Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Following Normal Sailing Patterns—The Fallacy of Eastward Sailing

What about the winds and currents then facing Lehi in 600 B.C.? Could he have reached the Philippines and sailed northward as did Urdaneta? (See last post) And if not, why not? 
    Much has been written about winds and currents on this blog, but their importance, which is often ignored entirely by the many Theorists who want to place the Land of Promise in different locations the winds and currents don't go, has been well documented; however, being able to sail in 600 B.C. in a ship “driven forth before the wind” is a crucial point Nephi mentions, and should not be ignored, but considered in its fullest understanding.
    The last post discussed the problems even the most experienced mariners and sea captains of the day faced for some 2100 years after Lehi sailed, in trying to broach an eastward course across the middle and southern Pacific Ocean, a serious problem that has been well documented down through history. Yet, Theorists continue to trace a line across the map and say this is where they sailed. However, the Monsoon winds, sea currents, and Trade Winds of the Indian Ocean, which have also been very well documented regarding where a sailing vessel in 600 B.C., motivated only by the wind, could have sailed from the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula (see the previous posts Mormon’s Abridgement--Driven Forth Before the Wind, Part VI and VII,  October 25 and 26 of this year).
    One of the important issues to understand in comparing ancient trade routes with Lehi’s voyage, as Sorenson and other Theorists do, is in understanding those early trading vessels and how they differed in design, function, and abilities from later deep ocean vessels—like the one Nephi would have built.
Top: First Minoan vessel around 1500 B.C.; Phoenician trading ship, 1000-900 B.C.; Greek ship around 500 B.C. These ships did not sail deep oceans, but were coastal vessels used for trading in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea prior to, and around, Lehi’s time
    As an example, the dhow was a ship that sailed the Red and Arabian Seas in antiquity. Whether they pre-dated Lehi’s time is doubtful, since most experts claim they originated between 600 B.C. and 600 A.D.
These were the trading vessels that made port along the Arabian and Indian coasts, and sailed anciently into the Bay of Bengal beyond India. The dhow, which is a generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts and lateen sails, while thought to be invented by the Arabs or Indians was, according to Briggs, Casson, Manguim, et al, a Chinese invention.
Dhow trading vessels around Lehi’s time. If Nephi was familiar with any ship “built by men,” it would have been one like this, the most predominant vessel in the Red Sea at the time Lehi passed down the coast
    These vessels typically sported long, thin hulls, and were used to carry fruit, fresh water or merchandise along the coast of the Eastern Arabia and Persian Gulf, East Africa, Yemen, Oman, south Asia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Larger dhows have carried crews of 30 while smaller ones carried around twelve. On the other hand, the Chinese Junks, much larger trading vessels, were not built until between 960 to 1270 A.D., during the Song dynasty.
    Once again, these early trading vessels were poorly made by comparison with deep ocean ships, were shallow bottomed, and would not have survived the constant pounding of the open sea. This understanding gives added meaning to “I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:2). This is more clearly understood in knowing that the ships built by man in 600 B.C. were not designed for, and would simply not have survived, in the deep ocean.
Consequently, not until the ships of the 12th century onward did man come to know how to built vessels that would survive somewhat in deep oceans. While few sailed out that far in those early ships, it was beginning to become more and more a likelihood, and after decades of sailors trying to reach the Indies with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost in shipwrecks, Vasco da Gama (left) landed in Kozhikode (Calicut), western India, on May 20, 1498 (6 years after Columbus’ first voyage), reaching the legendary Indian spice routes, though losing two of his four ships in the effort, and with only 55 men surviving.

Da Gama was able to reach India, after losing ships and men in previous efforts, because he found he had to swing far out to sea (black arrow) to swing around Africa (yellow arrow)
    Despite this knowledge, Theorists keep parroting the idea first suggested by Sorenson, that Lehi followed “the normal sailing patterns from the Persian Gulf eastward, it is assumed that Lehi's party would have sailed either past Singapore to the Philippines, or south of Sumatra to New Guinea.” The problem is, as any oceanographer would quickly grasp, either of these routes are in opposition to both the monsoons that flow off the coast to sea, blocking any path sailing across the Indian Ocean, as well as the constant winds that blow from east to west through Indonesia.
The winds through Indonesia. Note that they are all blowing against any approach Lehi could have possibly made through these islands. Red Arrows: winds coming off the Pacific Ocean along the northern arm of the South Pacific Gyre and southern arm of the North Pacific Gyre; Green Arrows: Movement of those winds through Indonesia; Blue Arrows: Monsoon winds coming off the continent; Green Arrows: Winds off Pacific hitting winds off continent and bending southwest; Orange Arrows: Winds blowing into the Indian Ocean from Indonesia, against any approaching vessel to the entrances through Malay and Sumatra or Java. While later, experienced crews with large numbers of seamen could broach these winds, Lehi’s family neither had the ship, rigging, nor experience to even make the attempt
    As can be seen, to claim Lehi sailed eastward across the Indian Ocean in 600 B.C., with a sailing ship that was “driven forth before the wind” is as silly and impossible as to claim he took a rocket ship to the land of Promise. These winds are one of the major reasons why China never sailed into the Pacific, but hugged the coasts into the East China Sea, or sailed south into the South China Sea and to Indonesia.
    In addition to all this, the seamanship that would have been required to sail through these islands, and especially down the 500-mile Malacca Strait, negotiating the conflicting winds and gusts (force 5 or 6, with 7 and 8 possible), and the through currents, tidal currents, counter-currents and constant spouts in the narrow waters, would have been beyond any inexperienced crew. Thunderstorms and torrential rain, along with squalls are common in the Strait, especially between April and November and are called Sumatras, with southwesterly squalls occurring either day or night and lasting longer than the Sumatras. There are also some islands and numerous islets in the channel, and dangerous sand banks that become exposed with the tides and varying strength of tidal currents that lower flood tides considerably and without warning. From the area of Kuala Lumpur to Singapore in the lower half of the Strait is about 20 miles wide, and continually narrows to less than nine miles in width, and ends up in the Straits of Singapore—a channel 65 miles long and 10 miles wide that narrows to only three miles in width, filled with many small islands, islets, reefs, and shoals, where no mariner would think of sailing without charts of this dangerous area that have been available for centuries.
    In 600 B.C., in a deep-ocean vessel propelled only by wind pushing it forward (and not pulled into the wind through tacking and modern rigging), it would have been near impossible—the guidance of the Liahona, nor the minimal type steering available to Nephi, would not have solved the navigational problem of inexperienced men handling a large ship through what is considered today, even with modern technology, radar, GPS, etc., the most dangerous seaway in the world.
Top: Aerial view of the Strait of Singapore; Bottom: A 3-D map of the Strait of Singapore. Obviously, for an inexperienced crew in a fixed-sail, deep-ocean vessel “driven forth before the wind,” this would have been an impossible navigational route in 600 B.C.
    This is the route Lehi’s ship would have had to take through Indonesia in order to reach the South China Sea and the Kuroshio Current to sail eastward across the Pacific. First, the winds and currents would have prohibited such a course, and second, the lack of seamanship would have made the route impossible to negotiate. Consequently, there is no way Nephi’s ship, “driven forth before the wind,” could have gone eastward across the Indian Ocean and through Indonesia to the Pacific Ocean.


