Friday, November 28, 2014

How Seaworthy was Nephi’s Ship? Part I

The Lord told Nephi to build a ship once they reached the area Lehi called Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:7-8). His brothers and the sons of Ishmael laughed at such a task  and called him a fool (1 Nephi 17:17) for none had obviously ever been to sea and knew nothing about ship building. But the Lord showed Nephi how to build the ship (1 Nephi 18:1-2), and most readers of the scriptural record let it go at that. 
    However, seeing how something is to be done and being able to do it are not necessarily the same thing. Consider what is involved in building a ship large enough to carry Lehi and Ishmael’s families across the deep ocean—this was no small fete.
It is not like building a boat in your garage or back yard to sail on a glass-smooth lake, down a river or across a harbor—this is a ship that would be required to carry 50 or more people with tons of provisions and equipment across thousands of miles of deep, wave-pounding, wind-driven ocean. As an example, a designer of a sailing ship must give it sufficient capacity (burden) and speed to carry out its mission—in this case, sailing across the open ocean carrying several people half-way around the world, including cargo of their personal belongings, provisions, supplies, and equipment to start a new life;  yet without unduly compromising its seaworthiness. And seaworthiness itself is a complex concept, embracing water-tightness, buoyancy, stability, hull strength, weatherliness, handiness, and freedom to enter shallow or constricted waters.
    Obviously, the Lord would know how this was to be built and accomplished, but he still had to work through inexperienced individuals with varying talents and abilities, evidently none of which had ever been utilized in building a ship. While Nephi and, no doubt, Sam, would have attacked this project with enthusiasm, it seems doubtful that Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael (and their older sons) would have shown much passion for the venture.
    In addition, Nephi’s vessel had to be built in a manner and with such use as could be manned by an inexperience crew—a few men and boys who had never been to sea and knew nothing of sailing coastal and deep ocean waters. It is one thing to understand how rigging is to be used through instruction, quite another to actually develop the skill to do it while on a tossing ship in rough seas with no land in sight.
The design also would be limited both in terms of volume (by the dimensions and layout of the ship) and weight (too much, and the ship sinks). Until the nineteenth century, it was probably the single most important requirement for a ship (other than staying afloat). The different demands on capacity compete with each other; for example, putting on more food and provisions (and the space to hold them) increases survivability of the people, but reduces the space for cargo and equipment that would be required in the Land of Promise where obtaining such things might prove impossible once landed.
    The modern day formula, developed in 1852 by the Elizabethan shipwright Matthew Baker, was “keel length times maximum beam (width) times depth of hold (in feet) divided by 100." This formula resulted in a value in “tuns” burden or volume measurement equivalent to about one English long ton (2240 pounds). There was also the tonnage (one-third of the burden weight). As an example, in 1534, a Spanish ordinance limited New World-bound ships to 60 passengers per 100 tons burden, though some carried almost 100 passengers per 100 tons (1 per 1), while Europe-bound ships carried 40 per 100 tons in the mid-1700s and 66 per 100 tons in the late 1700s, and U.S. ships were limited to 40 per 100 tons. Of course, this was because these ships carried cargo for sale to offset the price of sailing and increase profits—something Nephi’s ship did not require, nor did it carry cannon and crew to man them, thus more people per tonnage was available than later shipping could manage.
    For Nephi’s ship to be buoyant, the design had to limit the ratio of its mass to its volume so that its overall density was less than that of water, which means the type of wood used in its construction was a critical issue. Thus, when theorists write about there being plenty of trees in an area that could have been used to build Nephi’s ship, they may or may not have considered whether that type of wood, its density and strength, would have sufficed for the particulars of weight and mass required of the ship being built. Once again, the Lord would have known all this and much, much more, but the point is, theorists often write about things they do not know and are unaware of the importance of what they do not know. This is why we keep harping on the importance of Nephi’s ship and how it was propelled and what that means to an overall course.
Arbitrarily drawing random lines on a map shows the lack of knowledge regarding winds, currents, and numerous other factors involved in sailing a ship across the oceans in 600 B.C.
    This, then leads, to a design that meets the requirements of the voyage. If winds and currents would have allowed Lehi to journey toward and through Indonesia to the Pacific, as Sorenson and numerous other Theorists insist, then the design of purpose of his ship would be one thing; if his course was in the direction and location the winds and currents would have taken him, across the Southern Ocean as has been proposed here many times, then the design of his ship would have been something else entirely.
The monsoon, trades, and gyre winds move in predetermined directions and with a constancy that makes it clear where Lehi would have had to sail to reach the Western Hemisphere from his starting point on the southern coast of Arabia
    Sorenson has mentioned time and again that Lehi would have sailed through Indonesia and across the Pacific, however, the ship design for such a voyage would be that of a long-distance trader, which would have required a large displacement because of the large cargo to be carried in order to make such trading voyages profitable. So, if that truly were how Lehi reached the Pacific, then his ship would have been large, bulky and difficult to handle, since large displacements typically resulted in larger, less maneuverable vessels. To offset that, the early traders in Indonesia reduced the size requirements of their ships by limiting the crew number to balance profitability which, in turn, required an easier to handle vessel—the dhow, and the lateen sail.
An early trading dhow along the Arabian Sea that plied the waters of Indonesia. These small coastal vessels could sail those waters with eaqse, but were not strong enough to handle wave-pounding deep ocean waters
    Such a vessel worked marvelously for early traders in Indonesia since their voyages were short and direct, in coastal waters for the most part, and far simpler to handle maneuverability needs with small crews. They also spent little time at sea, setting in often, and especially every night, limiting their sailing to good weather and easy-to-handle distances.
    This was not Lehi’s requirement.
    Lehi needed a ship that would take him into rough waters, with the simplest of courses that required the least amount of knowledge about ship handling and maneuvering. He needed a large enough vessel to handle at least 50 people (perhaps as many as 62), including women and children, yet be crewed by as few as 12 to 15 men and boys (Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Zoram, the two sons of Ishmael and his older sons). By way of comparison, Columbus’ flag ship, Santa Maria, the largest of his three ships, was about 60 feet long, around 100 tons, and had a crew of 40 (all experienced seamen from the port of Palos in Andalusia, or Galica in northwest Spain), at least half of which would have been handling the ship’s rigging at any one time during the voyage, and especially in rough weather. Magellan’s ship, Victoria, which circumnavigated the globe, was about 65 feet long, 85 tons, with a crew of 42, while his flagship, Trinidad, was about 110 tons with a crew of 55.
    Thus we can see somewhat the size and tonnage of Lehi’s ship, which would have sailed a similar deep ocean, with a similar number of people aboard.
(See the next post, “How Seaworthy was Nephi’s Ship? Part II,” for the continuation of the ship Nephi built and how the scriptural record gives us information to better understand where Lehi sailed and landed)

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