Sunday, April 30, 2006

Kon-Tiki reborn

Fifty-nine years after legendary Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific on the balsa raft Kon-Tiki, his grandson has set sail on a new raft to recreate his forebear's bold voyage.

With Olav Heyerdahl and five others on board, the Tangaroa - a sort of 2006 model of the Kon-Tiki - set off from the Peruvian port of Callao, on a journey to cross the Pacific and reach the atolls of Polynesia.

After 16 naval officers rowed the balsa-log vessel 200 metres off the shore, the 16-metre-by-eight-metre Tangaroa was picked up by a tugboat, which pulled it eight kilometres out to sea, where it could catch the ocean currents.

A massive square sail was lifted, and the vessel set off on its three-month voyage.

A visibly excited "Thor Junior," the son of the Kon-Tiki captain, bid his son Olav a safe journey while expressing some nervousness over the 28-year-old's first big sea excursion.

A construction engineer, Olav Heyerdahl will serve the vessel as a combination carpenter and diver.

Tangaroa is a larger-scale version of the Kon-Tiki, which Thor Heyerdahl built on a model of ancient rafts to demonstrate that prehistoric South Americans could have crossed the Pacific to Polynesia.

A documentary of the original Kon-Tiki voyage won an Academy Award in 1951.

But Thor Heyerdahl's theory that pre-Incan South Americans may have populated the South Pacific has since been dismissed by anthropologists, who say Polynesia was settled from Indonesia.

The newer raft has a 90 square metre sail and nine rudders capable of turning and holding the vessel's course to avoid the drifting that turned the original 1947 Kon-Tiki trip into an arduous 101-day journey.

The six crewmen - four Norwegians, one Swede and one Peruvian, believe the modernised raft will help them make the 8,500-kilometre passage within three months.

The Tangaroa - named after a Polynesian god of the sea - carries with it a wind-driven power system, a global positioning system and an Internet link, none of which its predecessor enjoyed.

"We want to test the navigation system of the indigenous people of the Peruvian coast, to survey for environmental damage and to follow the path of Thor Heyerdahl," Olav Heyerdahl said.

There was one objection to the voyage, from Peruvian adventurer Carlos Caravedo, who in 1965 set sail in his own hand-built raft, also baptised Tangaroa, making the crossing to Polynesia in 115 days.

The 90-year-old navigator only wished that the newest vessel used a different name.

"It is time for them to change the craft's name," he told the newspaper La Republica.


yellowdog granny said...

i think that is so cool..i remember reading the book he wrote about it and thinking ..( iwas about 9 or so...)i want to do that..wouldnt that just be the best?...well, maybe not now that im old and fat..but wow...if i was young and skinny....i'd be on board...

dom said...

I'd rather be onboard a vessel made out of steel not bloody balsa ,a bit like that ship Titanic ... I'd feel much safer.