Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Building of Nephi’s Ship

It’s a simple matter to write that Nephi built a ship and speculate on what that might have involved, but something else entirely to actually go through the process and see what must have been included. According to James Taylor, of the British-Yemeni Society of traditional Arab sailing ships, the building of such ships along the Omani coast dates back to a couple of hundred years after Lehi’s time. 
   Anciently, an Arab Mariner wrote: “The second Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, famously refused to sanction the invasion of Cyprus by his governor of Syria, Mu’awiya bin Abi Sufyan, on the strength of the letter that he received from ‘Amru bin al-’As, the Arab conqueror of Egypt. ‘Amru wrote, ‘The sea is a boundless expanse whereon great ships look like tiny specks; naught but the heavens above and the waters beneath; when calm, the sailor’s heart is broken; when tempestuous, his senses reel. Trust it little. Fear it much. Man at sea is but a worm on a bit of wood (dud ‘ala ‘ud), now engulfed, now scared to death.”
    The sea has fascinated and frightened the Arab as much as any other race or culture of people over the centuries. What exactly is known about Arab boat-building around Lehi’s time is random, poorly recorded, and rarely understood.
    The word dhow, by which we call Arab boats is not an Arabic word at all, and is not found in their lexicon today. They refer to their boats as (marakib/sufun shira’iyah), and the dhows collectively as khashab, except when they are knowledgeable enough to use the technical terms for the different types of dhow, which are said to exceed 200 in number.
Different types of Arabic dhows: Upper Left: Boum (dhangi), a large dhow with a tapering stern and very high prow; Upper Right: Sanbug (Sambouk) largest dhow, from Greek sambuke, taken from the Portuguese caravel; Lower Left: Zaruq, a small vessel; Lower Right: Baghlah (Bagala), which means "mule" and used as merchant ships
    To talk of differences of dhow type is to talk of difference in hull shape, for this is the main criterion by which one type of dhow is distinguished from another. Hence we see that each of such names as boum - sanbuq (sambouk) - zaruq - and baghlah - is associated with a characteristic form of stem and stern, whilst there is very little variation in the sail plan, which always consists of a single, large, triangular sail, which we call a lateen, hoisted on each mast. The number of masts is not significant and so one may encounter a sanbuq, for example, with one, two or even three masts. This is in marked contrast with the system of nomenclature adopted in Europe and America, where the main criterion which distinguishes one type of sailing ship from another is the number and arrangement of the masts and sails, without specific reference to hull form.
    It is also the reason why so many theorists misconstrue Nephi’s ship and often limit the same to one or possibly two masts.
Baqarah or baggarah dhow. The name means "cow," and is an old type of small dhow similar to the Battil, which long stern is topped by large, club-shaped stern heads
    To start with, while we do not know much detail about Nephi’s ship, we might be able to make a comparison with the last large traditional boat to be constructed in Qatar, along the Persian Gulf coast, a little inland from Oman. This vessel, a boum (boom), was built in Doha in the early nineteen-seventies. While that is more than 2500 years after Lehi, the method of construction, the wood used and the tools employed has not changed much among the artisans of coastal Arabia in all that time. They pride themselves on the manner of construction that has been practiced among their parentage back many centuries.
Photo shows how the majority of the ship’s ribs were left more or less as the tree trunks and branches came, and only trimmed at their junctions with the planks of the boat. Note, the size of this vessel would be somewhat comparable to that of Nephi’s ship
    This construction begins with the blocking or squaring of a log. In Nephi’s time and for some centuries afterward, un-planned (rough) timbers were commonly used. The work is carried out without benefit of drawings and relies on the master builder and his experience for direction and supervision. This is the role that Nephi, no doubt, played in the building of his ship. The Lord taught him and he supervised the building and work down by his brothers, Zoram, older nephews and others in his party.
This shaping was a simple, though lengthy process of making sure the timber was curved or shaped to the need. Here a craftsman sits in the hull of the boat, using an adze to shape a rib to fit snugly against the planking of the boat. As shown, the work was done basically with an adze, the most common tool used anciently—a metal blade attached to a wooden handle. Egyptian and Arabian boat builders still do 80% of the work today with the adze
    The adze, one of the simplest of tools to make besides the hammer and chisel, which were two other tools used ancient to build boats in the area. The adze was used to hack small pieces of wood from larger blocks, to shape objects, and to smooth rough wooden surfaces.
