Saturday, January 25, 2020

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

Continuing from the previous posts regarding 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.
• Sorenson: “The “great calm” in 1 Nephi 18:21 may have been a doldrum”
The doldrums of the Pacific Ocean
Response: This one is rather humorous. First of all, this word does not appear in the singular as “doldrum” as Sorenson uses it. In the singular, it means “dull, sluggish person.” In the sense of the oceans and weather, it is always used in the plural: “doldrums,” and has a very specific meaning of a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and depict the weather prevailing in those area. As for “light baffling winds,” this is a light wind that frequently shifts from one point to another and is generally not strong enough to provide wind sufficient to move a sailing ship.
    Early mariners experienced a lack of winds in these areas around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm, and sometimes when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered ships for days and weeks. The term arose in the 18th century when cross-equator sailing voyages became more common and the doldrums often left their ships idle for long periods with sails flapping, and no prospect of getting fresh water or meat or vegetables any time soon. To any mariner, it was the worst thing that could happen to you at sea other than to be attacked and captured by an enemy.
These doldrums areas are affected by the Intertropical convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. This is most often from these two winds colliding and being forced upward in a vertical manner, leaving the area behind at sea level calm and undisturbed, which for a sailing vessel in the Age of Sail, needing the wind to drive them, was the same as leaving the ship in the middle of the ocean with no way to move until winds again picked up. To the mariner, the low pressure characteristics of the doldrums are caused by the expanding atmosphere due to heating at the equator, which makes the air rise and travel north and south high in the atmosphere, until it subsides again in the horse latitudes, and some of that air returns to the doldrums through the trade winds, leading to light or variable winds and more severe weather, in the form of squalls, thunderstorms, and hurricanes.
    Sorenson talks like this is a momentary thing, since Nephi, remarks that the “storm did cease” after he was loosed by his brothers who had tied him up during the storm. However, this great calm of which Nephi wrote would have been the difference from the tremendous tumult of the storm that lasted for four days and threatened to capsize their ship—now, all of a sudden, the skies were clear, the ocean calm, as the “storm did cease.”
    The next comment shows that he was referring to the sudden quiet and calmness of the previous stormy waters and tumultuous weather during the storm, for he said, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again toward the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:21). Obviously, there was wind about, for his ship was driven by wind and he was able to sail immediately upon taking control of the ship.
• Sorenson: “If Nephi’s vessel continued through the Java and Flores Seas of modern Indonesia, the westerly winds from December to March could have taken it past those areas within the first year of the trip. This route is most likely, although there are other possibilities.”
Yellow Line: the path through Indonesia to reach the west coast of America, turning north through the South China Sea and then into the Philippine Sea and northward past Japan on the Kuroshio Current; Blue Area: the Java Sea and Yellow Area: the Flores Sea, two seas Sorenson wants to take (white dotted line) Lehi through as he states it: “this route is most likely”

Unfortunately, that is not very likely in a ship “driven forth before the wind,” since the wind direction and ocean currents coming off the South Pacific Gyre that blow and flow from the Pacific Ocean through Indonesia and into the Indian Ocean.
Yellow Line: Preferred course, to utilize the northern route to the Western Hemisphere past Japan on the Kuroshio current; White dotted line: Sorenson’s course for Lehi that would take him deeper into Indonesia where there are thousands of small islands hindering navigation and place him along a path to the Western Hemisphere against the Pacific Ocean west flowing currents

Response: One of the problems for people like Sorenson, is when they start drawing lines on maps, they need to know where the winds and currents are located on those maps. As an example, Sorenson talks about the Java and Flores Seas as Lehi passing through, however, that would place him far south of where he would need to cross the Pacific Ocean, and run him right into the South Equatorial Current (or Gyre) which runs from east to west in a counter-clockwise circle, blocking any chance for a ship “driven forth by the wind” to progress against it. In addition, any further north would run him into the southern arm of the North Equatorial Current running clockwise across the Pacific—either way, his only chance of getting across the Pacific is along the northern Kuroshio Current past Japan and across below the Aleutians and down the west coast of North America—a course finally discovered by the Spanish Galleons taking gold and treasure back from the Philippines to Mesoamerica or Mexico.
White dotted line: Sorenson’s path would take Lehi deeper into Indonesia where there are thousands of small islands hindering navigation and place him along a path to the Western Hemisphere against (Blue circle and lines) the Pacific Ocean currents

• Sorenson: “Since boats routinely had to be beached for repairs after storms, or to have their bottoms scraped, or to await favorable winds, it is reasonable to assume that Lehi’s party would have stopped from time to time on their journey through these islands.”
Response: Let’s look at these outrageous ideas one at a time:
• Boats routinely had to be beached for repairs after storms.
    First of all, this is a fallacious statement. Ships were beached for two reasons only: 1) Wreckage below the water line that had to be repaired; and 2) Careening, that is, scraping barnacles and slime off the hull.
    The British Royal Navy, well aware of the importance of removing fouling from the hulls of their men-of-war in the 18th and 19th centuries when “Britannia ruled the waves,” saw many of its captains, like James Cook land his ship Endeavour at a small harbor he found at the mouth of what he named the Endeavour River in Australia on his way around the world so that it could be careened (laid over on its side) and the hull repaired and scraped free of barnacles.
    Cook notes elsewhere in his journal that he was looking for a suitable location to careen the ship with the sole purpose of cleaning the bottom.  It has long been known that fouling on a ship’s hull greatly increases hull friction and slows the vessel down, making it more sluggish and less maneuverable. All ship hulls develop a biofilm or slime layer of weed, barnacles and other fouling on the typical ship hull at the very least, regardless of the bottom paint, covering or material used in construction, and this, combined with rough hull coatings, carries with it a fuel penalty of as much as 20% or more in speed, efficiency and maneuverability of the vessel.
The only answer to removing the slime from the ship’s hull if not in port and have available dry docks, is for careening or “heaving own” a vessel where the ship is grounded at high tide in order to expose one side of its hull for maintenance and repairs below he water line when the tide goes out.
    The problem, of course, is if not done well, the ship can tilt over too far, water rush in over the gunnels and flood the vessel, sinking it, which has been done numerous times in history with very experienced crews.
    A beach favored by ancient mariners for careening was called a “careenage.” It was also possible to do this in deep water, called “Parliamentary heel,” in which the vessel was heeled over in deep water by shifting weight, such as ballast, cargo, or even guns on warships—HMS Royal George was lost in 1782 while undergoing a Parliamentary heel.
    It is not that Sorenson mentions the tactic, for such maneuvers were performed in the early days of sailing before dry docks, far-flung ports, etc. But to expect Lehi’s family to have done such a thing is ludicrous, since an enormous skill coupled with extensive experience is required to careen a ship.
(See the next post, “John L. Sorenson’s Winds and Currents – Part IV,” for more of the erroneous ideas Sorenson has for the sailing of Nephi’s ship, the currents, winds, and course)

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