We’re continuing our discussion about the Phoenicia Ship. Mike & Betty LaFontaine were instrumental in purchasing the ship and shipping it back to Iowa for re-construction. We’ll learn more about how they did that, what they did when the ship sank, and more! Mike & Betty are both Native Americans, and Betty will share her experience in the Indian Placement Program as a young girl. Check out our conversation…

Indian Placement Program

GT  02:53  (Chuckling) You were trapped in Utah. I wasn’t going to talk about the Indian Placement Program. But since you mentioned it, was that a good experience for you?

Betty  03:04  It was for me. It was an awesome experience. It was almost like a life-saving experience, actually.

GT  03:10  Oh, really?

Betty  03:10  Yeah. Because I came from a poverty-stricken home. And with the different dysfunction in the people, in families and alcoholism and whatnot. My mom wanted a better life for us. And they couldn’t provide for us that were there. There were, like, eight to nine of us, at one time 11. But yeah, and she was very strong in the gospel. And she really wanted a better life for us. And she couldn’t offer that for us. And that’s why we went. But I’m thankful, truly thankful for it, because it was a testimony-building experience, one that I can’t ever forget and put behind in my life because it was a great experience for me.

GT  04:04  Because I’ve heard some people have good experiences, some people don’t. Can you identify with those that don’t have a good experience?

Betty  04:13  Kind of, because the traditional culture of the Navajo people is very strong. And it’s very family oriented. And when you leave your family, you kind of almost look like you’re deserting your family. But I didn’t look at it that way. The cultural differences, the traditions, and the way of life was much different than this mainstream society that we live in now. And some of the kids could not adapt to it. And I don’t know, but I did. I was blessed to adapt right into the family unit, and I just loved it. I feel like it’s, I mean, literally, I feel like it saved my life to where I am today. I have a successful family. It’s not perfect, but I have an eternal family. I have an eternal family and it’s gospel centered. And that’s always been an important part of my life, and a very important part to my mom, because she came from a very traditional upbringing, with the medicine man and so forth. And she changed her life to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. And she was very strong in her belief. She, actually, it’s almost like breaking the chain. You’re not really away from the people, but your belief system is different. But, yet I can’t explain it. Yet, it’s the same, because we all pray to the same God, the Great Spirit. So even before she was introduced to the Church, she had that. And we had that. Prayer was a very important part of our lives, everyday lives, three times a day prayer. And it was a very special part, and we knew who our creator was. And we were always strong in that belief. And we believe that we came from the east direction and those kinds of things. So, it was very family oriented, our family, on the reservation. It was very family oriented, and we’re a matriarchal society.

GT  06:18  So, was that tough adapting to? Because LDS are very patriarchal.

Betty  06:23  No, no, I didn’t really look at it that way, because I respected the priesthood. And I knew, not necessarily where my place was, but I knew there that God set up everything. It goes right straight to him. He’s a priesthood holder. He’s the hierarchy and we go, and we respect him. I don’t know how to explain it. But it’s just a reverence I have for the priesthood. And I had no issues with that at all.

Is Book of Mormon history of Navajo People?

GT  07:57  So, is the Book of Mormon a history of the Navajo people, would you say?

Betty  08:02  The Book of Mormon is a history of the Lamanites that live here in North America.

GT  08:06  Would you consider yourself a Lamanite?

Betty  08:08  Oh, yes.

Mike  08:09  Yes, we do.

Betty  08:09  We do. I consider myself a Lamanite. I knew I was a Lamanite after reading the Book of Mormon. I could identify with the stories. And that’s where my mom saw us as Lamanites of that book, and that Lehi is our father. He is our ancestor. And he brought our people here to North America. And with this east direction thing, which we pray every day as the sun rises, to the east direction, to give honor and prayers to our Creator. And that’s done in the east direction because he came and left in the east direction. And he’s going to be coming back again, in the east direction, is what we believe. So that’s the respect and reverence that we have for him is that story of the East.

Hopewell Evidence

Mike  19:31 So, we’ve just been every time, going with the group, on our own, pretty much on our own dime, because we believe finding out ancient things about our ancestors, which was which was amazing, seeing the Hebrew influence in ancient American Indians. You talk to these people who are not even members, archaeologists and cultural people. “Do you see a Hebrew influence here?”

“Yes, it is everywhere here, in the buildings, the old mounds, the earthworks, their culture. It’s still here.”

“Well how did it get here?”

“I don’t know how it got here. I don’t know why it’s here.”

Betty  20:16  There are so many people that don’t have a clue of all this archaeological history that’s along the Mississippi, some south from Florida all up and down to the river, the great river, Ohio and some of it dating back to the Jaredite time and 600 BC, I mean, it’s just unbelievable.

