Thursday, November 27, 2014

Was Lehi’s Journey a Non-Stop Voyage?

The consensus among Theorists seems to be that Lehi’s voyage across the Irreantum Sea was an “island-hopping” event. As Sorenson has written: “Our record doesn't say but reason and similar experiences quickly fill that gap. If for nothing else, stops would be necessary to replenish their water supply. Repairs, other provisions, and the scraping of barnacles are other conditions which have forced all ancient seamen to make frequent stops as they have pursued similar voyages. Lehi's journey would have taken them more than half way around the world. For comparison, Lehi's voyage would have traversed at least 200° compared to about 55° for Columbus's voyage to America. Of course, Lehi did not travel in a straight line. Sorenson estimates that Lehi's journey would have been about seventeen thousand miles as compared to about three thousand for Columbus. No, this was not a non-stop voyage” (John L. Sorenson, Nephite Culture and Society, 1997, Sage Books, pp54-57). 
    The problem with this type of thinking is two-fold. First, to get to Mesoamerica, Sorenson has to get Lehi across the Pacific Ocean, which violates all the winds and currents along his route, and 2) The very nature of the rebellious sons of Lehi and Ishmael would have either precluded such an island-hopping voyage, or obviously caused Nephi to mention the actions of these wayward sons once given the opportunity to rebel again and take over as they had earlier.
Can you imagine Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael ignoring the beauty and beckoning of these islands as they stopped from time to time on Sorenson’s course across the Pacific? Hard to imagine they would have obediently gotten back on board the ship and sailed off into the open sea after such exposure. They were not, after all, a willing crew
    We have spent much time in these posts talking about the ocean currents and winds that would have kept Lehi from going eastward from the southern Arabian coast in the Indian Ocean and he never could have reached the Pacific in his ship, which was “driven forth before the wind.” But just to satisfy the idea of “island-hopping,” let’s take a look at some of the rest of these “reasons” why Lehi is said to have made numerous stops along his journey.
    Sorenson suggests that “we can get some feel for this time from the voyage of a Polynesian canoe named Hokule'a. This vessel, sailing about eight thousand miles in comparable waters, averaged about ninety-eight miles per day. While this represented eighty-two days at sea, stops for repairs, rest, and supplies, extended their voyage over more than a year.”
The Hokulea was a performance-accurate full-scale replica of a wa’a kaulua, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe that set sail in 1976
    Response: The Hokulea was built and launched in 1975, for the purpose of sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti, a voyage which took place the following year for the purpose of “reviving the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaii.” Borrowing a navigator from Micronesia since there were no Polynesians capable of doing so, the journey was completed. Unfortunately, on the second attempt two years later, the canoe capsized in stormy seas off of Moloka’i and the crew would have all died had there not been a fortuitous rescue “hours away from losing people.”
    In addition, at most, these canoes carried about 20 people, usually closer to a dozen, while Lehi’s ship would have had at least 60-65 crossing the ocean. In addition, outrigger canoes can lower the sail and proceed with oars, while Nephi’s ship would not have had that ability based on its size and Nephi’s descriptions of it. However, the main point here is that these were not “comparable waters.”
    Sorenson also wrote: “Unlike Lehi's experience, the Hokule'a encountered nothing but good winds for their entire journey. If all other factors were comparable, this would suggest a time of two to three years for Lehi's voyage.”
The early Polynesians sailed north across currents in small outrigger canoes
    Response: One of the reasons for this is that these waters, despite Sorenson’s claim to the contrary, were not comparable waters. Sailing from Polynesia to Hawaii and back, is a course sailing cross-currents from north to south, which is obviously not the same as trying to buck opposing currents throughout an entire voyage. In fact, these voyages were within the two Pacific Gyres where the currents and winds are far calmer, somewhat like being inside the eye of a hurricane. This is not to say it is not dangerous, arduous and a lot of hard work, requiring experienced or well trained seamen, but the waters being sailed are not comparable in any way.
    It should be remembered that when sailing into the wind, a sail does not push the ship ahead, as Nephi said his ship was propelled (1 Nephi 18:8-9). Rather it acts as an airfoil, creating an area of low pressure in front of the sail, pulling the ship forward. As one Captain of a three-masted schooner was quoted as saying, when asked just how his vessel could sail headlong into the winds blowing against them: “When a sailboat is sailing against a strong wind, the vessel can’t make progress, and, in fact, endangers itself. What the ship has to do is to tack back and forth–sail at an angle, creating a vacuum on the back side of the sail that actually pulls the ship forward—this in effect creates a “wind pull.”
Tacking into strong, opposing winds also includes angling your path through the waves, allowing the bow to cut through the wave and not be bounced back by it, requiring an angle of attack and knowledge of spilling air (from the sail) while maintaining control
    Sailing on the course Sorenson suggests, through islands, channels, narrow passes on an irregular course with achieving landfall every so often—a fete far more difficult and dangerous than it sounds, would hardly have been achievable by Lehi’s inexperienced family. The type of sailing into winds Sorenson’s course required would have been even more difficult, for this type of sailing requires experience, not just knowledge. It is doubtful that Lehi’s family could have gained sufficient experience while building and sailing their ship to be able to handle opposing winds and currents, let alone learning all the intricacies of sailing back and forth, cutting the waves, spilling air, and keeping their ship from being pounded into bits coming off waves and slamming into troughs.
    The much simpler sailing effort would have been to take Nephi’s ship where the winds and currents flowed, where experience is required far less and the dangers much reduced—which takes us to the Southern Ocean—the shortest, simplest, and fastest course between Arabia and the Western Hemisphere on the face of the earth.
The circumpolar Southern Current (black circular arrows) is the fastest and shortest route from Arabia to the Western Hemisphere—instead of 17,000 miles across at the Equator like Sorenson projects, it is less than 10,000 miles where Lehi enters this route and exists it (black arrows)
    In addition, this course would not have allowed Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael any opportunity to take over the ship, for the entire voyage would have been a rough ride, requiring constant activity, including bailing water and, if nothing else, hanging on for dear life. The fast moving waters and gale force winds driving the ship forward, surfing over and down waves, for such an inexperienced crew would have caused near panic with no way to express it.
    The sheer fear of such a voyage in those fast and heavy conditions would have kept the wayward and mutinous sons from laying a further hand on Nephi, for experience had taught them that to do so would mean a watery grave from relentless waves crashing over the bow and bouncing off rails and masts, and thick foam spraying across the deck.
    In fact, such a voyage would have humbled even the most belligerent attitudes for little else than wind, waves, and relentless water exist—there was no land to beckon to them, nothing but unremitting ocean, constant birds, and steady breezes. When Nephi wrote: “And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts” (1 Nephi 18:20), it would be apparent that the fury of this ocean would have kept the belligerents at bay, believing it was the wrath of the Lord that threatened them.
Top: Where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean, a distinct line is visible; Bottom: The Southern Ocean is more empty of sights and without land obstruction than any ocean on earth
    In addition, the emptiness of this ocean would have caused them all to know they were the only ones in the world out there—a feeling that would have drawn them out of necessity toward reliance on the Lord and the Liahona Nephi held as he steered his ship across the sea. The voyage across this ocean would have been fast, fearful and quick. It would have been so uneventful, that all Nephi would have had to write about was “I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land. And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22-23).
    Was Lehi’s Journey a Non-Stop Voyage? Out of necessity, it would have had to be a non-stop voyage.

1 comment:

  1. Any ballpark estimate as to how many days the journey would have taken based on typical current and wind speeds?