Monday, November 11, 2019

The Importance of Winds and Currents on Nephi’s Ship – Part I

Despite all the articles we have written on this subject, and a major focus of the first half of our book Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica, we still get several inquiries regarding the sailing ships involved at the time of Lehi and through to the Age of Sail. Not to repeat information, but to once again address this subject since it is the first important key that Nephi gives us, i.e., how he reached the Land of Promise, which is basically ignored or dealt with very superficially by all theorists regarding the location of the land where Lehi landed, we are addressing this subject once again.
    Since any sailor of today, though he should, may not realize the difference between tacking under today’s knowledge and abilities, tacking, or sailing into the wind, was not first accomplished until sometime after 600 AD, and more likely closer to 1000 AD. This means, of course, that when Nephi tells us how his ship was propelled, states that it was “driven forth before the wind,” which literally means, they were subject to where the wind blew them.
A ship being “driven before the wind”

That is, they had a stationary, square sail, and like all ships long after the time of Lehi sailed this way, we can see its importance for when you are driven before the wind, you can only go where the wind and sea currents take you—you cannot just decide to go somewhere else, nor can you make difficult course maneuvers, such as sailing down the Mallaca Strait in Indonesia, or effect a landing on an island in the Pacific, unless the currents and winds took you right up to the place you needed to go.
    Since we have written about this many times, we will spend this time answering the major questions asked in several letters over the past few months. And that has to do with when tacking was first developed, when modern ships came about, and when was the Age of Sail, and what its importance is to the course Nephi’s ship followed to reach the Western Hemisphere and the Land of Promise.
    First, if by modern ships, a plank built (butted together) ship as opposed to clinker (overlapping) wood vessels is meant, the first clinker ship is not dated until about 350 B.C., and was probably the type used by the Anglo-Saxons to reach Britain though doubtful those had a sail since all ships at the time were driven by oars.
    Ships like the Viking longships, were clinker-built, with overlapping wood planks, and were designed primarily for sailing rivers, fjords and coastal waters, although their knarrs were capable of navigating open seas and even the ocean. Before that (before 8th century B.C.) were the Umiaks (ongluk, anyak), often referred to as a “skin boat,” using walrus or Bearded sealskins stretched, pegged and lashed over driftwood or whalebone frames.
    In fact, skin built ships from keep to waterline were common in the Mediterranean as late as 700 AD, with skin-built and topside partial frame-built ships dating as late as 1020 AD. These ships were built with a large loading door in the side of the ship which, after loading, was sealed and caulked for the journey, but it wasn’t until the 1660s with the Dutch Fluit ships that cargo holds were so water tight that grain could be carried in bulk rather than huge tuns, barrels or even sacks.
    As late as 650 AD, a 90-foot long vessel of intricate design called the “Sutton Hoo” using narrower planks, but it also lacked a mast. While it is uncertain when the sail was first adopted, there is no question that at this early AD period, the sail was secondary to the oar throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and even China.
 Initially steering rudders were over the side on boats, even medium sized ones, and that steering side became known as the “steerboard (starboard), which was on the opposite side of the ship when it docked, thus keeping he rudder from damage, and not being in the way of loading and unloading cargo

In fact, it might be of interest to note that the origins of the words Starboard and Larboard, referring to sides of the ship, resulted from these early ships, which employed a steering oar rather than a stern mounted rudder. These oars were almost universally mounted on the right or “Steerboard” side of the ship. So as not to damage the steering oars, the ship was loaded over the left or “Lading board” side. Thus, we see that 1600 years after Lehi left for the Land of Promise.
    Despite Hollywood movies and romance writers, the first sail is evidenced from about 800 AD, a full 1400 years after Nephi built his sailing ship. By 1000 AD, Viking designs were capable of sailing out of the Baltic and into the Atlantic and to the Mediterranean, though oars were still an important power source.
    The first ship with a sealed deck running the length of the ship, i.e., a deck that kept water from overflowing into the cargo holds below was not introduced until 1400. By this time the stage was set for the great change. Many Crusaders familiar with the northern cog, would travel to the holy land in an Italian lateen rigged ship. In this cultural melting pot, all of the pieces were in place for the first truly full-rigged ocean capable sailing ship, the carrack, which brought but the famed Age of Sail.
    Initially, most all ships, whether or not with oars, had a single mast with a small, square sail. Such a ship of any size sailed with the wind blowing from aft and pushing the vessel forward. However, with the invention of the Lateen (triangular sail), which was one of the biggest jumps in the history of sailing technology, was mounted at an angle and running in a fore-and-aft direction. With a manoeuver called ‘tacking,’ the sail allowed boats to make way to windward in a zig-zagging fashion.
    Though its exact origin is unknown, the lateen sail was the earliest-known fore-and-aft rigged sail and was in use in Greece in the first century BC. It is believed to have been introduced to the Mediterranean region by Arabic or Persian sailors. Polynesians also invented a mastless lateen-rigged sail that is very different in construction from that used in the Mediterranean.
    The importance of the lateen sail is that it allowed sailing in all conditions, and in all directions. Originally these were small coastal boats, holding a handful of people, but the sail effectively allowed for the advent of the Age of Discovery.
    In addition, initially all ships had pole masts, masts made of a single piece of timber; however, around the mid-19th century, vessels were often built of a size requiring masts taller and thicker than could be made from single tree trunks. On these larger vessels, to achieve the required height, mastmakers built their masts from up to four sections (also called masts), known in order of rising height above the decks as the lower, top, topgallant and royal masts. Giving the lower sections sufficient thickness necessitated building them up from separate pieces of wood. Such a section was known as a made mast.
    During this time, masts were developed that could be turned, or more accurately, the yards (holding the canvas) could be turned in order to sail in winds that were not blowing from aft of the ship.
Top: Square sails could be adjusted to catch the wind; Bottom: Different guyed masts could have canvas pointing in different directions. Note the white broken arrow shows that the yard holding the sail could be swung around to catch the wind

“Brace around forward!” was the call, and the yards on the mast were swung around to catch the wind, enabling the ship to travel across the wind and even against the wind by altering the canvas on which the wind catches. This enabled the ship to tack into the wind
    This allowed for tacking, which is a coming about sailing maneuver by which a ship, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction. With the advent of maneuverable mast or yards, large sailing ships were able to sail much further and in more-or-less all directions. 
Top and Bottom Left: Examples of a ship with forward sails on the foremast facing in one direction and the sales on the mainmast and mizzenmast facing a different direction, allowing a ship to make headway into the wind; Bottom: Sails on all masts facing the same direction 

(See the next post, “The Importance of Winds and Currents on Nephi’s Ship – Part II,”  regarding the importance of winds and currents and the history of ships to better understand where Lehi sailed to reach the Land of Promise)

1 comment:

  1. The two comments from North American Theorists that I have heard are that Nephi could sail around the southern tip of Africa and the storm they ran into at the time of the rebellion was at the time of rounding the southern tip.

    I explained to them that both of these points are not credible because Nephi could not tack and the winds and current will turn them back into the Indian Ocean. Also the fact that they were driven back is another problem for them because after the storm was over they were able to continue on. This is not the wind and current conditions of the southern tip.

    Thanks Del, good to review the details of the impossibility of sailing around the southern tip of Africa.