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.