Mike  20:39  We just visited Shell Mound in…

Betty  20:42  Cedar Key.

Mike  20:43  Cedar Key, Florida, dated 565…

GT  20:48  Is this a Hopewell mound?

Mike  20:49  Now, this would be yeah, yeah it would be Hopewell. It would be early and then there’s Apalachicola, we went there to a mountain called Pierce Mounds, 600 BC, privately owned. You can walk around and pick up pottery off the ground. It could be Nephi’s porridge bowl. [There are] Dent mounds at the mouth of the St. Johns River, a huge river that flows north through Florida, 600 B.C. [There’s] 600 B.C. all over the southeast.

The Boat Sinks

Mike  27:27  Yeah, one day. John Lefgren calls me up, he says, “Hey, Mike, I’ve seen you on this boat with some guy.” He says, “What can you tell me about this?” 

Mike  27:35  I go, “Oh, that’s Phillip Beale, that’s the Phoenicia.”

Mike  27:38  He goes, “Well, what’s going on with that?” And previously, I’ve been making trips down there to secure it and make sure it was well secured during storms or the summertime.

Mike  27:51  And I said, “I don’t know what’s going on with that.” So, I called Phillip, but come to find out, there was a hurricane that passed through there. It didn’t hit them directly because I went down and tied it up good. I didn’t put tarps on it. I probably should have put tarps on it. But one thing we didn’t plan for was electricity going out. So, when electricity goes out, so what? It’s a boat. Well, the boat has a sump pump. And the sump pump wasn’t working. So, between the sump pump not working and the torrential rains, she sunk to the bottom of the canal, which is only about eight feet. But it was enough to destroy the diesel engine that was in there. Because after the electricity came on, she came back up out of the water, you could not tell that she sunk.

GT  28:37  Oh, okay.

Mike  28:38  But, when they went down to start the engines, it was a hydrostatic lock on that diesel engine and it just popped the starter right off, filled the engine, because the engine was in the water.

GT  28:50  And you just used the diesel engine to get in and out of port, right?

Mike  28:53  In and out of port is very, very important. So, at that point in time, he…

GT  28:56  Because it doesn’t steer very well.

Mike  28:58  Yeah.

GT  28:58  And he needed the engine to steer it into…

Mike  29:00  It’s got a brass propeller. It’s got a rudder underneath there did that, you know, so it does quite well. Slow, you know, very slow, but steady steering the ship.

GT  29:11  But that was never used during the trip. It was just going to get him out of port.

Mike  29:15  Yeah, getting out of port.

COVID Makes Purchase Possible

Mike  29:19  So at that time, John said, “What’s going on with that?” So, I called Phillip and asked him what was going on?

Mike  29:23  He says, “Well, I have it in an a yacht club yard and we’re cutting it up and I’m shipping it back to United Kingdom.” Because prior to that, there was a number of museums and other people who were wanting to purchase it.

GT  29:40  Because, now let we make sure. When he landed in Miami, it was like February, right before COVID hit. Right?

Mike  29:49  Yes, and then we took it up to Fort Lauderdale. And you were hearing more and more about it. And then it just broke out. And it sat there for two years.

GT  30:00  COVID did yeah.

Mike  30:01  Yeah, and originally we wanted to purchase it. But we could not contend with these other museums and these other collectors. I mean, the price was out of our range. But COVID was a blessing for us. So, I called him and I said, “Is it for sale?”

Mike  30:20  And he said, “Yes, it’s for sale.”

Mike  30:22  I said, “That’s awesome.” And he named a price, which I thought was awesome, too. He already had one container in England. And half of it was still here and John, he’s ready to jump on a plane to go to England and talk to Phillip. I said, “Well, I think we can do this by Zoom.”

GT  30:43  (Chuckling)

Betty  30:45  Save a few bucks.

Mike  31:11  She came in and threw down some numbers and saying, “We will personally help, ourselves.” But it was pretty much John, and the Heartland Research Group are the owners of it. It’s a nonprofit organization and we are so happy to have it. The other container got shipped to Iowa, or not Iowa–yeah, Iowa, Montrose, Iowa.

GT  31:37  So, these are those big shipping containers. Do those just fit on a, like, a diesel truck, and, basically, you drove it across land?

Mike  31:44  Yeah, we had it shipped from Fort Lauderdale to Iowa. And then we, fortunately, found a 65-foot by 65-foot building with 20-foot ceilings to put it in. There were a number of miracles that happened, just within 30 days of purchasing that ship for us to acquire it and get it there. And even now putting it together at the, I call it the Phoenicia workshop. If you Google Earth it, it’s the Phoenicia Ship Museum.

