Saturday, April 22, 2017

Steering Nephi’s Ship

When steering a modern motor boat, cabin cruiser, yacht, fishing boat or trawler, you have as much leeway or turning radius as you do in a car—that is, you can make sharp right or left turns, turn in a tight circle, and make constant adjustments to the wheel as you motor your way across waves, down channels, or maneuver into docking. 
Granted, you cannot throw it in reverse and back up any distance or stop on a dime as a car, but the idea of going wherever you want is pretty much ingrained in today’s part-time seamen, holiday fishermen or weekend boaters. However, the problem with many power-driven, pleasure craft sailors is in understanding how limited a person is in a wind-powered sailboat, especially in a ship like Nephi’s that was “driven forth before the wind”—meaning the wind was pushing the vessel forward as opposed to angling the sail so one can move or head nearly into the wind (close hauled or angle of attack).
    In such sailboats where the sale is maneuvered (angle to the wind is changeable), those on board are constantly trimming the vessel, since sail trim controls the ship’s available power and effort to maximize efficient use of that energy in a constantly changing environment (changing speed, changing direction, changing wind gusts) since the boat’s apparent wind angle is also always shifting, moving forward when accelerating and backward when slowing.
Being able to trim the sail and angle it is to the wind allows modern sailing boats to move within 22º of heading directly into the wind

    Most of the trimmer's work is to position a clew in space using the sheets, halyard, jib track, traveler, cunningham, outhaul and vang. The trimmer moves it inboard or outboard with a sheet or the traveler; aft or forward with an outhaul or a jib fairlead; and up or down with a sheet or a vang.
    Obviously, this type of sailing would not have been within the capability of Lehi’s “Landlubber” party, no matter how much on-the-job training they could have undergone before setting sail. And just as obviously, the idea of moving sails about to allow for close hauling or sailing into the wind would not have been possible for Nephi nor his crew, according to his own description. Thus, the ship the Lord had Nephi build was one that, as Nephi tells us, “was driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8,9).
    In this case, all the crew had to do was more or less keep the ship before the wind, a task that fell to Nephi, who “steered the ship” toward the Land of Promise, or as Nephi put it when he was untied, “that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22). This was because when the brothers took hold of Nephi and tied him up, “they knew not whither they should steer the ship” (1 Nephi 18:13).
Reefing or taking in a sail, which provides less sail for the wind to catch

    For the most part, however, what was needed, once in the mainstream of the winds and currents, was simply to hold on, with probably an occasional need to reef (take in one or more sails, or shorten sail by tying in one or more reefs) from time to time—no doubt a frightening experience for the brothers and sons of Ishmael as well as their wives, who evidently had no faith in the Lord.
    These currents in the south of the Indian Ocean build until in the Southern Ocean they move rapidly, up to twenty-five knots, in currents that are also moving swiftly, allowing wooden ships under sail to reach speeds of 14 to 17 knots in this Southern Ocean, mostly averaging 16 knots, and as high as 20 to 22 knots during the age of sail when most ships sailing the Atlantic or Pacific oceans were reaching only 5 to 7 knots.
    Obviously, Nepih’s ship could be steered, but not just anywhere, for the ship was running free (moving with the wind behind it), i.e., being blown forward. Thus, any steering would have been in making minor corrections or simply keeping the ship moving in the direction the currents flowed. When running free, if the ship veered enough to move out of the wind, the sails would fluff and no longer draw, or billow (full or be filled with wind), but shake.
Nephi needed to steer the ship between the two fast-moving eastbound currents to pick up the Southern Ocean

    Thus, Nephi’s job in steering, following directions of the Liahona, would be to keep the ship “steered” properly so the vessel had forward momentum with the wind behind and sailing with the current, probably keeping in in the midst or middle of the current. However, when it came time to move from the southeast moving gyre of the Indian Ocean, into the east flowing current (West Wind Drift) of the Southern Ocean, Nephi would have needed to move to the outside (starboard or right hand side) of the current so the vessel would move between the two eastbound currents into the Southern Ocean.
    By comparison, it can be likened to moving from one lane to another on the freeway—you are steering the car, but you are moving in the same direction—or, in the case of the example above, you move onto an off-ramp and onto a parallel running freeway. That is, you need to steer to keep moving forward in the right direction, but you are not just turning the wheel any direction you want.
    Thus, Nephi’s ship could be and needed to be steered—as an example, say you are on a cross-country freeway, driving in the slow (right hand) lane. You need to keep going forward, because that is where the road goes (like the wind pushing you along the fast-moving ocean current). However, you are very limited as to how much you can use the steering wheel, i.e., you can:
Top: The freeway is a path through a city or across the country, much like an ocean current is a path across the seas; Bottom Left: In a cross country drive, there is nowhere to go but where the road takes you; Bottom Right: You can steer off to the side onto another path, like moving from the Indian Ocean Gyre into the Southern Ocean current

1. Keep the car steady (especially necessary if you encounter heavy wind bursts or a cross current wind);
2. Steer into the other lane (to the left);
3. Steer back into the slow lane (to the right);
4. Steer off the pavement onto the shoulder (to eventually stop);
5. Steer off the road and into the field, but your progress would be stopped quickly (unless you are driving an off-road vehicle).
    The point is, sailing in a ship “driven forth before the wind” as Nephi tells us, is much like that—you can make side-to-side steering corrections within a short band width or forward tract, but nothing more. If you steer outside the current and into the wind, you are quickly stalled (becalmed), until you turn back into the wind and current. Nephi’s ship could be steered, but only on a minimal level because it could only go where the winds blew it and the currents flowed to carry it along. This means, and we have written about this and described it numerous times—his ship could only go where the winds and ocean currents took it. It could not just go anywhere someone wants it to go.
    It is a simple concept, but one many theorists fail to grasp because it does not validate their own ideas of where they need Lehi to travel, such as eastward to Indonesia, then out into the Pacific and island-hop across the ocean to Mesoamerica.
    The point is, just because Nephi’s ship had steering capability, does not mean it could defy the type of vessel and its capability that Nephi describes, i.e., “it was driven forth before the wind.” We need to be careful about how we skip past important descriptions and information in the scriptural record in our haste to prove our point of view and theories on where Lehi landed and the Nephites settled. If we truly want to know where Lehi landed, we need to follow the winds and currents that pushed his ship across the sea toward the Western Hemisphere from the Bountiful (the Arabian Peninsula).

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