Friday, September 25, 2015

What Did Nephi Mean “Driven Forth Before the Wind “? Part I

Continuing with the meaning of words and statements as used in the scriptural record, but seldom interpreted correctly by theorists because they do not fit within their own pet theories. 
    In this case, Nephi tells us twice that his ship was “driven forth before the wind.” The first time, is when he describes their ship’s motivation, or form of movement, and direction (1 Nephi 18:8), and the second when showing that this was the continual pattern of movement, not just upon entering the water (1 Nephi 18:9).
    In those two statements, as brief as they are, Nephi tells us:
1. The wind was the driving force or motivation of his ship;
2. His ship had a sail(s);
3. The wind was behind him, pushing or driving his ship forward;
4. The sail(s) of his ship was fixed (the wind pushed him forward);
5. His ship could not tack;
6. This was the way his ship moved upon the water, both upon entering and throughout the voyage.
Ships with fixed sail rigging. The yardarm (horizontal brace) suspends the sail, which is pulled tight by a bottom brace, or by rigging, providing a sort of “wing” for the wind to blow against and push the vessel forward
    In addition, the sail of his ship, being fixed, was most likely square mounted on a type of yardarm perpendicular to the boat's hull, since that is a very effective and efficient design for downwind (driven forth) sailing. Such design dominated the ancient Mediterranean and spread to Northern Europe, and were independently invented in China and Ecuador, all much later than 600 B.C.
    Later, Nephi tells us he steered his ship. This means that his ship had a rudder and could be “steered,” that is, moved off a straight course but only within the band the wind was moving, i.e., he could not sail cross wind, tack, “come about,” jibe, beat to, or sail close to, the wind, or basically change the course of the ship while the wind was blowing. In a slow moving current, or when the wind died down, steerage would allow a gradual movement toward shore.
When the yardarm is fixed, that is unmovable except for up and down, the sail merely hangs from it—it is the slight steering available that allows the ship to be maneuvered so the wind billows (fills) out the sail and provides the forward momentum
    Today, a sail can be shaped, altered, moved, swung around, etc., to allow for a number of formations to catch the wind at almost any angle; however, until almost the end of the Age of Sail, around the 20th century, fixed sails were considered the most aerodynamically efficient running rig known and stayed popular on ocean-going sailing ships for many centuries. Even with steel hulls, the “windjammer” preferred the square rigging of fixed sails even into the mid 20th century.
    Coming back to Nephi’s statement of being “driven forth before the wind,” let’s take a look at the meaning of this. First of all, “before the wind” is a nautical expression meaning running (sailing) downwind toward an objective—in this case, the Land of Promise.
    This means that once entering the ocean, that is the sea Lehi called Irreantum (1 Nephi 17:5), in their vessel (1 Nephi 18:8), they were subject to the winds and currents to drive their vessel in the direction they were intended to travel. Nephi calls it “driven forth before the wind,” meaning “downwind” or in the direction the wind was blowing (the wind at your back). Off the southern Arabian coast blow the monsoons, coming out of the northeast (across India and into the Indian Ocean), which would have been in a southerly course or direction for Nephi’s ship. When Nephi wrote that they went down into the ship, he describes a willingness to go, with an orderliness about it, and a trust in the Lord that this ship would carry them across the “many waters.”
    If one has never stood on the sands of Salalah or the hills above Khor Rori, along the southern Arabian coast and looked out across the thousands of miles of open sea, one may not immediately capture the anxiety, pathos and fear that might have been felt by these souls, some far more trusting than others, taking their children and possessions and trusting their lives to this ship and its construction to carry them across this great deep.
    This would require a constant wind and speed factor found typically only in the trade winds, and on a southerly course “running before the wind” from the northeast monsoons. In moving off the coast in the monsoon winds, they headed “downwind,” as the ship was caught in strong winds blowing distinctive currents in the Sea of Arabia as well as the Indian Ocean. The first encountered would be the North Indian Ocean Gyre, the second the South Indian Ocean Gyre, the former moving clockwise and the latter moving counter-clockwise. Consequently, as the ship entered the Sea of Arabia, it was moved along by the northeast monsoons moving from inland out to sea, swung into the north gyre in a southerly direction for several days before the storm hit.
    Just before this time, Nephi’s natural concern and tender feelings toward the Lord caused him to become upset with the lack of respect of his older brothers and the sons of Ishmael along with their wives toward the Lord when they began to make merry, singing and dancing “and speaking with much rudeness” they even forgot “by what power they had been brought thither yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness”(1 Nephi 18:9).
    Nephi could see the pending judgments of the Lord and he tried to intervene on behalf of his brothers for their own good. He spoke to his brothers, but they reacted with typical childishness and Jewish anger toward those who tried to preach to them.
Immediately, his brothers tied Nephi up and as quickly, the liahona stopped working, which brought fear into the hearts of the rebellious for they “knew not whether they should steer” (1 Nephi 18:13). Steering the ship had become increasingly important since they moved out into the currents, for the winds at this point blow strong currents across a wide path, with the inside band closer to the storm’s path and the inner swing of the north gyre, while staying to the outside band swinging out and connecting with the south gyre which was necessary to pick up the counter-clockwise edge  that would continue the southerly course and bend the direction of travel to the southeast and eventually pick up the Southern Ocean and the West Wind Drift that would take the vessel to the east and the Western Hemisphere.
    Storms in this area, like the one Nephi describes, are typically cyclonic, approaching with a northerly wind followed by a southerly wind as the center of the depression passes. This would have backed the sail (slowed forward progress), and they would have brailed the sail (pulled in small lines on the sail to curl or leech the corners) to reduce head wind pressure, and rigged a sea anchor, which would have kept the vessel’s head into the wind, while at the same time drifting downwind or northward hence the words “driven back.”
(See the next post, “Meaning of Words and Statements Part VI: Driven Forth Before the Wind PtII,” for the rest of this regarding the meaning of being "driven forth before the wind" and its impact on the location of the Land of Promise)

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