Viewpoint of a Master Mariner, Capt. Richard Rotheryh Rtd.
First may I dispel a couple of popular myths ... mariners are not all bad and once you come to understand it, the sea is truly a wonderful place, just no weekends off. We can still renew our covenants, study our scriptures and spread the Gospel. And after two months or so at work at sea we get equal full time at home with the family, not just weekends.
Once we come to know the oceans and their laws just as we need to know any place before venturing therein the sea becomes our friend. Also, the morals of today’s mariners are no different to the shoreside species and, we mariners trust each other so that we never lock our cabins unless we are in port. We learn to beware of shoreside folk. Honour, fidelity, integrity and accountability are strong. My beliefs were always treated
with absolute respect by all on board. Word got around ahead of me so when I was appointed to a ship they knew what to do.
The sea is like the jungle or the desert or outer space. It all works according to law so first you must study it thoroughly and act in harmony with those immutable laws. Having spent around forty years at sea in many types of vessel from a 30 foot yacht racing from Sydney to Noumea, a 150 foot brigantine on voyage from Queensland to South Australia and steel ships from 150 tons up to 120,000 tons on voyages through all sorts of weather including southern ocean storms and North Pacific storms, cyclones and typhoons, in war and peace, rising from a young 17 year old cadet to Master with all the study and experience involved in that progression. My father, two brothers and I all achieved Master certification, lately called a master’s degree in nautical science, and proved ourselves proficient. Unfortunately only I became LDS, however, I feel I am suitably qualified to contribute my views on this subject of trans oceanic migration which
should intrigue and enlighten LDS and all, including those scholars researching this area of science.
After reading the Book of Mormon the first time, 46 years ago, I was impressed with a feeling it was true and by the many statements which immediately cleared up doctrine where my early non-LDS religious education had caused me great apprehension. For example, infant baptism (Mos 3:18), fate of those who die without baptism (D&C 124,127,128,138), alcohol, tobacco, drugs (D&C 89), the fall of Adam (2Nephi 2: 22-25), the plan of salvation (Alma 34: 1-39). Then I came to Ether 6:11 where it says the Jaredites traveled upon the waters for 344 days. My first thought was that it was a mistake. But there are no mistakes in there. This presented me with a challenge. I didn’t understand why the voyage took so long until I realized they were not experienced mariners and had no knowledge of the geographic location of the promised land.
Traveling in enclosed barges like that, they were completely in the hands of the Lord, relying on His care and His promise that he would get them there so long as they continued in faith and prayer. Therefore they must have traveled blind, without sails, upon the prevailing currents, blown along by the wind, while He prevented them from becoming stranded. Then it became obvious to me. Their only route with favourable
currents was from southern Arabia, around India, across the Bay of Bengal, down the Malacca strait, up the China coast past Japan, across the North Pacific and down the west coast to somewhere between southern Mexico and Colombia.Then I calculated the distance (12500 – 13200 miles). Dividing this by the time, 344 days, in hours, gives an average speed of 1.5 – 1.6 knots which, amazingly, just happens to be the average speed of all the prevailing currents that would carry them along to their destination.
The popular theory that ancient migration could only be undertaken over land and that only short sea voyages across relatively enclosed waters or by big ships with sails across oceans was possible is utterly wrong and was pronounced by scholars having no real understanding of the marine environment. Well we’re all scholars aren’t we? Man has always been intrigued by what might possibly lie over the horizon and nothing would stop some curious ones venturing over there to see for themselves, whether that horizon was over land or sea or as today through space beyond the Earths gravity. So he either takes up his pack and walks or rides or builds a suitable means of conveyance across the ocean or through space. The intelligent voyager will study out how to survive on such a voyage.
The master seafarer must study his work environment thoroughly if he wants to survive. A canoe or raft would be alright for a short trip across the river or bay but something more substantial is necessary for a safe sea voyage whether coastal or trans oceanic. A couple of rafts have been lucky enough to just make it across the Atlantic and Pacific. I have seen the Atlantic so smooth one could have paddled across in a bathtub. But the sea has many moods so the seafarer must be prepared for all it may present. He becomes proficient at forecasting and, if necessary, avoiding any dangerously threatening weather. If caught within enclosed waters with a typhoon imminent, as I was on two occasions, he must know exactly how to safely handle the situation. Many a ship has finished up as a tourist attraction on the beach or rocks.
