Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Did Nephi Mean “We Did Put Forth into the Sea”?

Continuing with our series on “What did Mormon mean”? or, in this case, “What did Nephi mean”?, we look at the simple statement Nephi made as he talks about setting out on their voyage to the Land of Promise (1 Nephi 18:8). Considering the amount of people in Lehi’s party, the vessel would have had to have been in the neighborhood of 70 to 100 tons to handle the size of Lehi’s party, and a minimum of 55 to 60 feet (though probably longer) in length to be able to handle the swells yet recover easily in the troughs
By comparison with ships built by man in the Age of Sail 13th through 19th centuries, nearly two thousand years after Nephi built his ship, the ships of Columbus, Santa Maria, the largest of his three ships was 108 tons, 62 feet long, with a keel length of 41 feet, and 18-foot beam (width) and a draught (depth) of 10 feet, with a compliment of 40 people. The ship had a single deck and three masts. It was comparable in size to a modern-day cruising yacht. The other two vessels, the Pinta (60 to 70 tons, 56-foot deck with a complement of 26) and Nina, (about 50 to 60 tons, 50-foot deck with a complement of 24.
    Magellan’s fleet included his ship, Trinidad, was 100 tons, 77-feet in length, with a compliment of 55; the San Antonio, 120 tons, with a compliment of 60; the Concepcion, 90 tons, with a compliment of 45; the Victoria, 85 tons, 65-feet, and a compliment of 42; and the Santiago, 75 tons and a compliment of 32.
    Drake’s fleet of five ships were much smaller, though his ship, Pelican, renamed Golden Hind, was typical of the time at 100 tons, 70-foot hull and 102 feet in length, with a 19-foot beam, and a drought of 9 feet, carrying a compliment of 80 people, with five decks and three masts. On the other hand, Marigold, 30 tons; Elizabeth, 80 tons; Swan 50 tons; and Christopher, 15 tons, were all much smaller. Cabot’s ship, Matthew, (1497), 50-tons and 78-foot in length, beam of 20 foot, draught of 7.5 feet, with two decks and three masts, and had a crew of only 19
    Theorists can talk about the size and construction of Nephi’s and Hagoth’s ships, but when discussing ocean-going vessels, there are certain things about design that cannot be ignored. While modern man has far more knowledge of ship design than did the people of Nephi and Hagoth’s eras, we cannot ignore that ships in deep ocean sailing were faced with circumstances of the elements no different than those of today. And their vessels show that they learned how to build ships that could go to sea.
    As an example, swamping underway in today’s smaller vessels are caused by only a few problems, one of which is too low transom height, i.e., the rear or stern of the vessel is not high enough to keep following waves from flooding over the stern.
Ancient Polynesian ocean-going ships like those seen by Captain Cook in the 18th century, had (Red Arrow) high prows and (White Arrow) high sterns. Their shortcoming was their size in regard to carrying large numbers of people
    In large sailing ships, transoms or sterns were square (hence the term “transom”), and was attached to the last U-shaped rib-like frame called the “fashion timber” or “fashion piece,” because fashioned to it was the aft part of the ship.
These were square stern transoms originally built to stop any type of following wave action in high seas, especially when tightly maneuvering. However, in 1817 the British naval architect Sir Robert Seppings first introduced the concept of the round or circular stern, because the square transom had been an easy target for enemy cannon, and could not support the weight of heavy stern chase guns. But Seppings' design the rudder head was exposed, and was regarded by many as simply ugly, giving way to the elliptical stern design in 1820.
The elliptical design that lasted long after the Age of Sail and far into the steam and later diesel eras
    Another important need for a deep ocean vessel, not needed in coastal sailing, such as the Portuguese rounding Africa and sailing the Mediterranean, Red Sea and along the coasts of Arabia, India, and Indonesia, is the need for a front and rear structure in the design that discouraged swamping, i.e., being over-powered by large cresting and following surface waves (especially storm waves) of a wind sea in evolving sea states. It should be kept in mind that in the deep ocean, a fully developed sea has the maximum wave size theoretically possible for a wind of a specific strength, duration and fetch, and often reaches a significant wave height.
There is always the danger of being swamped by following waves
    To compensate for this, early ship designs included a poopdeck. Just aft (to the rear) of the mainmast the lower or main deck gives way to a higher deck, referred to as the poopdeck (from the French term for stern—la poupe, and Latin puppis). This structure, which was the flat roof of the poop (stern) cabin, was essential in ocean-going vessels to keep from being swamped from the stern by a wave and served the same purpose as a raised bow. In fact, at 45 feet above the waterline and nearly 60 feet above the keel, the structure was so high that no following sea could ever have conceivably “pooped” it. The raised stern structure also gave the captain and helmsman an elevated position that was ideal for both navigation and observation of the crew and sails.
In ocean-going vessels, one of the important parts of ship design was the poopdeck, the high, elevated structure at the rear or stern of the ship: Left: Yellow Arrow: the poopdeck; Right: Red Arrow: main deck; White Line: height of a man; White Arrow: height of the gunrail or side of the ship
    When Nephi says, “We did put forth into the sea,” this was no idle comment to be taken for granted, or passed over by the reader if one wants to truly understand the scriptural record and what it contains. After all, the adventure Lehi set out upon to reach the distant Land of Promise by voyaging across the deep ocean was fraught with difficulties and dangers unknown to them and very likely, unheard of in their experiences.
    Had not the Lord designed the ship (1 Nephi 17:8) and told Nephi exactly how it was to be built, how the boards were shaped and fashioned, joined and framed, how all parts of the ship came together (1 Nephi 18:1), it would have been impossible for 600 B.C. man to have made such a voyage. For those theorists who love to talk about the sailing of Phoenicians who voyaged far and wide around the globe is far from true—few sailed out of the Mediterranean, an inland sea that had become well know, and most of that sailing was coastal. The same is true of those who finally ventured beyond the Gates of Gibraltar and along the currents to northern Africa, and then along that coast. There were even early mariners who traveled up the coast of Portugal, Spain and Gaul (France) and braved the jaunt across the channel to Britain, in search of tin for trade.
    However, the islands to the west, the Canaries (60 miles off the coast of Morocco); Sao Tome (150 miles off Africa); Cape Verde (350 miles off Africa), the Azores (850 miles off Portugal) were not to be reached for more than two thousand years after Nephi sailed.
    Madeira, due west of Gibraltar and off the coasts of Portugal and Morocco, the first of the offshore islands to be discovered possibly as early as 1000 A.D., by Vikings, and actually visited as early as 1339, but not officially “discovered” until 1415, and considered to be the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery (1415 to 1542), shows how long it took for man to venture out into the Atlantic Ocean. It is easy to give credit in writing to Phoenician sailors for exploits they never achieved, but something else to show evidence of their sailing away from coastal waters until long after the time of Christ.
    Again, coastal sailing, like the early traders along the coasts of Arabia, India and Indonesia is not the same thing as sailing deep oceans. Nor were ships built before the Age of Discovery capable of withstanding the pounding of the ocean waves that often could take a ship up and slam it down into a trough and split it in half. The Lord knew how to build such ships, but not man, not for more than a thousand years after Nephi, and it was His knowledge and direction that caused Nephi to build a ship that could have successfully “put forth into the sea.”

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