Monday, February 12, 2018

Steering the Ship

We are asked from time to time that if Nephi’s ship was “driven forth before the wind,” and that direction was dependent upon the wind and ocean currents, then what need did he have of being able to steer his ship.
     It should be noted that Nephi twice makes this same comment: “And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land. And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry” (1 Nephi 18:8-9, emphasis added).
Sailing downwind with the wind aft of the ship. As the wind presses directly into the sails to make them puff out, that natural force propels the boat forward, and it can be said that the ship is driven forth before the wind

First of all, what does it mean to be “driven before the wind”? There are two methods of being driven “before the wind,” with one being called “scudding under bare poles,” or moving without sails, yet making headway due to the wind pressure on hull and rigging (making headway downwind).
    In fact, in heavy weather, the windage of the mast and other spars can still be enough to move the boat (bare poles describes a sailing vessel with no sail set, that is the poles or masts are bare or have no sails, and is said to be “under bare poles”). To scud, or scudding, is “to move fast in a straight line from being driven by the wind.” Thus, scudding under bare poles is to be moving “straight along a line,” or on the current, driven by the wind. With sails set, that movement is faster than under “bare poles.”
    The other, of course, is having sails set and the wind blowing from astern, pushing the vessel forward from the wind driving in the sails. Either way, the vessel is moving forward from the wind astern, or behind the ship, pushing it forward. And since the wind also pushes or moves the ocean surface current, the vessel is moving forward with the current as it is “driven forth before the wind.”
    Thus, Nephi’s comment in vs. 8 and 9 tell us that he understood that his ship was moved or propelled by the wind as it pushed it forward along the ocean current. Which brings us to the point of his later comment when the emergency arose during the storm after Nephi’s brothers tied him up and the Liahona stopped working, Nephi says of his brothers and their inability to deal with the storm, “Wherefore, they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm, yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days; and they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea; nevertheless they did not loose me” (1 Nephi 18:13, emphasis added).
    Why did Nephi make this comment about steering the ship when the vessel was “driven forth before the wind,” meaning as stated above that the ship was being pushed forward by winds, which also moved the current upon which the ship sailed. After all, “to steer” suggests that, in the case of sailing a boat, the vessel is under the direction of the pilot’s steerage. To add to this, Nephi also states that, after he was released by his brothers, the Liahona began working “whither [Nephi] desired it,” and after praying, “the winds did cease and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm” (1 Nephi 18:21), Nephi then says “I did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22, emphasis added).
    In Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the word “steer” means “to direct, to govern, to direct and govern the course of a ship by the movements of the helm.” Also, the word “guide” means “to lead or direct in a way, to conduct in a course or path.” Thus, Nephi claims he had the ability to steer and guide the ship. In fact, in two cases he confirms this: first, in the above stated verse where the brothers knew not how to steer the ship, and in the second, where he states he guided the ship after the storm ceased.
    Since Nephi immediate recognized that his brothers did not know how to steer the ship during the storm, he obviously had some experience in doing so, that is, in steering the ship previously during the voyage from Bountiful into the Indian Ocean: “after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea” (1 Nephi 18:8).
    The problem in the minds of some theorists over this seems to be in understanding the extent to which Nephi steered his ship. The fact that his vessel was “driven forth before the wind” not only suggests that he was being blown forward, but that is the only method of propulsion for the ship, which, of course, means the ship could go nowhere except where the winds blew and the ocean currents flowed.
    So where did he steer?
Consider driving a car along a freeway. As long as you stay on the freeway, you can only go where the freeway takes you, so you are restricted to moving in that direction. However, you can steer the car into another lane, or into two or three lanes over, and back, to avoid traffic, debris, or other obstructions to your driving.
    While a freeway is only so wide, an ocean current is in most cases, many miles wide—as an example, the north flowing Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean is only 30 to 45 miles wide off the American coast, but in the Pacific Ocean, the southern side of the South Equatorial Current Gyre, which flows west to east between 10º and 20º south, is about 800 miles wide; where that current is deflected north along the west coast of South America in what is called the Peru Current (the eastern side of the South Equatorial Current), it is 550 miles wide. Obviously, the width of these currents provides plenty of steerage room within the flow of the current.
    It should also be noted, that while sailing against a strong current can result in a sailing ship making no progress, or even losing headway, a gusting storm moves a vessel forward on the waves or current, even if the sails are furled. Thus, “a great and terrible tempest” that lasted three days would have resulted in eddies, swirling currents, and circular storm paths, that would turn a vessel, even back on its previous course, as evidently the storm did that Nephi describes when he stated: “and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days” (1 Nephi 18:13).
    It also seems reasonable, that Nephi knew if he had not been tied up, and the Liahona had remained working, he would have been able to avoid the storm by steering far to the side or around the weather in the hundreds of mile wide current. This is seen that when the ship had been turned around and was sailing “back upon the waters for three days” he was able to reclaim the helm after being loosed and he “did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22, emphasis added).
    Evidently, the Lord wrote upon the Liahona instructions (1 Nephi 16:29) that Nephi followed as he “steered” the ship within the current over which the wind blew his vessel. As they had done on their trek down along the Red Sea after finding the Liahona (1 Nephi 16:10), the instrument guided them “in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16).
    In such a way, then, Nephi was able to guide his ship across the ocean, following the directions of the Lord as they were written upon the Liahona, avoiding currents, flows and vortices that would have negated his progress or direction, as well as submerged reefs, rocks and other hazards, and steer it along the current that the Lord instructed him, avoiding doldrums and benefiting from current and winds that would further his progress, which led him down through the Indian Ocean, into the Southern Ocean and across to the Land of Promise. Thus, while Nephi could not steer his ship anywhere he wanted, he could negotiate the hundreds of miles wide currents and avoid storms, flows, and obstructions to his overall path across the ocean. In this way he “steered” his ship. When he was tied up, and the spirit left them, his brothers “knew not where to steer the ship” and found themselves embroiled in a four-day storm that threatened to capsize them until “they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed” Nephi (1 Nephi 18:20).

No comments:

Post a Comment