title


It’s an impossible task to fully present on an Internet page all the theories and accomplishment of the daring researcher and scientist Thor Heyerdahl. Here we will report on just his expeditions on the oceans with the balsa raft 'Kon-Tiki', the papyrus boats 'RA' and 'RA 2', and the berdi reed boat 'Tigris'.
balsa raft
balsa raft
Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl, Kon-Tiki and Easter Island.
His research lead Thor Heyerdahl to conclude that frequent ships passages across the oceans happened well before Columbus. He discovered parallels and similarities between the early advanced cultures of the Mediterranean with advanced civilizations in Mexico, Peru, and even in Polynesia. He maintained that Polynesia was settled by people from South America. The scientific world responded with criticism and rejection. The doubts were justified with the fact that Peru's coastal dwellers at the time possessed no boats to accomplish sea voyages of over 4000 nautical miles to the Eastern Islands.


Kon-Tiki
Kon-Tiki
In ancient manuscripts Thor Heyerdahl found references to red-blond, bearded, and pale-skinned men sailing out on balsa rafts toward the sunsets in the Pacific. And, that these people adored the Sun God. To prove his theory of westward migration, Thor Heyerdahl built a raft of Balsa wood. He reasoned that such a passage should be possible using ocean currents and the prevailing winds. The raft was named after the legendary Sun God Kon-Tiki. It had a length of approximately 40 feet topped by an open hut, two self-supporting masts, and a sail displaying an image of Kon-Tiki’s head. On board were six crew members with provisions for four months, a parrot, and radio equipment.


On 28 April 1947 'Kon-Tiki' left the Peruvian port of Callao. As expected, the Humboldt Current drove them westward into the Pacific. Then came a three day storm which flooded the raft and the men at the steering oar had to tie themselves down securely. Fair weather periods alternated with new storms. The crew caught rain water to drink and ate flying fish that landed on deck. A dangerous snake eel landed once amidst the sleeping crew. Giant squid with phosphorescent eyes stared at them during the night, a 50 feet long whale shark dived beneath the raft. The balsa logs soaked up water and the ropes dug deeply into the soft wood. But the juicy center of the trunks prevented complete penetration and the raft remained buoyant. One man went overboard during a storm but was safely recovered.
Kon-Tiki
Kon-Tiki
flying fish
flying fish
On 7 August 1947 the raft was thrown onto the reefs of the island Raroia. The impact destroyed the raft, however the surf pushed the wrecked pieces across the rock barrier. The crew remained unharmed. After 101 days, sailing and drifting approximately 4,300 nautical miles, they had reached their destination. The course with the island Raroia is represented on the stamp at the beginning of this page. They succeeded in activating the radio. A week later, Thor Heyerdahl, his crew, and the remainders of the raft were taken off the island. Thus, they had shown that an early settling of Polynesia from Peru was indeed possible!


Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl with Kon-Tiki
Kon-Tiki
Kon-Tiki
In 1953 Thor Heyerdahl undertook an expedition to the Galapagos Islands, another one in 1955/56 to Easter Island. During the 1960s he made several research voyages to Egypt and Mexico. He visited LakeTiticaca because of its reed boats there and Africa’s Lake Chad as well as Ethiopia where golden-yellow papyrus reeds are growing. He became convinced that at least some culture traces from an early Egyptian civilization must have reached the Americas, probably with the use of papyrus reed boats. Again, northeasterly trade winds and equatorial currents could have supported the crossings. To prove his thesis he had built a papyrus boat, strictly according to ancient Egyptian designs. It was 50 feet long, 16 feet wide, with a mast, a sail and a hut. It was baptized with goat milk and named 'RA' (Egyptian Sun God), its sail emblazened with a red sun ball. Aboard were seven crew members, a monkey, and a duck. The 'RA' sailed under the flag of the United Nations.


papyrusboat
papyrus reed boats in Ethiopia
papyrusboat
here the reed was cut for the 'Ra'
On 25 May 1969, 'RA' departed from the Maroccan port of Safi. During the voyage one catastrophic event followed another. Both steering oars broke exactly at the oar locks. Yet, 'RA' could be kept on course with the use of the keel boards. In heavy storms the sail blew off and the yard broke. The stern sagged away and was constantly washed over. It turned out that before the start of the voyage a sustaining rope which led from a fixed point to the stern had been cut by mistake. The 'RA' was about to come apart. The crew made continuous repairs while the boat drifted towards the west. But just before Barbados, the journey nearly complete, a gale destroyed the 'RA'. Superstructures disappeared into the sea and 'RA' became a drifting pile of hay. On 16 July 1969 the crew was saved by the American yacht ' Shenandoah '. Nevertheless, in just 56 days they had sailed a distance of 2,700 nautical miles.



