Monday, October 26, 2015

The Structure of Nephi’s Ship

Assuming the plan was to take Nephi’s ship across the Pacific to the Western Hemisphere via the Southern Ocean where strong winds blow a direct and extremely short course around the globe, one can expect the building of this ship to take this path to be extremely important.    The Lord told Nephi that he was not going to build the ship after the manner of men (1 Nephi 18:2), nor was he going “to work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men” (1 Nephi 18:3). Obviously, it was important for the survival of the Lehi party to have a ship far more sturdy and far superior in its design and or construction than ships of the day—that is, those man alone had so far designed and built up to 600 B.C.
    While in our day and age, we might not think too much about the design and construction of Nephi’s ship and its overall importance since people all over the world build and sail ships today, along with their diesel engines and specially designed sails, GPS, radar, radio, and other support and advanced technology.
However, the durability of a blue-water, deep ocean sailing vessel in 600 B.C., would have been a matter of extreme importance. We have discussed the need forf strength in deep ocean sailing vessels of the time, and the regular and incessant pounding they take on any voyage into deep water as opposed to coastal sailing. After all, a single wave can weigh dozens of tons, and though water is fluid, it resists the movement of the boat through it. And this constant pounding had an accumulative effect on the wooden hulls of the day.
    The large currents at the surface of the ocean are affected by global wind patterns and Earth’s rotation, and while not all currents occur at such a large scale, individual currents and cross-currents had a devastating impact on the beams, ribs, boards and keels of early wooden vessels.
Take as an example, one type of problem facing the mariner in deep sea sailing and that is “broaching,” a condition in which a boat runs down the crest of wave (far left), gathering speed, and as it meets the backside of the next wave ahead, buries its bow in that wave (left). The resistance of the bow hitting the backside of the wave causes the bow to slew around, and the boat to veer sharply off course. There's nothing unusual about that, but the impact causes tremendous forces on the structure of the vessel, something that does not occur in coastal sailing but does in the deep ocean, and can cause a weakness in the boat construction and over time rip one apart.
    It is one of the reasons ships did not sail into deep ocean in antiquity except in more protected areas, such as the Mediterranean, Sea of Arabia and even northern Indian Ocean. Beyond such protections, vessels simply were not strongly enough built to handle such deep ocean sailing.
Another problem is that waves of different intensities break across the prow of a ship in deep water, pound on the decks and slam into the structure causing stress along the various axis of a ship that if it is not well constructed to withstand such roughness, can cause serious damage hour after hour, day after day, week after week as it plies the dangerous blue waters of the ocean. These waves, sculpting seawater into crested shapes, move water and energy from one area to another, with big waves and swells traveling over long distances. Based on wind speed, duration, and the fetch (direction wind is blowing), causing waves of all shapes and sizes. The more open an ocean is, like the southern Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans, the more big waves and fierceness of the currents the ship encounters.
    In addition, giant or rogue waves can and frequently do occur in blue water, deep ocean areas. Some form during storms, others from combining waves and currents, with reports of such being 100 feet or more in height, with wave energy dispersing over a large area that slams into ships at sea in relentless fashion.
These swells can approach a ship from one, two, or even three different directions at the same time, transferring energy through the sea that results in swell waves being fast moving and extending far deeper than the waves produced locally by the wind. Because of their length in relation to their height, swell waves do not break even if the wind is still blowing over the swell, but their impact on the hull of a vessel can be staggering—not felt so much by the mariners, but in the torque they produce upon impact. The wind may cause wind waves superimposed on the swell but, often, the wind will have died away or changed direction so that wind waves may well be across the swell.
    Swells can travel enormous distances. Strong winds down the east coast of South America can create a swell that reaches Nigeria. By that time the swell wavelength is so long that wave crests cannot be detected. However, large, slow sea level rises and falls occur as the very flat waves arrive.
    Many ill-informed writers give all sorts of credit to man’s sailing ability during the period of antiquity, before compass, sextant, time piece and other extremely important additives to the sailing world—especially before anything like the above was known or understood and its impact on the durability of the vessel needed to withstand such deep ocean forces. Actual examples of sailing achievements in antiquity were far and few between. 
The image of a Phoenician sailor as imagined by a modern painter; however, the ships shown were not invented at the time of the Phoenicians since all the images that have survived show they were man-powered, driven by oars, thus the image of the magnificent Phoenician mariner persists, though there is no record anywhere of their sailing the deep ocean
    Still, it has been a fertile ground of make-believe of Phoenician sailing accomplishments, their ships, routes, and far-reaching voyages; however, actual (and factual) incidents are simply missing from the equation, with most based on artifacts found from time to time that archaeologists and others try very hard to fit into the dispersement scheme of ancient man.
    It is like man’s so-called crossing of the unfounded Beringa Land Bridge and man’s subsequent migrations across Siberia, Alaska, and down to the southern tip of South America. It looks good on paper, and some rationale can be built around such a scenario, however, evidence of such ever happening is far from real. Yet, it persists today as the way man discovered and settled the Western Hemisphere.
    Phoenician sailing stories persist today of great achievements and far-reaching sailing voyages that never happened. For the record, the Phoenicians existed from about 1550 B.C. to 300 B.C., however, after 605 B.C., they were absorbed into the Babylonian Empire. Though they were known to have spread their alphabet from North Africa to Europe throughout the Mediterranean, at their peak, typically about 1200 B.C. to 800 B.C., shows they reached Sardinia and Spain and the Western Mediterranean. They were credited in 440 B.C. by Herodotus’ as “being involved in long voyages, freighting their vessels with the wares of Egypt and Assyria,” which is only about 450 miles. Far from the global hopping credited to them.
    It should also be noted that in their heyday, they used the galley, a man-powered (oars) sailing vessels, and are credited with the invention of the bireme.
The reality is that the Phoenician vessels in 600 to 500 B.C. as shown in drawings of the time had (top) single oar banks or (bottom) double oar banks and were quite fragile craft, capable of sailing coastal waters and the calm Mediterranean; Middle are modern views of these ships ancient drawings
    This is hardly a ship that could make it across the Atlantic, let alone to the Pacific Ocean. When the Lord told Nephi he was going to show him how to build a ship unlike what man had built, it would seem obvious he had in mind a method of construction far more sturdy and successful than the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans, and probably more like the type of ships built during the Age of Sail that successfully circumnavigated the globe.

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