Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. It was named after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom "Kon-Tiki" was said to be an old name. Kon-Tiki is also the name of Heyerdahl's book; the Academy Award-winning documentary film chronicling his adventures; and the 2012 dramatised feature film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. Although most anthropologists as of 2010 had come to the conclusion they did not, in 2011, new genetic evidence was uncovered by Erik Thorsby that Easter Island inhabitants in fact do have some South American DNA, lending credence to at least some of Heyerdahl's theses. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.
The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947. Heyerdahl and five companions sailed the raft for 101 days over 6900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. The crew made successful landfall and all returned safely.
Thor Heyerdahl's book about his experience became a bestseller. It was published in Norwegian in 1948 as The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, later reprinted as Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft. It appeared with great success in English in 1950, also in many other languages. A documentary motion picture about the expedition, also called Kon-Tiki was produced from a write-up and expansion of the crew's filmstrip notes and won an Academy Award in 1951. It was directed by Thor Heyerdahl and edited by Olle Nordemar. The voyage was also chronicled in the documentary TV-series The Kon-Tiki Man: The Life and Adventures of Thor Heyerdahl, directed by Bengt Jonson.
Kon-Tiki had a six-man crew, all of whom were Norwegian except for Bengt Danielsson, a Swede.
- Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002) was the expedition leader. He was also the author of the book of the expedition and the narrator of the story. Heyerdahl had studied the ancient people of South America and Polynesia and believed that there was a link between the two.
- Erik Hesselberg (1914–1972) was the navigator and artist. He painted the large Kon-Tiki figure on the raft's sail. His children's book Kon-Tiki and I appeared in Norwegian in 1949 and has since been published in more than 15 languages.
- Bengt Danielsson (1921–1997) took on the role of steward, in charge of supplies and daily rations. Danielsson was a Swedish sociologist interested in human migration theory. He also served as translator, as he was the only member of the crew who spoke Spanish. He was also a voracious reader; his box aboard the raft contained many books.
- Knut Haugland (1917–2009) was a radio expert, decorated by the British in World War II for actions in the Norwegian heavy water sabotage that stalled what were believed to be Germany's plans to develop an atomic bomb. Haugland was the last surviving crew member; he died on Christmas Day, 2009 at the age of 92.
- Torstein Raaby (1918–1964) was also in charge of radio transmissions. He gained radio experience while hiding behind German lines during WWII, spying on the German battleship Tirpitz. His secret radio transmissions eventually helped guide in Allied bombers to sink the ship.
- Herman Watzinger (1910–1986) was an engineer whose area of expertise was in technical measurements. He was the first to join Heyerdahl for the trip. He collected and recorded all sorts of data on the voyage. Much of what he recorded, such as weather data, was sent back to various people, since this area of the ocean was largely unstudied.
The expedition also carried a pet parrot named Lorita.
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The main body of the float was composed of nine balsa tree trunks up to 45 ft long, 2 ft in diameter, lashed together with 1¼ inch hemp ropes. Cross-pieces of balsa logs 18 ft long and 1 ft in diameter were lashed across the logs at 3 ft intervals to give lateral support. Pine splashboards clad the bow, and lengths of pine 1 inch thick and 2 ft wide were wedged between the balsa logs and used as centreboards.
The main mast was made of lengths of mangrove wood lashed together to form an A-frame 29 ft high. Behind the main-mast was a cabin of plaited bamboo 14 ft long and 8 ft wide was built about 4–5 ft high, and roofed with banana leaf thatch. At the stern was a 19 ft long steering oar of mangrove wood, with a blade of fir. The main sail was 15 by 18 ft on a yard of bamboo stems lashed together. Photographs also show a top-sail above the main sail, and also a mizzen-sail, mounted at the stern.
The raft was partially decked in split bamboo. The main spars were a laminate of wood and reeds and Heyerdahl tested more than twenty different composites before settling on one that proved an effective compromise between bulk and torsional rigidity. No metal was used in the construction.
Kon-Tiki carried 275 gallons of drinking water in 56 water cans, as well as a number of sealed bamboo rods. The purpose stated by Heyerdahl for carrying modern and ancient containers was to test the effectiveness of ancient water storage. For food Kon-Tiki carried 200 coconuts, sweet potatoes, bottle gourds and other assorted fruit and roots. The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps provided field rations, tinned food and survival equipment. In return, the Kon-Tiki explorers reported on the quality and utility of the provisions. They also caught plentiful numbers of fish, particularly flying fish, "dolphin fish", yellowfin tuna, bonito and shark.