The ancient Arabian, Chinese and Phoenician seafarers used common sense, knowledge, experience and skill to build vessels suitable for transoceanic voyages. The Polynesians used ocean going catamarans. All accumulated a vast knowledge and understanding of ship construction, stability, seamanship, celestial navigation, weather forecasting, seasonal prevailing winds and currents and survival techniques. Longitudinal
and transverse strength, shape, watertight integrity and distribution of weights within the vessel make a big difference to the overall seagoing integrity of that vessel. Ignorance, incompetence or carelessness can be fatal as has been proved by many disasters, most particularly of flag of convenience vessels employing sub standard officers and equipment. However, in these cases, the Lord needed to get these three migrations
successfully to the Promised Land even though they had no experience. He designed Nephi’s ship not after the manner of men (1Nephi 18:2) and provided them with rudder and compass with which to steer under His continuous instruction. The Jaredites barges, being much smaller, were designed after the manner of barges which they had hitherto built ( Ether 2:16), except to be tight like a dish… like the ark (Ether 6:7), like fowl upon the water (Ether 2:16), to withstand the heavy seas and to have a hole in top and a hole in bottom (Ether 2:20). These latter features are extremely important. Archeologists have discovered many artifacts on all continents indicating ancient migration from other places
throughout the world. The so called land bridge theory dreamed up by someone inexperienced in the maritime scene was not necessary, though obviously used by local tribes for local migration etc. The easiest and most effective means of travel between continents was by sea in ocean going vessels specifically designed for that purpose with all the strength, stability, comfort and means of sustenance necessary. The oceans are full of life sustaining food (or were) and their attitudes are very predictable in accordance with natural law. No problem to the thoroughly experienced mariner. They are continually rotating as prevailing currents moved upon by prevailing winds of a rotating Earth in accordance with those same laws. Thor Heyerdahl called them conveyors. When making way, rudders can help move the vessel in required directions guided by geographical knowledge and a magnetic compass which was invented eons ago by the Chinese. In this unusual case with inexperienced people cloth sails are out (too dangerous), but secure upper works forward can provide adequate windage for this peculiar purpose. They traveled with the wind and currents, not against them. Rain showers provide water and the variety of seafood fare obtained through the hole in the bottom can be nourishing and delicious. By dropping into bays along the way to gather food from ashore the available cuisine would certainly not be boring. Local geographic knowledge was available to the ancients, but nothing beyond that except by those who had already gained it from extended voyages of exploration and trade.
Today the qualified and experienced mariner must be conversant with all the laws of celestial and coastal navigation, ship construction, ship stability, meteorology, oceanography, seamanship, hazardous cargoes, international maritime law, psychology, medicine, first aid and includes engineering, hydraulics, electricity, magnetism, fire fighting, survival, computerized navigation, chartwork, radio communications,
calculations involved with limitation of longitudinal stress, safe secure cargo stowage and weight distribution. Once at sea, the safest place to be is away from the coast and associated rocks, shoals and reefs though not too far out or we will miss the main current. About 5-50
miles off is usually best for N-S coasting, though the currents still exist, but weaker right out to the center. Crossing the ocean west to east is best in high latitudes or east to west at the equator in accordance with natural laws of wind and current. Of course in the normal commercial sense one lays a great circle course. The El Nino is unreliable and spasmodic. Latitude can be determined by calculation after observing the altitude of known celestial bodies at their zenith. If employing sails for propulsion the mariner must be well versed in handling
them at all times and especially when severe weather is threatening, particularly at night. Sails remaining set at the onset of a line squall or similar sudden and severe weather can spell disaster. Experience is a wonderful teacher!