Betty  32:21  In Montrose, Iowa, across the Mississippi from Nauvoo. If you walk out of our building, you look to the left. You can see the Nauvoo Temple, right there across the river. It’s amazing.

Originally scheduled for a museum in England, the COVID pandemic changed things. Ship Captain Philip Beale had the Phoenicia ship cut into pieces. Half of it was returned to England, while the other half was sent to Iowa for reassembly. The problem was, there were no instructions on how to re-assemble the ship!  Enter Mike Stahlman. He’s a bit of a modern-day Nephi as he has to rebuild a replica Phoenicia ship as it would have appeared when Philip Beale sailed it from the Middle East to Florida. Mike tells more about a real-life 3-dimensional puzzle. Check out our conversation….

Rebuilding Nephi’s Ship

GT  11:23  And so, now you got a ship that’s been cut into pieces, and you have to put it back together.

Mike  11:28  Right. The second half of the ship arrived first. So, we have the back half of the ship. And it arrived in Montrose, in a container, on a snowy night, when we really didn’t have any way to unload it and nowhere to put it. But, before that day was over, John had found a building, rented a building and a big crane appeared out of nowhere, literally. And we got it unloaded and got the container sitting right in front of that building, which then, was subsequently unloaded put it into building. And it was just a giant, like, a box of Legos dumped out on the ground. And so, we started sorting them out and trying to make sense of what we had and trying to decipher what the numbers on them might mean. And by taking a very close examination of the individual boards, we could discern, well, the grain pattern on this board continues across onto the grain pattern on that board. So, these two must have been together. So, taking that little bit of information, we extrapolated on what the numbers might mean. And so, we were able to get them figured out and sorted and then, our first job was to take the keel, which wasn’t numbered, but the keel, itself, was cut into sections.  But we could examine the cut and the angle that was slightly off and find the piece that matched it and get them lined out and figure out how we could rejoin them in a way that would be structurally sound. And so, once we got to the keel laid, then we could start it to one end and figure out which piece went first. And once we got that in, then, it really started to take off after. Then we were able to sort out each piece and we now know exactly where each piece goes, in what sequence, in what row. So, we started putting it together. And we have–we’re one panel shy of having half the panels that we have in our possession, now, reassembled. So, there’s other work besides just putting the hull together. But as far as the hull, itself, we have half the keel assembled, and about 1/4 of the total hull.

GT  13:56  The keel is the bottom of the boat, for those of us who aren’t shipbuilders. Is that right?

Mike  14:00  True. The keel is the bottom backbone of the boat. The Phoenicia doesn’t have a keel board that extends down for stability. It’s basically a flat bottom boat, but the timbers on the side are about six and a half inches wide or so, two inches thick. The keel is about the size of a railroad tie if you can picture what that would be. And the first planks attach to the keel and then it comes up like this. So, the keel is a very solid piece of timber on the bottom, very hard. But it’s not a tremendously deep keel. It’s actually a shallow draft flat bottom boat, which makes the boat able to rock side to side quite a bit when it’s in the open ocean. So, if a person is prone to seasickness, they probably wouldn’t want to be on that boat. It’s very, very strong, very sturdy, but it does have a tendency to rock a little bit more than you’d probably like.

GT  15:12  Well, very good. All right. So, your main job is has been to, I mean, this is kind of a three dimensional puzzle, right?

Mike  15:19  Yes.

Is Restored Ship Seaworthy?

Mike  21:32  It’s not planned to ever put it back in the water. But structurally, it would be sound enough to sail. We’ve made no efforts to waterproof it. But theoretically, it could be waterproofed and could be put back on the ocean. Structurally, it’d be capable of it. It would just be a matter of making sure it was all sealed up. We’d have to caulk the joints and the simplest way would just be to put a fiberglass mat and resin over the outside.

GT  22:03  Although, I don’t think the Phoenicians had fiberglass back then. Did they? (Chuckling)

Mike  22:06  Right. They didn’t build their boats out of little pieces like Legos, either. So, they didn’t have the issue of, not only the horizontal joints leaking, but the vertical joints, where it was cut. That’s the real problem.

GT  22:22  Right. I did notice in there. You guys are using a lot of modern tools and modern techniques. But I guess the original ship, did they use power tools and that sort of thing to build it? Do you know?

