In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian, built a raft and set out to sail across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesians Islands. The barge, the Kon-Tiki was named after the Inca sun god. The purpose of the voyage was to prove his theory that the Polynesian Islands were populated prior the Columbus “discovering” the Americas in 1492. Using materials known to the Pre-Columbians, Heyerdahl built the raft in Peru with the help of equipment from the US Army, and the Peruvian Government supplied the facilities. The journey began in 1947 and, with five crew members, they sailed for 101 days, over 4300 miles, until they wrecked on Peoria in the Tuamotus on the 7th August 1947.
Heyerdahl recorded the story of the voyage in a book which was also made into a film. The book became a best-seller, and the movie became a box office hit. The raft, copied from records created by the Spanish invaders of South America, was typical of sailing crafts of that era in South America. Constructed from balsa wood, which is from the Ochroma Pyramidal tree, and is one of the lightest woods in the world, it is only found in those areas.
Heyerdahl’s mission was to prove that the ancients from South America could have crossed the Pacific Ocean using primitive technology. Unfortunately, although he declared it was possible modern DNA testing showed that the inhabitants were not from the Americas but had come from Asia. This in no way detracts from the skill and bravery of Heyerdahl and his crew.
Nine 14-meter-long logs were strapped together with 5,5-meter cross pieces, and hemp ropes were used to bind them all firmly together. Using pine, they built up the bows to divert water off to the sides and away from the deck. Pine was also used between the logs as centreboards. The cabin was made from bamboo, and the finished size was 4 meters long, 2,4 meters wide and 1,5 high and the roof was from woven banana fronds. The mainsail was 4.6 by 5.5 made from bamboo stems. The rigging included a top-sail and a mizzen sail at the stern, and the deck was of split bamboo. The main A-framed mast was made from mango wood and was 9 meters high, while the spars were of timber and reeds laminated together with Heyerdahl’s tested glue. No metal of any sort was used in the construction.
The crew loaded the raft with 1000 litres of water in containers as used in the old days and new containers for safety sake in case the old style ones did not hold up. Food was in the form of coconuts, potatoes and gourds, fruit and other roots and tubers. The Us Army added tins of foodstuffs for testing and also essential survival equipment. The crews used rods of bamboo to supplement the rations with fresh fish.
Communications were the task of two radio operators who had second world war experience with the Norwegian Resistance, and they had contact with many different stations including one in Oslo, Norway.