I have designed a barge approximately the length of a tree, say 70-100 ft, (In Australia we have some trees 300ft tall), though normally the length is not necessarily determined by the length of available trees, beam 20 ft, depth 10-12 ft with cabins for up to ten people, space aft for animals together with food for all and built in side tanks to carry about 10,000 gallons of water or more, which can be replenished by rain falling on the deck and run down stoppable holes in the scuppers. The weight of water in these side tanks ensures a most comfortable movement of the vessel in the seaway. Holes (or hatches) in the top, fore and aft, for ventilation and a hole or well in the bottom with sides up above sea level for disposal of waste and through which fish can be caught. Sails, oars and anchors can be lashed down on deck until required for entering port. A rudder is provided to use when traveling above the speed of the drift which is around 1.5 knots average. A hatch aft would be for expulsion of stale air after being scooped in through the forward hatch by that wooden upperworks. Decks would have camber to each side to shed water and upward sheer forward and aft for protection from following seas by the added buoyancy in those areas. A stern door for loading animals can be plugged with heavy planks and wedged tight. It is important to keep the stern pointing up to the following seas to avoid broaching. This is done by trimming the vessel to sit about 18 inches to 2 feet down by the stern. This also ensures good drainage of bilge waters aft to where they can be disposed of down the well with buckets. Draft about 1ft forward and about 3ft aft. This can also be achieved by towing a wicker drogue or sea anchor on a bight of rope from the stern. Average speed over the ground would still be about 1.5 – 1.7 knots. Occupants must avoid boredom by being assigned daily duties attending to hygiene, sustenance and physical exercise and never forgetting to engage in humble daily prayer calling upon the Lord with thanks for his guidance and care. Being the greatest of Master shipwrights and
Master mariners he will ensure that his favoured people will arrive safely under those conditions. The barge size could be enlarged or reduced according to need (the length of the trees?); but the design and weight distribution would enable people to migrate across oceans in relative comfort and safety. I am certain the Lord’s specifications would be perfectly suited to provide this. Safety rails should be provided on deck for those wishing to go up there but there is no turning back if you fall overboard. If the drogue is streamed way astern they could swim over to the rope.
Being the first migration, the Jaredites were required to take flocks of animals with them. For this reason they built eight separate barges. The Lehi/Nephites would find animals already there so only people with relatively few animals for food traveled on
their one vessel. There is no indication of how the Mulekites traveled, but I would assume they all built craft suited to their group requirements under the direction of the same Master shipwright and probably even used the same route as they were all under the
instructions and command of the same Master mariner. Passage from the Gulf of Arabia where, probably, Jaredites, (Mulekites?) and
Lehi/Nephites embarked to the Americas would have to commence about September as the local surface currents would then be in their favour. As described earlier the voyage would be eastward following the prevailing winds and currents of the northern hemisphere. There is no other practical route for those inexperienced migrations. Ether 2: 6, 7, 8.. Some say they built barges to cross many lakes. Can you then imagine them carrying the barges between lakes or building barges at every lake? No, I’m sure these three verses cover the entire migration from Babel to the Promised Land. Verse 6 says they did travel in the wilderness. (that’s not only land but water wilderness) They built barges in which they crossed many waters. ( Yes, the Arabian Gulf, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca strait, the China sea and the North Pacific ocean. That’s many
waters! Verse 7. The Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness. Of course after crossing the Bay of Bengal they would probably stop off at some place on the Sumatra shore or Malaysia shore. Very nice place but not where he wanted them to live. Maybe Taiwan. Again, not there. Maybe Japan. Not there. No, it’s pretty obvious to me that after 344 days ‘upon the water’ between stopovers they would be in Mesoamerica where he wanted them to live. And maybe in the ideal climate of the city of Nephi which has been suggested as being sited in a fertile valley 4000 ft above sea level (continuous spring weather) with adequate water and currently named Guatemala City?.
I could not imagine an uneducated farm boy knowing all about the ocean currents and winds of the world or even guessing ‘344 days’ correctly. So here we have just another of hundreds of reasons why the B of M is truly revelation and the Church is therefore truth…logically. If, after reading the B of M and implementing the exhortation of Moroni as found in Moroni 10: 3-5, you have a strong comfortable feeling within, then you do have the added spiritual confirmation provided by the Holy Spirit. That basic testimony can then be enlarged upon through many events transpiring throughout life just as mine has been. Before I conclude, I would even suggest that the same Lord and Master shipwright would
have designed the much larger ark of Noah. Having to carry many more animals, the humans could be located on the upper deck with all the animals below. The design would probably include several decks connected by ramps and entry via a side door which is safe in the larger vessel, and could slide sideways to open and shut and then be wedged tight to be watertight. The stern of the barges would be square above the rudder for the stern door and peaked at the top bulwarks. The barges would be moored stern to the shore to ensure most of the vessel remains afloat at low tide for boarding and floats at high tide. The ark was loaded on dry land. All this would provide the optimum of comfort and
convenience under the circumstances. Beats the old land bridge idea.
Some helpful web sites are as follows… www.nephiproject.com, www.ancientamerica.org , www.greatdreams.com/thor.htm (Thor Heyerdahl ). Another non LDS and non related but interesting site are the Chinese characters relationship to Genesis in the bible is
http://www.wordofloveforyou.com/DiscoveryGenesis.pdf So here we have logical proof of Genesis and the ark. It’s not just a ‘fairy story’. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are scripture and both testify of Jesus Christ.