Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Another View of Nephi’s Ship

As mentioned in the last article, the problem of slamming a ship into wave after wave, in this case “broaching” waves where the prow of the vessel runs down a trough and slams into the wall of the approaching wave, can cause serious damage, both structurally, as well as ship handling. Such impacts cause wear and tear on deep-ocean sailing, as well as can result in capsizing, or at least causing the ship to veer sharply off course. Loosing control of the vessel in such conditions can result in serious problems, such as capsizing.
Broaching is running the prow into the wall of the wave ahead. Not only does this eventually cause structural damage, but can slam the vessel around parallel to the wave where it can slide down the trough and capsize, especially in the hands of a novice seaman
For an inexperienced crew, such as on Nephi’s ship, such deep ocean sailing could be difficult without the constant directions the Liahona would have provided. In this case, with the approach of such swells, the problem can be overcome with knowledge—such as reducing speed to match the conditions approaching, or better still, to alter course to a new one where broaching is not a threat. No doubt this is one of the reasons why Nephi’s ship included a rudder for steerage (1 Nephi 18:13).
    While smashing into steep four footers in fifty knot winds at 26 knots is no problem for boats built to withstand the impact; however, such constructed ships did not exist before the 13th or 14th centuries A.D. The designs before that time simply were not capable of handling this and other rigors of sailing in deep water. In fact, many had trouble with severe rolling in only there  following seaswhich is one of the reasons we scoff at writers who claim Phoenicians in 600 B.C. were sailing into deep water, their ship construction simply would not have allowed them to do so.
    According to David Pascoe, author of Rough Water Seamanship, and an expert in blue water sailing, “Understanding the effects of wind, waves and currents is not an easy subject to master. Waves behave differently under a large variety of different conditions, so that unless one is familiar with all, or at least most of these conditions, then one is not experienced. That's why to get an ocean operator's license from the USCG requires that an applicant prove that they have had a large number of hours under such conditions.”
    Speaking about today’s boat designs, he goes on to say that “Hull design has a lot to do with how different boats will handle under different conditions. The simple fact is that the vast majority of boats sold today are designed for creature comforts, not rough water performance. The number of boats around that have good rough water capabilities are few and far between. One reason for this is that people are not willing to give up luxury and convenience for good handling characteristics. And so the vast majority of boats are best suited for protected, not open water operation.”
Unknowing scholars try to claim Phoenicians and others were sailing deep water long before ships were built capable of such. Mediterranean and Arabian Sea sailing was basically in protected waters compared to the open ocean. This is why when Phoenicians passed Gibraltar, into the Atlantic, they stayed close to the shore on their way north to England and Gaul or south to North Africa
    In a different way, but none-the-less as important, ships of early traders who plied the coasts of the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, were far more interested in cargo capacity than good handling characteristics. Nor did they need to be since they did not sail deep water, did not sail out of the view of land, did not sail at night, and were interested basically in moving goods from one point to another for trade and profit.
    To attribute to these early traders skills beyond their capability and interest is simply unrealistic as is its purpose. Until governments were willing to pay for ships and men to investigate foreign lands for the purpose of expanding empires, man showed very little interest in exploration. In the Age of Columbus, ships were provided by kings, or other type investors, even the Church was involved in putting up the money for such activities based upon a return on their investment. With kings, control and conquest drove most early movements, as did the need for relocation because of such conquest. But in truth, the Age of Exploration, which coincided with the Age of Sail, did not really occur until around the 12th century A.D. onward. We might attribute an early date to the Vikings, though their expansion was more in the area of conquest than it was for settlement, the latter being mostly temporary attempts that had little success in Iceland and Greenland, and eventually none at all in the Americas.
    Consequently, to claim that the Phoenicians had an interest in early exploration is to attribute to them an interest they did not exhibit. The Phoenicians were traders, acquiring and selling goods throughout the Mediterranean and as far north as England and Gaul (for the tin trade) and as far south as the North Africa coast to present-day Ghana, for the gold and slaves. It should be kept in mind that exploration was not profitable to any sea captain, nor even a trading nation other than when used to open up  new markets, as the Phoenicians did along the Western Mediterranean coasts.
Thus, the early sailing trade operations were done along coastal waters in protected, not open water, operations, such as along the Arabian Sea and within the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, etc. Historians can give credit to Phoenicians for sailing the open ocean, but it never happened. Ancient information show us the type of ships they had and they were simply not capable of withstanding the rigors of deep sea sailing. To continue to claim they did things they could not have done is to skew the past, rewrite history, and mislead readers on how the Americas were settled and by whom and under what circumstances.
