THE KONTIKI – FROM A GRANDSON’S PERSPECTIVE

June 19th, 2010, posted by Shore Crew Tags: KonTiki, Olav Heyerdahl

It’s been a about a month now since Olav flew home from Christmas Island. We caught up with him to hear about what it’s like to be back home, his grandfather’s expedition, the Kon-Tiki, and his own adventure, the Tangaroa.

“Hi all,

“It was great to get back home to Anja and Felix. I was pretty excited to see if Felix still knew his father. Luckily he did:)

“I kind of miss the calm and no stressful life out at sea. When I did the Tangaroa expedition that was one of the highlights. No worries but just staying on board the raft and make sure you didn’t fall off. That was also the only concern with The Plastiki. She was tricky to manoeuvre and impossible to turn around and make a pick up for lost crew members. We were all careful and watched our steps.

“The main idea behind the Plastiki was to bring out the message. To get the media’s and the people’s attention you need a unique platform. Plastiki is unique.

“My grandfather got furious if he was called an adventurer. He was a scientist and wanted to be respected as one. When he left Peru in 1947 on his balsa wood raft Kon-Tiki, it was also to prove a point. He made a unique platform to get the attention from the world’s scientists. At that time, there was no pollution in our Oceans. He made the Kon-Tiki to show that it was possible to cross our world’s biggest ocean on a pre-historic vessel; that South Americans could have settled the Polynesian islands. Or at least show that there had been contact between the continents.

“One of my grandfather’s quotes is: ‘Our oceans have always been conveyor belts not barriers.’

“With a crew of six, five Norwegians and one Swede, they built their raft out of 9 balsa wood trunks and lashed them together with Manila hemp rope. On the 28th of April 1947 they set sail and started the incredible voyage across The Pacific. The first couple of weeks they really struggled keeping the raft on course. With its almost 18 tons and just a long rudder in the aft, it was an almost impossible task fighting against the waves, wind and the current. Finally they got into the Humboldt Current that slowly drifted them into the right direction. Towards the Polynesian islands in the West.

“They also had another problem in getting across. Lots of sharks were following the floating reef and made it pretty exciting taking a bath. At some times there were so many so it was impossible getting in. They also experienced a sailor’s nightmare. One of the crew-members, Herman Watzinger, fell over board. The wind grabbed his sleeping bag when he was airing it. When he ran for it he slipped and fell in. Most of the other crew didn’t manage to respond quickly enough, but Knut Haugland grabbed a rope, jumped in and swam away from the raft in direction of Herman. In the last minute, when the rope was all out he managed to reach Herman’s hand and they attached themselves and got pulled in by the others. During this session the other guys forgot to take the sail down. That would have made it much easier getting the two guys back on board. None of the guys were sailors. My grandfather could not swim and was actually terrified of water since he almost drowned as a child. He really believed in his theory and was sure that sooner or later they would make it across to the incredible islands. Losing a crew member would have totally changed the famous history.

“After 101 days at sea, they finally made it to the atoll, Raroia. Since they had major problems steering the raft, they just had to attach themselves to the raft and hoping for the best when aiming for the dangerous reef surrounding the atoll. When the big wave lifted the raft and surfed it onto the sharp reef it was a major impact. The raft got damaged, but the crew was still in one piece.

“After one week, the locals on the other side of the lagoon saw wreck parts and started a search to look for survivors. Finding these 6 blonde, blue-eyed guys on their island must have been exciting. I know from my grandfather’s stories that the stay on this remote atoll made an impact not just to the locals. They stayed for another couple of weeks before a boat came and picked up the crew and towed the raft to Tahiti.

“Today the raft is situated in The Kon-Tiki Museum and is still visited by 200,000 people every year. The book about the expedition has been translated into 67 languages and sold in almost 60 million copies. He could not have picked a better time to show his theory. The Second World war was just finished and it was kind of a global depression. People were tired of all the negativity and were in need of something else to focus on. The timing to get attention was perfect!

“My grandfather did lots of science and made many excavations on different islands in The Pacific. He also made a huge archeological excavation in the pyramid park in Tucumé in the North of Peru. During this study he found drawings and other evidence that the pre-historic rafts were equipped with another steering technique. So called Guaras. Adjustable centreboards put in between the logs. He tested this technique on a model in Ecuador, but never got to test in full scale.

“With his personal diary, the original logbook from the KT expedition and his theory with the Guaras, we wanted to recreate the amazing voyage. In 2004, five companions and myself started planning the expedition ‘Tangaroa’. The Polynesian myth says that Tangaroa was the Ocean God, Master of the Sea. It started as a tribute to my grandfather’s work. It was also a great opportunity to compare conditions and observations over the past 60 years.

“In January 2006 we went into the ‘jungle’ in Ecuador where they found their balsa trunks 60 years earlier. There is no longer wild rainforest, only plantations at the same location. One result of this is that the river they floated the logs out on has a water level almost 2 metres lower today. On the 28th of April the same year we launched our raft and got ready to set sail from the same location as the Kon-Tiki. The naval shipyard in Callao, Lima. With lots of support from the Peruvian Navy, we managed to finish the construction for the departure ceremony on the magic date.

“We built our raft a bit bigger and with a sail almost three times as big as on the KT. The idea was to keep a higher average speed and also keep a more Western course. We wanted to show that the steering technique actually worked and that we could manoeuvre the raft in the direction we wanted. We built the raft on shore and we left on the same day as the launch, so it was pretty exciting to sea how she behaved in the Sea. It took us some time to learn how to use the keels, but after a couple of weeks we just had to do minor adjustments on one of our ten centreboards to change the course. We crossed straight across The Humboldt current and had a direct Western course for the very same atoll they crashed into many years earlier.

“In The Humboldt current, we crossed this patch of garbage. Plastic floating all around our clean and 100% natural raft. Shocking experience! At that time I did not know that all these plastic parts are floating around. Nothing of this was described in the KT logbook.

“After 71 days at sea, one month faster than the KT, we saw the palm trees in the horizon. Finally we had reached Raroia too. After such a period at sea, you are getting a bit disturbed. The body was really adjusted to the daily life out there. Average speed was 2.7 knots, so everything felt slow. I guess we were talking slow too.

“I was responsible for the main construction when building the raft. On board I was the scuba diver, which is one of my biggest passions. I was so looking forward to dive and film all the sharks described. In total we saw 4 sharks! 4 sharks in almost 2.5 months at sea! If people continue eating shark fin soup, the oceans will be clean. The sharks will for sure not survive. The favorite meal for the KT crew was tuna. We caught one tuna across! We are misusing our planet. There will only be leftovers for generations to come.

“My hopes for The Plastiki are that people will be aware of what is happening to the planet. The misuse of our resources has to stop. It is so important that we all put in some effort and recycle.

“I hope this unique platform will inspire others to get creative and think second hand.

“Thanks for all, Olav”

For more information on the Kon-Tiki, complete with previously unpublished excerpts from Thor’s original expedition diary go to the Plastiki Kon-tiki Page.

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