sailed up the Mississippi in 600 B.C. with an inexperienced crew with almost no experience, is simply not a logical understanding of the river and sailing, and obviously would have been out of the question.
    To better understand this, consider that the Mississippi flows at 125,000 cubic feet per second toward the Delta, moving 400 million metric tons of sediment annually into the Gulf, twice that of the Columbia River and 40 times that of the Colorado River. This southward flow would require a weather vessel like Nephi’s, “driven forth the before the wind” to sail against extremely strong currents. For a sailing ship to move against these currents would require a considerable wind to compensate. And with such limited direction of sail, would have found it near impossible just to maintain steerage upriver.
    In addition, the draft of the ship (distance between the vessel’s waterline and the lowest point of the ship) would have probably required ten feet of draught (the depth of water needed to float a ship). As an example, the Pilgrim’s 90-foot Mayflower had a draft of 13 feet, and Columbus’ 56-foot Nina and Pinta, had a draft of 7.5 feet, with his 62-foot Santa Maria a draft of 6.6 feet and a drought of 10 feet. To have sailed up the Mississippi, it would have required a ten foot deep water channel—something that did not exist anywhere in the Mississippi. The Corps of Engineers dug a 9 foot navigation channel in the river in 1930, and according to the Corps of Engineers spokesman Greg Raimondo of the Vicksburg District office, they are required by law to maintain “a 9-foot-deep channel 300-feet wide and 500-feet wide in the bends” along the Mississippi’s 2,300-mile run from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Depth was a critical issue to sailors of the Age of Sail. They constantly had seamen on the sides with sounding lines, shown here in the 1850s, measuring the depth under the keep to make sure they did not run aground
     Nephi’s deep ocean, blue water ship simply could not have sailed up the Mississippi River, since it would have continually run aground in any attempt at sailing up river.

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