Thursday January 24th, 2013

On the afternoon of April 28th 1947 a six man crew and a parrot called Lorita set sail on what must have been one of the craziest nautical quests imaginable. The destination was the Polynesian Islands. The craft was a balsa wood raft made from nine tree trunks up to 45 ft long, 2 ft in diameter, lashed together with 1 inch hemp ropes and cross pieces of balsa logs with pine centre boards and splash-boards. The main mast was constructed from lengths of mangrove wood lashed together to form an A-frame 29 ft tall. Behind the main-mast was a cabin of plaited bamboo 14ft x 8ft x 45 ft high roofed with banana leaf thatch. At the stern was a 19ft steering oar of mangrove wood, with a blade of fir. The main sail was 15ft bx 18 ft on a yard of bamboo stems lashed together.

Norwegian explorer Heyerdahl was sure and wanted to prove that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times and wished to demonstrate his theory using only materials and expertise available at the time. Despite subsequent claims by anthropologists that such voyages did not actually occur the Kon-Tiki expedition became an inspiration and the legendary skipper became a hero, best selling author and the subject of a successful motion picture and TV series.

The expedition was funded partly by private investors and partly by donations from the United States Army. Unfortunately the voyage was cut short on August 7th when Kon-Tiki hit a reef and was eventually beached on an uninhabited islet off Raroia atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago. The crew had sailed a distance of around 3,770 nautical miles in 101 days, at an average speed of 1.5 knots. They were visited several days later by men from a village on a neighbouring island who had found flotsam from the raft and after a celebration they were taken from the island to Tahiti by the French schooner Tamara, with the salvaged Kon-Tiki in tow.

The original Kon-Tiki raft is now on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.
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