Thu, Apr 20, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Grandson busy preparing to repeat grandfather's epic 'Kon-Tiki' voyage

PACIFIC ROUTEIn 1947, Thor Heyerdahl sailed a balsa raft from Peru to Tahiti. Now his grandson is attempting a similar voyage, but with a few modern items for help


Nearly six decades after Thor Heyerdahl's epic Pacific Ocean crossing aboard the balsa raft Kon-Tiki, members of a Norwegian team are in Peru putting the final touches on a new vessel for a modern repeat of the journey.

"I think we are mentally prepared and we are really, really anxious to put this raft in the ocean," said Olav Heyerdahl, 28, the adventurer's grandson and one of the six-member crew.

Behind him in a dry-dock in the high-security naval base in Lima's port of Callao loomed the balsa raft Tangaroa -- named after the Polynesian god of the ocean -- which is scheduled to set sail on April 28.

The expedition was originally set for last year, but the team postponed the project after key sponsors diverted funds to help victims of the December 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in southern Asia.

In 1947, Heyerdahl and his team sailed the primitive raft 8,000km from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days to support Heyerdahl's theory that the South Sea Islands were settled by ancient mariners from South America -- not Southeast Asia, as prevailing theory maintains.

Heyerdahl's 67-year-old son, marine biologist and oceanographer Thor Heyerdahl Jr, arrived on Tuesday to see the vessel.

"I am really identifying myself with my son," he said. "I'm very happy for him that he gets this opportunity."

The elder Heyerdahl, who died at the age of 87 in 2002, documented his harrowing voyage in the best-selling book Kon-Tiki and in an Oscar-winning documentary film.

The new 17m vessel is larger than the original Kon-Tiki, with eight crossbeams lashed to 11 balsa logs from Ecuador and covered by a bamboo deck.

Atop a hardwood cabin, the crew fitted a thatched-reed roof, which was custom-fashioned by Aymara Indians.

Unlike the Kon-Tiki, which carried only the most basic equipment even by 1947 standards, the Tangaroa will feature abundant modern technology including electricity-generating solar panels affixed to the roof of the cabin.

"The solar panels will give us approximately 600 watts ... enough for the cameras and for heating water, and so on," said team leader Torgeir Saeverud Higraff, 33, a teacher and writer at the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo, Norway.

The younger Heyerdahl -- a carpenter, building engineer and diver -- worked with a Peruvian navy welder to attach a stainless-steel base for a satellite antenna at the boat's stern.

The apparatus will provide the crew with satellite navigation and communications during the voyage, said Swedish photographer and filmmaker Anders Berg, 42, who will document the journey.

"We have seen this project grow from just an idea, a dream, and then suddenly you are 10 days away from being on the raft on the sea," Berg said. "It's like pregnancy, I would say."

The original Kon-Tiki, equipped with a primitive sail, could not navigate against the wind and was largely subject to the whim of currents and prevailing breezes. The raft's journey ended when it foundered on a reef off the Tuamotu Archipelago near Tahiti because the crew couldn't change course.

A large, square sail of woven Peruvian cotton will be mounted on the Tangaroa later this week.

Higraff said such sails were common in prehistoric Peru -- and much better than Thor Heyerdahl could have imagined in 1947.

Spanish chroniclers wrote centuries ago of Inca lords who sailed the Pacific on large, navigable balsa vessels nearly 70 years before the conquistadors arrived in Peru in 1532, he said.

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