The Lehi generally refers to one of six or seven craft launched from California to try to help prove the story from the Book of Mormon about Lehi sailing from the Middle East to Central America. A re-creation of the supposed voyage was never made, and of the four attempts to sail from the Bay Area or southern California to Hawaiʻi for a shakedown cruise, only the fourth succeeded.

Lehi the Prophet

According to the Book of Mormon, Lehi lived in Jerusalem about 600 BC and was the father of Mormon prophet Nephi. Lehi and Nephi led their family from Jerusalem to the “promised land” (the Americas). 1

Lehi I

In 1946, DeVere Baker, a Mormon elder, got the idea from reading the Book of Mormon to try to recreate the voyage. In keeping with the original story, they planned to take no food or water with them, and “live off fish and plankton and water distilled from the sea.” 4,5 They also had no life preservers, and no safety equipment except a whistle for each member of the crew.

The July, 1954 voyage to Hawaiʻi was to be a shakedown cruise. The crew of 5, with skipper DeVere Baker, Arthur Fearon, Judge L. Hawks, J. Keith Pope, and radioman Don Smith were towed from their berth in San Francisco out through the Golden Gate to begin. The tow rope snapped before they were beyond the Farallones as planned. 10 Instead of heading towards Hawaiʻi, the currents and wind took them south. The craft was damaged, and Smith, who’d been a last-minute addition, was seasick and had the flu. After the voice radio failed (within 24 hours of launch), Smith sent out a Morse code message (the rest didn’t know Morse code), which led to the Coast Guard searching for them off the coast of Santa Barbara and subsequent rescue by the banana freighter Metapan. The Coast Guard refused to salvage the ship. 2 The skipper of the Metapan was commended for his skill in the rescue. In heavy seas, he move upwind of the Lehi to help block the wind and waves, and then let the ship slowly drift down until they were alongside the raft. 3

Lehi II

A year later, Baker tried again. This time the primary purpose of the “Lehi Scientific Expeditions” was said to be survival research. 8 The Lehi II was larger than the original, at 42′ long and displacing 15 tons. It had a fuel supply and two outboard motors for maneuvering in harbors. It was berthed at Jack London Square while preparing for the voyage. 11 And this time they took along pemmican and, it turns out, a small amount of water in a fire extinguisher. 13

But the voyage was even less successful than the first. It started with the raft leaving San Francisco without Baker, and according to him, “without weather clearance, without my clearance, and without pumping out some buoyancy tanks.” A sail was lost overboard, and the crew couldn’t handle the other; waves put the outboard motors out of commission; a trailing line got tangled in the rudder and put it out of commission; and the raft listed so badly, the decks were awash. 13

The crew had to be rescued again, this time after only 2½ days, and the Lehi II was abandoned 7. The Coast Guard held an investigation into the incident. 8 Baker vowed to try again. 9

Lehi III #1

During the hearing following the second failure, Ed Torrey, a shipbuilder from Alameda and part owner of the Lehi II told officials about the Lehi III. He said it was a catamaran, not a raft, and was already undergoing sea trials. He expected it would depart in 1 or 2 months. The Coast Guard was not pleased at the prospect of a third rescue. 12 The twin-hull Lehi III had a 45′ mast and 1,000 sq.ft. of sail, and had been built by Torrey. 14 It’s not clear if it ever sailed.

Lehi III #2

In late 1955, Baker was planning for another attempt. 19 But the voyage never really got started, 16 with the Lehi III making it only to southern California, and that by sheltering along the coast at night. 18 Although abbreviated, it was apparently TV-worthy, as ABC aired an episode of “Bold Journey” focused on the voyage in 1957. 20

Lehi IV

Baker tried again in 1958 with another raft of his own design. The Lehi IV was 18′×28′, and had a 20′×20′ sail, along with an outboard motor for maneuvering in harbors. Sailing with Baker were Milt Farney, a photographer; Larry Foglino, a psychologist; Don MacFarland, a student at the University of New Mexico; and Ed Kekaula, a native of Samoa. This time they started by being towed 150 miles offshore from southern California. 16

Finally, 69 days later in September, 1958, Baker succeeded, and the Lehi IV made landfall in Hawaiʻi. Baker’s wife and daughters flew from southern California (where the family now lived) to Oakland and then to Hawaiʻi to join him. Baker busied himself in Hawaiʻi by speaking and raising funds for the real journey from the Middle East to Central America. 15

Lehi V #1

In 1961, Baker was at it again. The Lehi V was 20′ wide and 40′ long, with a 30′ collapsible mast. This time the shakedown cruise was to be out to Santa Catalina Island, and his wife Nola was to be part of the crew of 10. 17 After successful tests, Baker was planning to float around the world over the course of approximately 5 years. 21

Lehi V #2

Although the Lehi IV had succeeded in reaching Hawaiʻi, the aptly named Lehi Torrey decided that perhaps the ship that had carried Lehi and his people from the Persian Gulf was an abandoned Chinese junk. So in 1972 he built a Chinese-style junk in his yard in Alameda, “without power tools except a small drill”. His plan was to sail the Lehi V to Guatemala for a shakedown cruise, and to help search for the fabled city of Tekai, supposedly founded by his name sake Lehi’s people. 6 And that name, Torrey? If it sounds familiar, it is… his full name was Ed Lehi Torrey (1900-1980).

Links and References

  1. Lehi (Book of Mormon prophet) on Wikipedia
  2. Rescued Raft Crew Tells Tale of Sickness, Dissension Oakland Tribune July 16, 1954
  3. Rescue Skipper Displays Skill Oakland Tribune July 16, 1954
  4. Baker Hoped To Prove Theory of Mormons Oakland Tribune July 15, 1954
  5. Raft Crew Rescued, Derelict Ordered Sunk Oakland Tribune July 15, 1954
  6. A Junk for an Epic Trip Oakland Tribune May 1, 1972
  7. All Rescued From Lehi; Drifting Raft Abandoned Oakland Tribune May 2, 1955
  8. Baker at Probe Defends Seaworthiness of Raft Lehi Oakland Tribune May 5, 1955
  9. ’I’ll Do It Yet or Die Trying,’ Says Lehi Boss Oakland Tribune May 2, 1955
  10. Raft ‘Lehi’ Battles Tides This Side of Farallones Oakland Tribune July 10, 1954
  11. Raft Lehi II Berthed Here; Girds For Maiden Voyage Oakland Tribune March 11, 1954
  12. Third Lehi to Attempt Trip, Heading Is Told Oakland Tribune May 11, 1954
  13. Everything Was Fine About the Lehi, Except——! Oakland Tribune May 6, 1955
  14. Lehi Sailor Builds Craft for New Try Oakland Tribune April 15, 1956
  15. Family Will Fly to Join Lehi Skipper Oakland Tribune September 25, 1958
  16. Lehi IV to Start Pacific Trip Today Oakland Tribune July 5, 1958
  17. Lehi Skipper To Try New Voyage Oakland Tribune July 24, 1961
  18. Lehi Skipper Tells of Raft’s Battle With 2 Pacific Storms Oakland Tribune September 22, 1958
  19. Another ‘Lehi’ Raft Planned Oakland Tribune November 23, 1955
  20. Lehi III Will Sail Again On TV Air Waves Tonight Oakland Tribune August 26, 1957
  21. Lehi Skipper Ready To Drift Around World Oakland Tribune August 14, 1961