Enduring a 344-day Ocean Voyage
After boarding the eight vessels, the intrepid pilgrims “set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God” (Ether 6:4). It is our opinion that the Jaredite ocean route from Moriancumer on the eastern coast of Asia near mount Shelem (Laoshan) continued eastward across the northern Pacific Ocean to the western coast of North America, somewhere near Baja California. This view is based on our knowledge of the patterns of wind circulation and ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean and the historical geography of the Pacific region.
Once under way, and apparently without delay, the Lord “caused that there should be a furious [extremely angry] wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind” (Ether 6:5). “Many times” the eight vessels were “buried in the depths [dips] of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness [intensity or velocity] of the wind” (Ether 6:6). “Tempests” are circular winds moving at significantly high velocity around low pressure cells—counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere—forming tropical storms and hurricanes. But “when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters” (Ether 6:7).
To the east of mount Shelem (Laoshan) is the Yellow Sea, with its warm Kuroshio (Black) Current, sometimes called the Japan Current. The Kuroshio Current is one of the roughest in the western Pacific Ocean with eddy-like circular movements of the water, counter to the dominant current along the China coast. The brother of Jared called these waters the “raging deep” even before their boats were put to sea (Ether 3:3). The strong Kuroshio Current is analogous to the powerful Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean. The warm waters of the Yellow Sea are a source region for periodic tropical storms and hurricanes (tempests), with typical hurricane speeds of 75 miles per hour or more. According to the Beaufort Scale, an empirical measure for describing wind speeds based on observed sea conditions, the winds associated with tropical storms and hurricanes correlate with ocean waves reaching heights of 30 to 50 feet.
It appears that the winds and ocean currents driving the Jaredite vessels eventually settled down to a more acceptable intensity or velocity, but “the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind” (Ether 6:8). Beyond the Yellow Sea into the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines and Japan, the ocean currents and the wind patterns in the north Pacific follow a clockwise circular motion because of the movement of the earth’s atmospheric circulation around high pressure cells that control the direction of the winds and the water beneath. The westerly trade winds are developed in the mid-latitude segment of this clockwise circulation. Sailing vessels took advantage of these “westerlies” and ocean currents when sailing from the Orient to North America. Beginning in 1565, hundreds of Spanish galleons for nearly three centuries sailed from China and the Spanish-held Philippines, laden with silk cloth, spices, porcelain and other riches from the Orient, to the lucrative North American and European markets. Many of these Manila galleons sailed for some three to four months directly to Baja California ports such as La Paz and later to more northern locations in what is now the state of California.
With the Lord’s guidance and protection, and the favorable winds and ocean currents, the peninsula of Baja California would have provided an eminently reachable destination. Others have sailed this general route. The Jaredites were only one of many. We suggest the family of Lehi and the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites) traveled along this mid-latitude course of the northern Pacific Ocean (see From Jerusalem to Baja California, in our main article, An Approach to the Book of Mormon Geography). In calmer waters the Jaredites “did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord” (Ether 6:9).
The eight vessels “were driven forth” before the wind and “no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar [hinder] them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water” (Ether 6:10). In three sequential verses Moroni emphasizes they were “driven forth” before the wind (Ether 6:8, 10-11). The vessels drifted as they were “driven” by the prevailing westerly winds. Maneuvering and navigation was accomplished by the Lord through the controlling of the winds and the ocean currents, with no need to steer the boats as they drifted without the necessity of rudder control or sails. It is intriguing to ponder how the eight vessels stayed together. Or did they? If they did, were the boats tied together by lengths of strong cord? Were the eight vessels lashed together as a unit? This would solve the multiple landing problem—they could all land together at the same time and at the same place.
The vessels “were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water” (Ether 6:11). This seemingly endless voyage lasted three weeks short of a full year. The distance from Mount Laoshan on the coast of eastern China to northern Baja California, tracking along the circular course of the ocean currents, is some 7,250 miles. This calculates to an average travel rate of 21.1 miles per day or 0.9 miles per hour for the 344-day journey. This rate is much slower than the typical speed of traveling the same route in a sail-driven vessel. The Spanish galleons and others sailed this Pacific Ocean route to Baja California in three to four months, a rate three to four times faster than the Jaredite drifting speed. Clearly, the Jaredite boats were not sailing vessels.
This 7,250-mile route comprises three major ocean currents—the warm and fast-moving Kuroshio (Black) Current in the Yellow Sea to the east of China, the slower North Pacific Current extending across the vast northern Pacific Ocean and the cooler and somewhat faster-moving California Current veering south along the west coast of North America.
We have calculated the average drift speeds of the three ocean currents comprising this 7,250-mile route. The Kuroshio Current has an average ocean drift speed of 1.6 miles per hour along a 1,800-mile sector (producing a drifting time of 47 days); the longer North Pacific Current has an average drift speed of 0.7 per hour along the central 3,650-mile portion (a 217-day drifting time); and the California Current has an average drift speed of 0.9 miles per hour for the last 1,800-mile section (an 83-day drifting time).
These three drift rates, when merged over the full 7,250-mile route, calculate to a total ocean drift time of some 350 days or an average of 0.9 miles per hour (20.7 miles per day). This is a remarkably close match to the calculated drift rate of approximately 0.9 miles per hour (21.1 miles per day) for a 344-day Jaredite voyage over the same route.
We know of no other ocean route—in the Atlantic, Indian or any other ocean—where one could match so closely the required direction and distance of travel, the drifting speed, and the wind circulation, and all to be accomplished without the need for sails and without attempting to drift counter to the prevailing winds and ocean currents, or even sailing without inordinate tacking. Matching these descriptive signposts in the Book of Ether to actual locations on the surface of the earth is a difficult challenge for any proponent of a proposed Book of Mormon geography. But when we add in a land journey starting at the great tower of Babel and extending into an unknown northern quarter, a barge journey across a “sea in the wilderness,” camping by an exceedingly tall coastal mountain (mount Shelem), and reaching a destination point on the west coast of North America—all appearing to match the descriptions in the scriptural text—we find the resulting spatial pattern to be striking.
Updated: Tuesday, 13 July 2010
Geography Jaredites Across the Wilderness Shores of the Sea Crossing the Sea Promised Land
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