The expedition carried an amateur radio station with the call sign of LI2B operated by former World War II Norwegian underground radio operators Knut Haugland and Torstein Raaby. Haugland and Raaby maintained regular communication with a number of American, Canadian, and South American stations that relayed Kon Tiki's status to the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. On August 5, Haugland made contact with a station in Oslo, Norway, 10,000 miles away. Kon Tiki's transmitters were powered by batteries and a hand-cranked generator and operated on the 40-, the 20-meter band, the 10-meter band, and the 6-meter band. Each unit was water resistant and included 2E30 vacuum tubes providing 10 watts of RF input and approximately 6 watts of output; the equivalent of a small flashlight. A German Mark V transceiver was used as a backup unit.
The radio receiver used throughout the voyage was a National Radio Company NC-173, once requiring a thorough drying out after being soaked during a shipwreck. An "all well, all well" message was sent via LI2B to notify would-be rescuers of the crew's safety.
The call sign LI2B was used by Heyerdahl again in 1969–70, when he built a papyrus reed raft and sailed from Morocco to Barbados in an attempt to show a possible link between the civilization of ancient Egypt and the New World.
Kon-Tiki left Callao, Peru, on the afternoon of April 28, 1947. To avoid coastal traffic it was initially towed 50 miles out by the Fleet Tug Guardian Rios of the Peruvian Navy, then sailed roughly west carried along on the Humboldt Current.
The crew's first sight of land was the atoll of Puka-Puka on July 30. On August 4, the 97th day after departure, Kon-Tiki reached the Angatau atoll. The crew made brief contact with the inhabitants of Angatau Island, but were unable to land safely. Calculations made by Heyerdahl before the trip had indicated that 97 days was the minimum amount of time required to reach the Tuamotu islands, so that the encounter with Angatau showed that they had made good time.
On August 7, the voyage came to an end when the raft struck a reef and was eventually beached on an uninhabited islet off Raroia atoll in the Tuamotu group. The team had travelled a distance of around 3,770 nautical miles (c. 6,980 km (4,340 mi)) in 101 days, at an average speed of 1.5 knots.
After spending a number of days alone on the tiny islet, the crew were greeted by men from a village on a nearby island who arrived in canoes, having seen washed-up flotsam from the raft. The crew were taken back to the native village, where they were feted with traditional dances and other festivities. Finally the crew were taken off Raroia to Tahiti by the French schooner Tamara, with the salvaged Kon-Tiki in tow.
Heyerdahl believed that the original inhabitants of Easter Island were the migrants from Peru. He argued that the monumental statues known as moai resembled sculptures more typical of pre-Columbian Peru than any Polynesian designs. He believed that the Easter Island myth of a power struggle between two peoples called the Hanau epe and Hanau momoko was a memory of conflicts between the original inhabitants of the island and a later wave of Native Americans from the Northwest coast, eventually leading to the annihilation of the Hanau epe and the destruction of the island's culture and once-prosperous economy.
Most historians consider that the Polynesians from the west were the original inhabitants and that the story of the Hanau epe is either pure myth, or a memory of internal tribal or class conflicts. However, in 2011 Professor Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo presented DNA evidence to the Royal Society which whilst agreeing with the west origin also identified a distinctive but smaller genetic contribution from South America.
Later recreations of Kon-Tiki
1954: Seven Little Sisters
In 1954 William Willis sailed alone on a raft Seven Little Sisters from Peru to American Samoa, successfully completing the journey. He sailed 6,700 miles, which was 2,200 miles farther than Kon-Tiki. In a second great voyage ten years later, he rafted 11,000 miles from South America to Australia with a metal raft Age Unlimited.
In the following year 1955 the Czech explorer and adventurer Eduard Ingris attempted to recreate the Kon-Tiki expedition on a balsa raft called Kantuta. His first expedition, Kantuta I, took place in 1955–1956 and led to failure. In 1959 Ingris built a new balsa raft, Kantuta II, and tried to repeat the previous expedition. The second expedition was a success. Ingris was able to cross the Pacific Ocean on the balsa raft from Peru to Polynesia.
A French seafarer Éric de Bisschop committed himself in a project he had had for some years: he built a Polynesian raft in order to cross the eastern Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to Chile (contrary to Thor Heyerdahl's crossing); the Tahiti-Nui left Papeete with a crew of five on November 8, 1956. When near the Juan Fernández Islands (Chile) in May 1957, the raft was in a very poor state and they asked for a towing, but it was damaged during the operation and had to be abandoned, but they could keep all the equipment aboard.