Mike  22:36  Well, it’s as far as we know, they didn’t. There’s a lot of people with fringe theories about what technology they may or may not have had. But it’s simply a matter of methods and not design. We have to make a hole. They’d have drilled the holes by hand. We have the advantage, instead of having to hand turn the drill, we just turn the drill with an electric motor. But we’re doing the same thing. We are simply making a hole inside of the plank. And the tenons, they probably made with draw knives, where we’ll run them through the table saw and round them over with a belt sander. But it’s the exact same tenon and they would have just done everything with hand tools. It would have taken them longer. But we’re not doing anything differently, as far as design. We’re just using the advantage of electrical power to turn our bits and our saws where they would have done everything by hand.

GT  23:40  Because one of the things that I think I heard in one of the videos, they believe the Phoenicians used nails, which was a brand new technology for them. Are you using modern nails or are they trying to be Phoenician nails?

Mike  23:54  Well, we’ve had some iron, hand wrought nails made. They’re identical to the nails they used. But the ribs are still attached to the planks. So, we don’t have to put that–when they cut the hull into sections, the rib section with each corresponding panel, for the most part, remained in place. So, they’re already attached. We’re using quite a few screws, instead of nails.

GT  24:37  Because those will hold it tighter, basically, stronger?

Mike  24:42  It’ll be stronger than the grip that the deal had. There will be less movement and be less slippage. We’re trying to remain as authentic as possible. Yet, it doesn’t need used to be 100% authentic, as far as the methods that are used to put it back together. It’s the original boards. It’s the original pieces of wood that made the voyage. So, whenever we add a screw here and there to tighten things up or to draw things together, it’s considered an upgrade.

Restoring the Phoenicia

Mike  25:32  Well, it’s not quite as glamorous as it sounds is. There’s a lot of time-consuming dirty work, cleaning the panels up. There’s dirt and stains and years on the ocean have left the pieces… On the outside of the panels, that were covered with an anti-fouling compound to keep the barnacles from attaching, but, more importantly, to keep the ship worms from eating the wood. When you put a wood ship in the ocean, the first thing happens is there’s these worms.  The tiny larva of these worms are floating around in the water and they attach to any piece of wood and they burrow in there and they want to make a home. So, they put this coating on a wood ship to prevent that. Well, as you pointed out, the Phoenicians did things a little differently than we do nowadays. So, in order to restore the boat and get it back more to what it would have been if it actually had been built 600 BC, we’re removing the antifouling compound. I’m just going to take it down to the bare wood. And that is some pretty tough stuff. It’s got copper in it. It’s got epoxy in it. It doesn’t just come off with paint stripper. We use heat and scrapers and manual labor. And then once it’s off, there’s still residue, so there’s sanding involved. And on the inside, basically, we just power wash it and that power washing does pretty good job taking it down to the bare wood on the inside. So, it’s about 40 hours’ worth of labor to get one section ready. So, that’s where volunteers are very helpful. There are a lot of people coming up volunteering and they help clean the panels. To take one panel and attach it to the ship, only takes about an hour for the initial attachment. And then that’s followed up with, maybe, another hour of actually securing it and restoring the structural integrity of that piece against the next one. So, most of the time is in prep work. And we have been moving the pieces around inside the shop. It’s kind of heavy.

GT  27:59  Yes, I bet. So, the hull is basically almost done right now. Is that correct?

Mike  28:05  Right now we have one half of the ship in Montrose. And it’s the back half of the ship. Of that half of the ship, we have the entire keel section put together, except for one piece on the very back end that goes way up high. We’re going to save that for last. Once it gets on there, it’s going to be hard to move the ship. I don’t think it would fit out the door with that piece installed. The door is only 20 foot high, and that piece sticks up higher than that. But the ceiling of the building’s high enough to do it. Now, of the panels, we are one panel short of having half the panels installed of the half ship [that] we have. So, if you do the math, that’s ¼ of the hull, half the keel and ¼ of the hull has been installed. Then after that’s together, quite a bit of the railing, which is the very uppermost row that we’ll be working on, quite a bit of that railing is going to have to be replaced, due to rot. So, even though we have a ¼ of the hull done and half the keel, we’re not as far along as that would make it sound. There’s a lot of ancillary work.  We’re going to have to put the lower deck in. We’re going to have to put the upper deck in. And we have to. We don’t have the deck. The deck will be a complete reproduction. We’ve located some cedar in Iowa that we’ll be using for the deck boards.

GT  29:43  Not the cedars of Lebanon, huh?  (Chuckling)

Mike  29:46  No, it won’t be the cedars of Lebanon, but it will be Cedar. And we don’t have the sail built, yet. We don’t have the mast. So, we’re not as far along as, initially, you’d think with those numbers that I gave you. There’s still quite a bit of other work involved.

What are your thoughts on the Heartland Group purchasing the Phoenicia ship? Does this lend any credence to the Book of Mormon?