Sunday, January 26, 2020

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

Continuing from the previous posts regarding John L. Sorenson’s article on the sailing of Nephi’s ship, the currents, winds, and course, and the many erroneous statements made.
•  Sorenson: The closeness of major islands and historical records of other voyaging in the area suggest further that traveling from Java to the Admiralty Islands off the north coast of New Guinea would not have been especially difficult.”
The distance between Java and the Admiralty Islands is about 2770 miles, with hundreds of islands (white circle) along the path Lehi would have had to take (there are 17,508 islands in Indonesia alone

Response: Rambutyo is one of the islands in the Admiralty 18-islands group in the Bismarck Archipelago, today part of the Papua New Guinea. To better understand this group of islands, there are about 40 volcanic and coral islands in the group, and part of Papua New Guinea in the Bismarck Archipelago in a total area of about 1250 square miles, about the same size as Salt Lake County, covered by 40 islands, including numerous volcanic and shoals and unseen, submerged rock ledges. Sailing through an area for untried and inexperienced farmers posing as mariners such as Lehi’s crew would be foolhardy.
    While Sorenson can look at a map and say that would not have been especially difficult, the fact is, with hundreds of islands, far too small to show up on the above map, but hazardous to navigation, even today, would have posed enormous problems for a sailing ship in 600 BC “driven before the wind.”
    For locals of the area, using a double-hulled islander canoe, moving from one island to another is not much of a problem—after all, three or four crew members can pick the raft up and beach it, its small size would allow for maneuvering around reef, shoals, and other rocky approaches; however, sailing a ship large enough to house Lehi’s family, Ishmael’s family, an whatever “household” servants and members there might have been, would be a task impossible for Nephi to have achieved. When you are dependent entirely upon winds, waves and currents to bring your ship to shore for disembarking, replenishing, repairing, etc., we are talking about very experienced maritime crews.
    The idea that Lehi’s crew could have negotiated island-hopping, docking (without docks), disembarking (in only a small boat), etc., is far beyond the ability of people who have never been to sea. It would do well for those who give this no thought at all, like Sorenson and other theorists, to try it. The movies make it simple, but in real life it is very, very difficult, especially sailing near an island in unknown waters where shoals, rock ledges, and other hazards exist.
• Sorenson: “Professor Ben Finney, an authority at the University of Hawaii on Pacific Island voyaging, has recently pointed out how early voyagers could have moved from Melanesia out into the broad Pacific to the east.”
Response: “Could have been done,” is just an opinion. Among (left) Ben Rudolph Finney’s achievements, is his work in Hawaii surfing, in which he earned his M.A. regarding “cultural change.” He reconstructed Polynesian voyaging canoes and sailed to Tahiti, along the lines of Nalehia, a replica of a Hawaiian double canoe that provided the basic information on sailing performance that went into planning Holle’a’s initial voyage to Tahiti, as well as sailing to Aotearoa on the North Island of New Zealand; to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands; and from the Marquesas to Hawaii.
Finney’s voyages in Polynesian double-hulled canoes—Orange: to Marquesas; Lavender: to Tahiti; Yellow: to Rarotonga; and White: to New Zealand (Aotearoa); The Blue dotted circle shows the South Equatorial Gyre or counter-clockwise Current (moving east to west at the top of the circle and west to east at the bottom; Red dotted circle, is the extent to the current, inside the circle the waters are calmer and varied, especially with island groups. Note the lighter blue arrows curving down (the green arrow is Thor Heyerday’s Kon-Tiki course), showing lesser currents breaking off and dropping down from the Corioilis Effect or Force

    The point of the drawing is to show that when moving from Polynesia to Hawaii, or from Hawaii to Polynesia, the craft is moving cross currents, and quite often with the curvature of the currents (north along the eastern upswing of current and south along the downward swing of the current. In addition, it should be noted that these outrigger canoes are not restricted to winds and currents since they are small and are generally paddled with oars, in which case they have no restrictions in wind and current direction.
    Besides it is not particularly difficult to move north and south in the Pacific because of the widespread Gyres and the natural curvature of the currents, clockwise in the north, counter-clockwise in the south. However, despite Finney’s “opinion” to the contrary, moving eastward from Australia is possible only if one drops down into the Southern Ocean along the southern rim of the South Pacific Gyre south equatorial current, which takes the vessel toward South America.
• Sorenson: “Until recently, he notes, scholars have been puzzled about easterly travel by Polynesians across the Pacific, since the normal trade winds would appear to have posed an almost insurmountable barrier to easterly movement.”
Response: There is no question that the currents across the Pacific move in the South Pacific (or North Pacific) Gyre as shown on the drawing above. Nor is there any question that smaller or lesser currents break off or spin off from the Gyre, both within and break down into Polynesia, and on the outer rim, spin off through Indonesia and into the Indian Ocean, making sailing east through Indonesia in a ship “driven forth before the wind” impossible. Sorenson forgets that Nephi’s ship was “pushed forward from winds moving from the rear. He also must not realize that what a small canoe can do a large, ocean going ship cannot.
• Sorenson: “Finney reports that new information about the meteorological phenomenon known on the west coast of South America as El Niño now changes the picture.”
 to shore and boats at sea during an El Nino

Response: Sorenson and Finney act like El Nino is just a benign current change that brings ships toward the Western Hemisphere along a course change not normally in effect. The problem is, they miss the entire concept of El Nino, which is an extremely hazardous and damaging current change that leaves islands, villages, and structures in its path completely demolished. In fact, mariners are warned to seek shelter from the sea when El Nino is running, which brings tropical cyclones, significant flooding, and substantial damages.
    As an example, a newspaper report on a severe El Nino storm front stated: “On October 2, San Diego felt a fury of wind and rain it had not seen before or since. The violence of the wind still increasing…tearing down houses and everything that was in its way. Roofs of houses, trees, fences etc. filled the air in all directions. The streets, alleys and roads…were swept as clean as if a thousand brooms had been laboriously employed for months. The damage to property was considerable; houses were unroofed and blown down, trees uprooted and fences destroyed. It is said to have been the severest gale ever witnessed in San Diego.
    “At least three ships in the bay were damaged, two of them blown onto the beach. The lighthouse keeper at Point Loma feared for his life and left his post. But a U.S. Army hospital steward kept meticulous observations of wind speed and direction, barometric pressure and sky conditions. From this date and other documents, meteorologist Christopher Landsea and researcher Michael Chenoweth deduced in 2004 something that only had been speculated before: San Diego had indeed experienced a hurricane, the only one to hit the West Coast of the U.S. in recorded history.”
Damages due to El Nino range far into the billions with no way to stop or protect oneself from the changes

In another case, 170 people were killed, 600,000 evacuated from their homes, during an El Nino storm that cost $3-billion when flood waters rose over 25 feet (The General Impact of El Nino).
    According to one Pacific Ocean meteorologist based in Kailua, Hawaii, “It is like having the Pacific, and Its overlying atmosphere, on steroids.” During El Niño, there is an obvious increase in tropical cyclones, changes in surface air pressure, a variation in jet stream patterns, decreased wind shear and great risk of hurricanes, strong storms and high winds. Long-time mariners warn that during El Niño to “stay out of harm’s way, and use a weather routing service.”
    All in all, sailing in an El Nino year is both dangerous and often foolhardy. It is wise to carry lots of extra provisions and have a plan “B” by pulling into a very protected port and waiting things out.
(See the next post, “John L. Sorenson’s Winds and Currents – Part V,” for more of the erroneous ideas Sorenson has for the sailing of Nephi’s ship, the currents, winds, and course)

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