Nov 19, 2015

Nephi and the Sindbad Voyage

Yesterday I finished reading the exciting book The Sindbad Voyage. It was written by the
explorer/adventurer Tim Severin and describes his voyage from the country of Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, to China in 1980 using a traditional Arab sailing vessel. He constructed the ship using the ancient sewn plank method and followed ancient historical records in preparing and charting his route. It is a very well written and interesting book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in adventure and sailing, and especially to those interested in a more detailed comparison of Nephi's voyage from Oman to the New World.
The latter topic is what really interested me and I found it very informative. Severin sailed from the city of Muscat, which is on the northeast coast of Oman, while Nephi embarked from the Dhophar region of Oman (probably the mouth of the Wadi Sayk) on the southwest coast, about 500 miles southwest of Muscat. However their voyages must have been relatively parallel at least until they arrived near Borneo. From Borneo Severin turned north to China. Nephi probably sailed around the north tip of Borneo, then turned dead east into the broad Pacific. He would have had to follow this route if he were to connect with the Equatorial Counter Current which begins at about Borneo and flows directly east to Central America. The Counter Current is especially pronounced during periods of the El Nino phenomenon. All other currents in the region of the equator flow west and would have made their voyage impossible.
Severin found that travel eastward from Oman is very seasonal and depends on the monsoon winds to travel east to India. Off the tip of India he ran into a month of becalming doldrums where he made no progress. These doldrums resulted from a seasonal change as the northeast monsoon winds shifted to the southwest monsoons. Once the shift occurred he had no difficulty sailing eastward, through the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Sumatra, and then northward to China. His description of the passage through the strait is informative as Nephi would likely have followed the same route. His description of stopping for supplies and water would probably have been similar to Nephi's as Nephi could not have gone the entire trip without some stops to resupply.
Once he moved out into the Pacific region Severin was in danger of typhoons which normally occur during the period from May through October.  Severin's voyage barely missed a major typhoon which struck three days later. Severin finally arrived in China after a voyage of seven months.
It is likely that Nephi and his party were also exposed to severe weather and the description of such a storm is found in 1 Ne. 18. However, most severe typhoons occur north of the equator between 5 and 25 degrees north latitude so if the Lehites were riding the counter current east after leaving Borneo they would have been out of this danger zone.
All the details, mechanics and routine tasks that Severin describes would have been similar to those things that would have been required for Nephi's party as they traversed the ocean. His story definitely gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the sacrifice and adversity that Nephi's family endured as they crossed the sea. Severin's voyage to China lasted about seven months and Nephi's must have been closer to a year; all this detail condensed into no more than 15 verses in the Book of Mormon. I think I have had my eyes opened to the real experience of Nephi's voyage.

A similar voyage is shown on a Timeline video "When China Ruled the Waves.  This is a reverse
Zheng He (Courtesy Wikipedia)
direction from China to Oman in a modern day Chinese Junk named the Precious Pearl.  Most of it is about the Chinese explorer Zheng He, but the modern voyage is woven into the story.  the url is