Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Capabiity of Ships and Seamen in 600 B.C. – Part I

It may seem redundant to talk about early sailing ships in these posts after so many writings on the subject; however, the Lehi Colony and the Mulekites after them, set sail for the Land of Promise shortly after 600 B.C. Far too many theorists just claim they sailed here or there without any understanding whatsoever of the sailing abilities of the age.

As an example, John L. Sorenson simply wrote that “Lehi and his party launched their vessel into the Indian Ocean from the south coast of the Arabian peninsula. The winds no doubt bore them on the same sea lanes that Arab, Chinese and Portuguese ships used later, touching India and ultimately the Malayan peninsula. From that point Nephi's ship likely threaded through the islands of the western Pacific, then across the open reaches north of the equator to landfall around 14 degrees north Latitude.”

First of all, they launched their ship into the Arabian Sea—and if they went east toward India (blue line on map) as Sorenson claims, they never entered the Indian Ocean until after 2200 miles of sailing. Secondly, the winds did not bear “Arab, Chinese and Portuguese ships used later” to the east along the Indian Ocean. They did bear these ships to the west in the Arabian Sea, especially the Chinese junks and Arab dows that traded along the coastal waters (red line on map). In addition, when they reached southern India, they were in the Laccadive Sea, and when they passed Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) they were in the Bay of Bengal, never actually moving into the Indian Ocean.

These ships, however, were far too fragile to venture into deep waters of the Indian or the Pacific oceans. As for the Portuguese, they found trying to sail such waters toward the east was so difficult, they learned to drop down from south of Africa to the Southern Ocean and sail eastward in the West Wind Drift with the Prevailing Westerlies (blowing out of the West) toward Australia, then take the trade winds northward to India, Indonesia and China—the Spice Islands.

As for the ships of 600 B.C. and clear into the 12th century A.D., some 1800 years after Lehi set sail, a crucial problem with Mediterranean and Arabian Sea coastal ships was their use of outside steering oars. Despite their great size and the ability to sail close hauled, their shallow draft and steering oars gave little resistance to the wind. These ships made a tremendous amount of leeway (drifting with the wind) and could spend several days going nowhere, losing to leeway, what progress they made sailing. A record dated to 1183 by a ship sailing from Sicily reports passing Crete…three times.

Needless to say this lack of a ship’s sailing ability played havoc with navigation, and was downright dangerous in close waters. These close waters were where narrow seas passed between land masses, such as in the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and Sumatra, or the islands around present-day Singapore, or those of the Philippines, etc.

The fact is, that the winds and currents blow toward the west through all of Indonesia, coming off the Pacific, South China Sea, and the Philippine Sea. And, in order to reach the 14º North Latitude in the Pacific, the ship would have to travel north of the Philippines and pass between those islands and Taiwan (Formosa) at about the 20º North Latitude. Crossing the Pacific at that point and dropping down to the 14º North Latitude, would send Lehi’s ship directly into the force of the North Pacific Current moving across the Pacific from the east toward the west in the southern loop of its gyre. This means that Lehi’s ship would have to travel about 10,000 miles directly into opposing winds and currents all across the Pacific. That is something not even the best-trained mariners could do as late as the 17th century—2300 years after Lehi sailed.

(See the next post, “The Capability of Ships and Seamen in 600 B.C. – Part II,” for a further understanding of how impossible would have been Sorenson’s route east from Arabia)

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