Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 28, 2013


April 28, 1947: Thor Heyerdahl sets sail on Kon-Tiki, trying to reach Polynesia from Peru. Heyerdahl and his five crew members wanted to prove it was possible for pre-Columbian South Americans to sail across the Pacific. Using only materials and technology available to the indigenous Peruvians, the boat was built and supplied for the journey.

Heyerdahl was 32-years-old at the time of the trip. He and his wife had already spent 10 years exploring the wonders of the ancient world, writing about their exploits, and researching the past. The Second World War took up a good deal of the time between their adventures on Fatu Hiva, part of what today is French Polynesia, and the Kon-Tiki journey.

The raft was christened Kon-Tiki after an old name for the Incan sun god, Viracocha. The raft was made mostly of balsa wood. Nine balsa logs measuring 45 feet in length were lashed together with hemp ropes. Cross beams measuring 18 feet were placed every 3 feet for support. The main sail was 15 x 18 feet and hung from a 29 foot mast. There was no metal used in the construction of the raft. They took 66 gallons of water in bamboo tubes along with coconuts, sweet potatoes, and assorted fruits and roots. They fished along the way and also had some US Army field rations with them. The Kon-Tiki sailed 4,300 miles in 101 days before smashing on a reef at Raroia with all on board surviving.

Heyerdahl led expeditions to study archeological findings and made other journeys in primitive ships. He led an expedition to The Galapagos Islands in 1952 and another to Easter Island in 1955-1956. Two sailing expeditions left from Morocco. Ra I sailed 2,262 miles over 54 days in 1969 while Ra II sailed 3,270 miles over 57 days in 1970, both ships sailing westward. These two ships were made of papyrus reeds. Heyerdahl led the Tigris Expedition (1978) which sailed a reed ship down the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, over to Pakistan and then west to Africa. Heyerdahl continued his archeological studies in the Maldives, Easter Island and Peru until his death in 2002.

“Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.” – Thor Heyerdahl

“If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.” – Arthur C. Clarke

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot

“Do not fear risk. All exploration, all growth is calculated. Without challenge people cannot reach their higher selves. Only if we are willing to walk over the edge can we become winners.” – unknown

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The Tigris Expedition was crewed by eleven men from around the world. Heyerdahl was from Norway as was one other crewman. Two were from the US. There were also representatives of Italy, the USSR, Mexico, Iraq, Japan, Germany, and Denmark. They sailed through the Persian Gulf and reached Pakistan. They then headed for the Red Sea, reaching the region after sailing five months. The ship was still seaworthy, but it was burned by the participants as a protest to the wars in progress along the coasts of the entire sea. Heyerdahl wrote a letter to the UN Secretary-General telling why. He remained outspoken about international peace and the environment until he died.

Also on this day: A Voyage to the South Sea – In 1789 the Mutiny on the Bounty takes place.
Exposed! – In 1967, Expo 67 opened in Canada.
Scully’s Predecessor – In 1988, Aloha Airline Flight 243 met with disaster.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 7, 2010

Kon-Tiki at sea

August 7, 1947: Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa raft, Kon-Tiki, crashes onto the reefs at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands. It was Heyerdahl’s premise that South American natives could have sailed west and settled Polynesia during the Pre-Columbian era. Heyerdahl and his small team went to Peru and used native trees and materials to build a raft using illustrations left by Spanish conquistadores as blueprints.

Six men set sail in April, sailed for 101 days, were trapped by a storm, and with limited steering crashed on the reef. Only one of the crew was injured. The men stocked the craft with native goods, storing water in bamboo tubes and packing native foods. They were also provided with Army rations. They supplemented their food stores by fishing during the journey. They did take a radio that was powered by hand cranking the battery.

They sailed approximately 4,300 miles on a raft measuring 45 feet x 18 feet with a cabin about 8 feet x 4-5 feet in the center. The raft was also powered by a sail measuring 15 feet  x 18 feet with two smaller sails as well. By reaching land in his primitive craft, Heyerdahl felt he proved the possibility of South Americans could have settled Polynesia. He did not ever claim that current Polynesians were descendants of South Americans.

On April 28, 2006 a Norwegian team tried to replicate the Kon-Tiki trip using a newly constructed raft named Tangaroa. The raft, named for the Maori sea god, was built using records for ancient craft. It used square sails, allowing the raft to be sailed into the wind, also called tacking. The craft was 52.5 feet long by 26 feet wide. They brought along modern navigation and communication equipment including solar panels, computers, and desalination equipment. This second raft was also crewed by six, one of them Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson, Olav. The trip was successful and ended in July 2006. There was a documentary film made of the trip.

“Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.” – Thor Heyerdahl

“Do not fear risk. All exploration, all growth is calculated. Without challenge people cannot reach their higher selves. Only if we are willing to walk over the edge can we become winners.” – unknown

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily.  To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Søren Kierkegaard

“Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at.” –  unknown

Also on this day, in 1782 George Washington ordered a new Meritorious Badge, precursor of the Purple Heart.