1958: Tahiti-Nui II
In Chile a second Tahiti-Nui was built in Constitucion; they left on April 13, 1958, towards Callao, then towards the Marquesas, but they missed their target (after 4 months, it began to sink). His crew built a new smaller raft, the Tahiti Nui III, in the ocean out of the more buoyant parts of the Tahiti Nui II and were swept along towards Cook Islands where on August 30, the raft went aground and was wrecked at Rakahanga atoll. Eric de Bisschop was the only person who died in this tragic accident.
A Peruvian expedition led by Carlos Caravedo crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1965 in 115 days in a raft named Tangaroa, of which 18 days were used by the crew to cross Tuamotus, the Tuamotu Archipielago, making Tangaroa the only raft that has managed to cross that dangerous archipelago of French Polynesia by its own means. On November 18, 1965, the Tangaroa ended its journey on the Fakarava island. Fakarava is where the Tangaroa is currently preserved.
1973: Las Balsas
The 1973 Las Balsas expedition was the first (and so far only) multiple-raft crossing of the Pacific Ocean in recent history. It is the longest-known raft voyage in history. The expedition was led by Spaniard Vital Alsar who, in 1970, led the La Balsa expedition, only on that occasion with one raft and three companions. The crossing was successful and, at the time, the longest raft voyage in history, until eclipsed in 1973 by Las Balsas. The purpose of the 1973 expedition was three-fold: (1) to prove that the success of 1970 was no accident, (2) to test different currents in the sea, which Alsar maintained ancient mariners knew as modern humans know road maps, and (3) to show that the original expeditions, directed perhaps toward trade or colonisation, may have consisted of small fleets of balsa rafts.
In the spring of 2006, a Scandinavian team attempted to duplicate the Kon-Tiki voyage using a newly built raft, the Tangaroa, named after the Māori sea-god Tangaroa. Again based on records of ancient vessels, this raft used a relatively sophisticated square sail that allowed sailing into the wind, or tacking. It was 16 m (52 ft) high by 8 m (26 ft) wide. The raft also included a set of modern navigation and communication equipment, including solar panels, portable computers, and desalination equipment. The crew posted to their website.
Tangaroa's six-man crew was led by Norwegian Torgeir Higraff and included Olav Heyerdahl, grandson of Thor Heyerdahl, Bjarne Krekvik (captain), Øyvin Lauten (executive officer), Swedish Anders Berg (photographer) and Peruvian Roberto Sala. Tangaroa was launched on the same day that Kon-Tiki had been—April 28—and it reached its destination on July 7, which was 30 days faster than Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki which had taken 101 days for the voyage. Tangaroa's speed was credited to the proper use of the quara centerboards in navigation. Heyerdahl had not known how to correctly use them. In addition, the Tangaroa had been constructed both wider and higher. It also boasted a larger sail than the Kon-Tiki.
A DVD documentary: "The Tangaroa Expedition" (Ekspedisionen Tangaroa) was produced by Videomaker (Norwegian), 2007, shot by photographers Anders Berg and Jenssen. 58 minutes (English, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish).
On January 30, 2011, An-Tiki, a raft modeled after Kon-Tiki, began a 3,000 mile, 70-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. The expedition was piloted by four men, aged from 56 to 84 years, led by Anthony Smith. The trip was designed to commemorate the journey in an open boat of survivors from the British steamship Anglo-Saxon, sunk by the German cruiser Widder in 1940. The raft ended its voyage in the Caribbean island of St Maarten, completing its trip to Eleuthera in the following year with Smith and a new crew.
Kon-Tiki is a 2012 Norwegian historical drama film directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg about the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. The role of Thor Heyerdahl is played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen. It was the highest-grossing film of 2012 in Norway and the country's most expensive production to date.
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- Equipment on the Tangaroa included GPS (Global Positioning System), F-77 satellite antenna, AUS (Automatic Identification System), six solar panels to generate electricity, wind generators, desalination equipment, telephone, internet, 3 MAC iBook computers, DVD player and an iPod. Azerbaijan International, Vol. 14:4 (Winter 2006), p. 35
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- "The Eleutheran – Eleuthera News, Sport and much more from Eleuthera – The An-Tiki Dream Turns into Reality". Eleutheranews.com. Retrieved 2011-11-09.
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