Early ship’s ribs were rough wood, often naturally shaped, and positioned with planks set for the deck(s) above. It is possible when the Lord told Nephi he was to make timbers not after the manner of men, that he was shown how to use the adze to obtain a well-planed surface and not the rough surface used in these early dhows
    In this sense, planks were lain on top of outside ribs and the inner ribs were put over the planks, giving a double hull when the outside was also covered. These ribs were un-planned, and mostly naturally shaped, providing an unsightly, but effective ribbing system
Using a bow drill, not much different than used by ancient boat builders of the area, this qalaaf, or joiner, drills holes in the outside plan and rib in between before setting the nails attaching the outside, finished “caravel” planking
    In Lehi’s time, ship’s planking was put together by “sewing,” where holes were drilled in two planks and thread pulled very tightly between them until the planks were butted tightly against one another. Later, iron nails were used. In the photo above, the drill holes are for nails, in the image below, both are shown:
Top: Stitched or sewn planking; Bottom: Nailed planking. The obvious nail heads, when weathered would be hard to see, but here after a fresh nailing, they are obvious
    Initially wooden craft were constructed from planks, butted and sewn together with ribs added after the planks had been joined. This type of construction will have relied upon good craftsmanship by the boat builders, requiring accuracy in the cutting of the planks and in the making of holes for sewing the planks together. Very likely the material used for caulking, placed by a qalaaf, between the planks and in the holes, would have been a fibrous material, such as fatail, capable of holding a substance such as sull, fish oil, as is used nowadays, to repel the ingress of sea water. As can be seen in the photograph above, the planks are held with a cross stitch using a material such as leather or a suitable natural material, or possibly a root or a coir or coconut rope.
    It is possible that working the timbers not after the manner of men meant using nails rather than sewing the planks together, which was not a method adopted by ship builders for centuries afterward.
    It might also be of interest to know, and largely overlooked by western nautical historians, is the reason why the Arab vessels were sewn and had rejected nails for some 800 years before the Portuguese finally introduced the practice in the Indian Ocean in the late 14th century.
    In the past, it has generally been assumed that the change was merely one of the improvements in shipbuilding techniques introduced by the Portuguese. Prior to the advent of the Portuguese, the tactics of sea fighting in the Indian Ocean consisted of boarding and hand-to-hand fighting, mainly in skirmishes with the pirates that infested some waters. Indeed, Pliny reports in his Natural History (vi. 173) that the piratical activities of some Arab tribes living on the coast of the Red Sea forced the Romans to carry guards on their merchant ships and the Arab geographer al-Muqadassi warned, in the last decade of the 10th century A.D., of the need to carry armed men and throwers of Greek Fire when navigating the waters of southern Arabia. 
In the Age of Sail, wooden naval warships dominated the high seas, mounting a bewildering variety of different types and sizes of cannon as their main armament, referred to by the weight of a single solid iron shot fired by that bore of cannon: 42-, 36-, 24-, 18-, 12-, 9-, 8- and 6-Pounders, with a weight of the cannon itself, ranging from 600 pounds for a 2 Pounder to 4,000 to 5,000 pounds for a 32-Pounder. Obviously, such weight changed the makeup of ship design and construction. The 24-Pounder shown above weighed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds
The sudden arrival of the Portuguese with their ship-mounted cannon changed all that. The Arabs had to adapt, or, quite literally, go under. Nailed ships had the strength to bear the weight of the cannon that the Arabs now felt obliged to carry. Moreover, they were better able to withstand the impact of shot and shell.
    Obviously, nailed ships are stronger and more capable of withstanding deep ocean pounding as well, even without the weight of cannon, this stronger construction for blue-water ships was a major requirement, thus it might be assumed that despite the Arab commitment to sewn planking as late as 1200 A.D., the Lord had Nephi smelt, cast and use nails for the strength needed to have a ship withstand the rigors of sailing deep water—something, by the very rejection of nailed planking, the Arabs did not do for more than a thousand years after Lehi.

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