In addition, there are many theorists who want to place experienced seamen aboard Nephi’s ship, since even the best of boat designs and construction won’t overcome the lack of knowledge and seamanship skills. As an example, when waves reach a certain height, it becomes necessary for the operator to match the speed of the vessel with the speed of the waves. This means slowing down or speeding up, depending on conditions. It is not a good idea to stuff the bow into the backside of the wave ahead, without raising the possibility of broaching and losing control. If you permit the boat to go zooming off the front side of the wave, you have to consider the consequences of what happens when you quickly meet the backside of the wave ahead. As an example, would you drive your car 50 miles an hour down a road full of foot deep potholes? The analogy is an appropriate one here. You'd end up tearing the wheels off the car, losing control and crashing. When the wind blows, the seas become full of potholes. And worse.
Thus one cannot consider Nephi’s ship without also considering the Liahona and its role in teaching and training the crew how to handle the vessel, when to make corrections, and what corrections to make. Obviously, the ball was capable of written instruction (1 Nephi 16:26-28).
    Another very important part of Nephi’s ship construction was in the fact that some designs make for better handling of the ship than others. The average seaman today has experience on two or maybe three different designs, but that is not necessarily enough to show how really different designs can handle. In Nephi’s case, he needed a vessel that was really easy and simple to handle, requiring the least amount of knowledge and skill to sail.
    Seamanship is the ability acquired by a seaman to pilot his vessel skillfully under adverse conditions. It's a skill that involves understanding your boat, wind, waves, tides, currents and geography. Nowadays, operating a boat is regarded as little different than driving a car: just get in and steer the boat around. We see this casual disregard for the need to acquire any kind of boating skills whatsoever on every single weekend at the local marinas where we can observe dozens of boat owners who have yet to learn even how to dock their boats with any degree of skill.
    The less the vessel requires of skill and knowledge, the easier it would be to sail. Skill and knowledge are especially required when sailing through ocean inlets, tide rips (riptides) that cause waves to become taller and steeper, with less distance between crests; and also rocky shoals jutting miles out from islands.
    There is also the problem with “confused-seas” that occur following thunderstorms, hurricanes or major fronts. In such cases, currents are overwhelmed by major shifts in wind conditions that occur quickly, which causes waves coming from different directions, resulting in waves that are  irregular and unpredictable—this can drive a vessel into an island, shoal, or other underwater or above sea obstacle in channels or island-hopping in the Pacific. Rogue waves, even smaller ones, can occur when in these conditions, two waves coming from different directions from earlier currents and winds strike at oblique (very wide) angles, causing difficulties in tight areas.
Top: An unmanned, underwater robot (glider Scarlet Knight) designed and run by Rutgers University maneuvers through the dangerous opposing and circular currents in swirling eddy fields of the deep ocean to collect data below the waves where satellites cannot see for the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS); Middle: Eddies swirl around the Southern Ocean between the tip of South America and Antarctica and are key to the mixing of air and water through this dangerous Drake Passage creating what dynamical systems experts call the "unstable manifold"; Bottom: NASA Scientific Visualization assembled this map from large amounts of satellite information, with the world's "Perpetual Ocean" currents showing eddies, swirling currents of the surface current flow of the ocean's topography
    Coastal currents, swirling eddies, tidal flows between major islands, and other problems encountered when sailing near shore, islands, channels, etc., which, by the way, most theorists have Lehi doing in his island-hopping across the Pacific, all lead to difficulty in sailing and especially among inexperienced captains and crews. After all, once you pilot a boat into troubled waters, you become trapped by them.
    The point is, what looks all right on a map on paper is seldom the case in real life on the sea!
    As an example, It can more comfortable, and safer, cruising in twelve foot waves than six foot waves (under some, but not all, circumstances) as long as the captain has any understanding at all of waves. In such circumstances, he will know that it's not the height of the wave that is most important, but the distance between waves. If the distance is very far, as with swells, they can be very large indeed, but not be threatening or causing undue discomfort. Yet a steep four-foot chop can be downright dangerous or make your time on the water miserable.


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  2. I am greatly enjoying the recent articles. I will admit to a nautical ignorance for much of my life. When growing up away from the coast, it is easy to just assume the oceans are like a lake, just bigger.

  3. I have found that most of the theorists who write about the Book of Mormon Land of Promise also have a nautical ignorance and it causes them to make comments and lay out courses that were simply impossible in Lehi's time