  1. Not to be contrary, and not that I disagree with your premise about currents and winds, etc since I know nothing of such things, but another factor of the the ship's voyage was that they were led by the Liahona, or in other words, guided by God with whom all things are possible, and it seems that his guidance could make up for a lack of seamanship and navigational experience/prowess. And while it makes sense to consider the evidence of the winds and currents, were they that way 2600 years ago? And even if they were, could God not have blown the ship wherever he wanted? Again, I'm not challenging the hypothesis, just the 'no way' conclusion.

  2. Thank you for your comment, but I think you missed the point. Knowledge and instruction are one thing, but are not the same as experience. The Liahona, by its design as written in the scriptural record, gave information, the "how to" but knowing when to take in sail, when to turn here or there (if they had that capability) is not the same as actually being able to do it. In our modern world, the two may seem the same, but consider being given the instruction to accomplish a very technical, detailed, dangerous task--it is not the same as being able to do it. Sailing as described above in that area is very dangerous--there are more shipwrecks in that strait today than anywhere else in the world, even with all the modern technology available. You could be told exactly how to train a lion, but getting in that cage with whip and chair is a very different thing. As for the Lord causing winds and currents to change--God can do anything. But our record of him does not suggest he does this...we may call them miracles, but the Lord follows the natural laws he has set up and I am unaware of any incident in recorded history where he has violated his own laws. If one wants to think that way, then as one of my readers once said, God could have picked up Lehi and his family and spirited them to the Land of Promise without all this building of ships, sailing, etc. Yes, of course, he could do that--however, he doesn't seem to work that way in any incident I'm aware of his directing. After all, God created the earth, and in so doing, created the winds and currents of the oceans, and if he wants to send someone from point A to point B, it would seem he would know exactly how to do this in the world he created under the laws and principles of that world's functions. Yes, he stopped the world's rotation once, but we know he did it. Thrre is no record to suggest this or anything out of the ordinary happened in this voyage. This is not a "no way" conclusion, but an understanding of what Nephi wrote, how he described his voyage, how the ship was propelled, etc., etc., etc. Why is it people have such a hard time accepting what is written without having to try and find some apologetic or conditional way of expressing it. Nephi told us how he built his ship, how it sailed, and under what principles--those, to a seaman, are quite clear. They may not be to ones who do not know the oceans, but to those who do, they are quite understandable. By the way, winds and currents move according to the principles of earth's rotation, gravitational pull of moon and sun, temperature, etc. They have always been the same throughout recorded history, and based on the overall cause and effect of these principles, have always been and always will be unless the Lord intervenes. Personally, I take Nephi at his word and find no reason not to. His ship was "driven forth before the wind" and he tells us that twice. In seamanship language, that has a particular meaning, which gives us a clear understanding of it then and now.

  3. Michael...I think if you were to go back and read other posts regarding this issue, and all the research and knowledge Del has put into everything, I think you would find that such a course would literally have been impossible for a blue water deep ocean ship, as he describes, to have made such a voyage against the winds and currents described. This is not a matter of maybe or possibly, it is simply a matter of could not have. When Kon Tiki sailed, it drifted with currents and little experience was necessary in handling their raft, however, with a sailing ship driven by wind, experience is needed to make critical decisions at crucial moments because a mistake in judgment can cause great catastrophes. When the Saints came west, many died along the way during difficult times, people die even when involved in the Lord's work. Why take Lehi through the most difficult type of trip when a most simple one was available? Anyway, just my opinion, but I have followed Del's work for years and never known him to make a single mistake in his reasoning and writing. It seems unnecessary to hedge his bets.