June 18th, 2010, posted by Shore Crew Tags: KonTiki, Olav Heyerdahl, Opinion Pieces

My intention is not to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. I’m educated as a carpenter and a civil engineer so I’ve not continued the work of my grandfather, Thor Heyerdahl, on migration theories. Despite this, I’ve always been fascinated by his ocean going vessels.

Through his Kon-Tiki expedition he proved it was possible to cross the world’s largest ocean on a pre-historic balsa wood raft. During this legendary voyage in 1947, they struggled endlessly to keep the raft on course with just the rudder in the aft. Finally they hit a reef (atoll), Raroia, after 101 days at sea; this sadly brought a premature end to the expedition.

Post-expedition my grandfather conducted extensive research and discovered in several ancient archives a number of centre boards. In 2006, using my grandfather’s documented theories, knowledge and experience we built the vessel he would have built today. A pre-historic raft equipped with adjustable keels. His theory was that these keels were used hundreds of years ago on the rafts for long distance voyages.

Referring to his personal diary and the log book from the Kon-Tiki expedition, we planned to “re-create” his amazing journey of 60 years ago. One of our main goals was to compare observations, conditions and environmental changes during the past decades. The results were shocking.

The jungle in Ecuador that was once described as wild is now gone; its legacy, huge plantations. One of the effects we experienced was that the Rio Quevedo (the river on which Thor floated his logs to the coast line) was almost dried out. The water level was two metres lower now than 60 years ago. These dramatic changes intensified our dismay throughout our expedition as we realised that ecological damage was rife in the Pacific.

When we set sail on the 28th of April 2006, we had to learn and practice the centre board technique. After a few days, we got the raft on the right course and managed to achieve a straight western course. The Kon-Tiki raft had only drifted along The Humbolt current. When we were crossing this current, we also crossed a path of plastic garbage. None of this pollution was described in either my grandfather’s diary or the log book.

The favourite meal for the crew of the Kon-Tiki was tuna eating lots throughout their voyage. We caught merely one tuna during our three months a sea.

Almost every day they had so many sharks circling the raft that they could hardly ever take a bath! During our crossing we had only four sharks visiting our raft.

I’m not a marine biologist. I don’t think you have to be, to understand that major things are happening to our oceans. When we crossed the belt of floating plastic garbage I was truly shocked and disgusted at how we are treating our planet.

My grandfather used remarkable platforms to get attention. The Plastiki is doing the same.

I really hope that we can spread the message and make people aware of what’s happening out there. Everything depends on our Oceans; let’s take care of them.

Olav Heyerdahl

To find out more about the Kon-Tiki see our dedicated page. All photos thanks to the Kon-Tiki museum and Tangaroa Expedition.

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