Ra II
Ra II
Thor Heyerdahl refused to abandon his Atlantic project despite public criticism and often malicious comments. This time around, at Safi, he commissioned four Indians from Lake Titicaca to build a 'RA II'. She was a raft 40 feet long, 16.5 feet wide and 6.5 feet deep, constructed with papyrus reeds. A mast, trapezoid sails and a hut were installed (see stamp at left). On 17 May 1970 they left Safi. But soon they observed that in calm weather 'RA II' was sinking some 4 inches per day. However, with the trade winds blowing into the sail, the papyrus bundles rose out of the water again. Still, the men threw all nonessential equipment overboard.
Once again the steering oar broke during a heavy storm. They had to make constant repairs, made changes to the rigging, and stretched canvases at the stern to keep the breaking waves from rolling across the deck.
During the first ‘RA’ voyage they had already observed heavy pollution of the sea with lots of oil clots. On this passage the crew kept daily pollution logs for the United Nations. On 12 July 1970 they arrived on the island of Barbados after 57 days at sea. 'RA II' had sailed for 3,270 nm (6,056 km) and had proven that humans with reed boats could have crossed the Atlantic over 5,000 years ago.
oily clumper
pollution of the sea


reedboat
reed boat from Lake Titicaca
reedboat
reed boat from the Two-River-Land
Thor Heyerdahl wondered whether there might have been common roots among the great civilizations that existed over 5,000 years ago in the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia (Euphrates and Tigris) and at the delta of the Indus River. These peoples had flourished at almost the same time as the advanced cultures in South America and Mexico. And any connections must have been by reed boat. Heyerdahl only had to prove that the Sumerians from the Persian Gulf could have reached the Mediterranean. He had berdi reeds cut at the Euphrates River, where it most certainly had also been used in ancient times. And guided by his four Indians from Lake Titicaca who had earlier constructed the 'RA II', a large 59 feet long boat was built and baptized with the name 'Tigris'. This happened in 1977. The sail depicted a sun symbol and a pyramid.



Tigris The 'Tigris' sailed with 11 crew members of different nationalities. Flying the United Nations flag they went downstream the Tigris River, then through the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean. Past Bahrein they sailed to the delta of the River Indus to the port of Karachi and from there headed towards Djibouti in the Red Sea. But once there, widespread warfare in the region prevented 'Tigris' from proceeding any further, all the ports in the Red Sea were closed. The only alternative was to go back. The journey into the past was caught up in the present. But the 'Tigris' was not to rot away in Djibouti, nor was she to become a tourist attraction. As a protest against the politics of wars the 'Tigris' was set afire off Djibouti on 3 April 1978!
Modern politics had destroyed the boat. While 'Tigris' burned like a torch accusing the insanity of today's wars, a protest note was read out to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. After five months at sea, 'Tigris' had covered a distance of approximately 4,200 nm. The 'primitive' reed boat had remained intact and strengthened Thor Heyerdahl's theses.


The Norwegian researcher Thor Heyerdahl lived from 1914 to 2002. He had studied in Oslo and undertook many other research expeditions in addition to the three ocean voyages described here. While often controversial within the scientific community, he was widely popular with the general public. He wrote some 50 books and articles and received numerous prizes and honorary doctor titles. In 1997, UNESCO bestowed high honors on his outstanding achievements.
The rafts 'Kon-Tiki' and 'RA II' can be visited today at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Kon-Tiki
Kon-Tiki



Thor Heyerdahl
A German sail training vessel was named ‘Thor Heyerdahl’ in honor this intrepid explorer. One of the ship’s owners is a former crew member from the Tigris expedition. Since 1983, 'Thor Heyerdahl' cruises the Baltic and North Seas during the summer months and to the Canary Islands and the Caribbean in winter. Still in his lifetime, Thor Heyerdahl himself assumed the sponsorship for this ship.
    Here some specifications regarding the vessel:
  • Built 1930 at Westerbroek/Holland
  • Restored 1979-83 at Kiel (HDW)
  • Length over all 164 feet
  • Beam 21 feet, draft 8 feet
  • Masts: Wood, height 95 feet
  • 211 gross tons
  • Rigged as a three-masted topsail schooner
  • Riveted iron hull
  • Main engine 400 HP Deutz Diesel
  • 10 passenger cabins with bunks for 32 persons
  • 2 cabins for officers and 8 permanent crew
Thor Heyerdahl


Kon Tiki
There is a German not-for-profit organization called ‘Frühgeschichtliche Seefahrt' (‘Prehistoric Seafaring’) which builds replicas of ancient dug-outs and also of reed boats. Among other projects, Thor Heyerdahl's ideas were taken up and led to the construction of reed boats 'Abora 1', 'Abora 2' and 'Abora 3'. They had voyages in the Mediterranean. With the 'Abora 3' they tried to sail 'against the wind' and to cross the Atlantic Ocean from West to East. Natural it ended in a shipwreck. Anybody, who knows the Atlantic, can't understand this.


Sources:
Bernd Schulz, Thor Heyerdahl.
Christopher Ralling, The adventures of Thor Heyerdahl, NDR-TV maritim.
Photo courtesy of the Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo.



© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.


  up - top
  next page
  back
  menu page
  home, first page