Thursday, January 23, 2020

John L. Sorenson’s Winds and Currents – Part I

We have been asked from time to time to evaluate John L. Sorenson’s “Winds and Currents: a Look at Nephi’s Ocean Crossing,” which is without a doubt not only contrary from ours, but filled with inaccurate information that tends to permeate much of his writing and also carry over fallacies that have in times past made their way into the American conscience totally in error.
    As an example, he starts out with several inaccurate statements:
• Sorenson: “If one were to sail from the southern coast of Arabia across the Indian Ocean and then across the Pacific to Central America (which seems to have been Lehi’s most likely route), what combination of winds, currents, times, and distances would make the voyage feasible under the normally prevailing conditions?”
Response: There are no combinations of winds and currents that would allow a ship, “driven forth before the wind,” that is, subject solely to the wind behind its sails pushing the ship forward as Nephi twice described his vessel (1 Nephi 18:8,9). In this case, despite the winds and currents available on any map, Sorenson holds to the belief he first wrote about in 1985 that winds and currents favored the trade voyages of ancient dhows.
    First of all, ancient dhows were very small, single sail ships, in some case not much larger than a rowboat or skiff, with no more than a three-man crew. These vessels were frail, long, thin hulled, flat-bottomed, designs meant only for rivers and coastal waters. Initially they were designed and built to carry small trade goods, such as fruit, fresh water and merchandise along the costs of eastern Arabia, East Africa, Yemen and some parts of South Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh).
The ancient Sea Route connected with the Old Silk Road; the sea route is in blue and as can be seen, it hugged the coast and did not sail out into deep water; the colored lines are the various branches of the Silk Road; the Yellow Lines are the wind and sea currents coming off the Equatorial and South Pacific Ocean that passes through Indonesia from east to west all year long

They did not sail out of sight of land—not just because of navigation problems, but because they had no reason to—they made frequent stops along the coast for trade, and did not sail into any deep oceans. Nor was it possible to sail these vessels into Indonesia other than along a coast and then fighting the opposing currents all the way. In fact, the early trade routes that Sorenson cites that these ships followed were nothing more than moving along a coast from one settlement to another, setting in at night, and sailing only with favorable winds, which limited their sailing to the coasts in the Sea of Arabia.
    Later, larger dhows were built, with more sturdy hulls and bigger sails, that carried crews of up to 12 that enabled them to sail a little into the wind and were able to negotiate the coasts of India and into the Bay of Bengal. Larger ships were eventually built that carried crews of up to 30, were built for the “deep sea” and were called “Mule” and “Cow” to give you an idea of their lack of speed and maneuverability compared to the smaller, original vessels.
• Sorenson: “Navigation on the Indian Ocean remained in many ways the same from very early times until the development of steamships.”
Response: When Sorenson states “from very early times” it sounds like he is including the time of Lehi and what mariners were able to do then. However, his “from very early times” such sailing away from the coasts did not occur until the Roman period, and for the most part, later than that.
The Ballinger ship of the 12th through 16th centuries, a small, sea-going vessel. It was swift and performed well under both sail and oars. The ships were used in the conquest of Anglesey (an island off the coast of Wales) in 1282 and were still in use in the 15th and 16th centuries. They were distinguished by their lack of a forecastle, and by carrying either a square sail, or a sail extended on a sprit on a single mast

As an example, until the 15th century, Europeans were limited to coastal navigation using the barge or the Balinger (Barinel), ancient cargo vessels of the Mediterranean Sea with a capacity of around 50 to 200 tons. These boats were generally used for coastal sailing, were fragile, with only one mast with a fixed square sail that could not overcome the navigational difficulties of southward oceanic exploration, as the strong winds, shoals, and strong ocean currents easily overwhelmed their abilities.
    According to the experts (such as Dan Gibson, author of Qur’anic Geography; C. Anderson, the Sailing Ship; R. LeBaron Bowen, The Dhow Sailor; Robert Gardiner, The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats into Ships; etc.) who have spent their careers searching out records, pictures, drawings, etc., of ancient ships and their sails, we find that a square rig (square sail) could close haul, or sail into the wind at an angle of 67½-degrees (6 points of the wind) during Roman times (last century B.C. and first century A.D.) With the help of some fore-and-aft lateen (mizzen) sails as used on European sailing ships from the 15th century to the 19th century allows a 56 1/4 (5 points of the wind) reach or sailing toward the wind, to be obtained.
In close hauling, [tacking] into the wind, different type ships, hull arrangements, and sail rigging, determines how close to the wind they can sail in tacking, which is a process of zigzagging forward “into the wind”—the points shown is for “Point of Sail,” i.e., a term describing a sailing boat’s orientation in relation to the wind direction—the higher number, the closer into the wind the vessel is sailing

An Arab lateen rig gives the same angle when close-hauled but since a greater area of sail catches the wind, it sails more swiftly and efficiently. A well-designed Arab lateen could come within 4 points of the wind. Finally, we have found that the most efficient design of sail for utilizing a head wind is the complete fore-and-aft rig of a modern yacht, which allows it to come within 4 points of the wind and sometimes can achieve 3 points of the wind.
    It should be noted that in sailing a small dhow, like rowing a rowboat, it was highly maneuverable in comparison to a regular ship. Discarding those tiny dhows, mariners moved into the period of time when deep-sea ocean vessels were being constructed with large, square sails, and rudders. They were ot initially built to sail into the wind, but to use the new knowledge of ocean currents and wind directions to achieve their destinations. Consequently, ships of the era were often stuck in harbors waiting for the wind to change so they could set sail.
    As an example, the methods of sailing an ancient dhow must have been much like those today, since the rig was much the same. In sailing with the wind the Arab lateen functions exactly as a square sail. When steering a course into the wind, the dhow would prefer to ear around, that is, to change tacks by going round stern to wind.
Tacking into the wind vs. Wearing around the wind

Tacking involves bringing the bow around into the wind, and since Arab vessels were built with small rudders it was difficult or impossible to bring the bow across the wind, if the wind was strong. Wearing around means losing way, but it is easier, to wear is to take the line of less resistance. When wearing, as when tacking, the yard must be transferred to the other side of the mast; but when wearing the wind aids this maneuver, whereas when tacking the wind tends to hinder it.
    To do this, obviously, the sail must be moveable upon the mast and the yard must be moveable upon the mast, so that it can be moved from side to side. However, not until the time of sail (1400 to 1900 A.D.), did square-rigged ships such as the caravels use lateen sails (Columbus pulled into the Canary Islands and had the lateen-rigged Niña refitted with square sails for the deep ocean sailing).
• Sorenson: “across the Pacific to Central America (which seems to have been Lehi’s most likely route)”
Response: Granted, John L. Sorenson is a Mesoamericanist, in fact, he is considered the guru of Book of Mormon geography, taught it as the dean of the archaeology/anthropology school at the BYU for many years (now is emeritus), and that he would promote that view every chance he gets, but the fact is, when describing what the scriptures tell us, there has to be more than just a belief—scientific facts need to at least support the idea and science in this case—oceanography—does not support a Pacific crossing through Indonesia and island-hopping across to central America. Far from it.
(See the next post, “John L. Sorenson’s Winds and Currents – Part II,” for more reasons why Sorenson’s views on this matter in his work “Winds and Currents: A Look at Nephi's Ocean Crossing,“ which we have been asked to evaluate, are far from the scriptural description and the scientific facts)

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