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Inca's Balsa Log Raft

the history of Pacific balsa rafts


Fate of later oceangoing log Rafts

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Science versus Pseudoscience
Prestigious versus Adventure and turistic experience
or Survival exercise

In the last 70 years 20 rafts inclusive Kon-tiki sailed out on the Pacific Ocean.
The 8 complied and reached their destination, and the reminder 12 rafts ware Lost.
Of these 12 at least 6 ware sunken by Teredo Navalis

Since his raid 70 years ago, Thor Heyerdahl has been used as a reference for any sailing with rafts.
Therefore it is remarkable so little new knowledge about early Southamerican seafaring, as has been contribuited by the many later expeditions sailing out on the Pacific Ocean in his wake.

The later generation of raft raids leave the impression to be more about to 'do it better, longer, harder' in a Guinness-like competition.

#1 - Kon-Tiki 1947
[ img - 1947-Kon-tiki.jpg ] Thor Heyerdahl with his 5 scandinavian mates made the first adventurous raft voyage in the time after the dark years of the Second World War
Result: Raft raid completed - if the trunks were tarred, we don't know.
Reflective Note: That raft raid had the most surprising effect, not only on the scientific understanding of their way to work - but it too rushed out on the sea a fleet of buccaneers, freebooters and adventureros sailing the most imaginative types of own-build crafts - in search for a personal adventure.

#2 - Seven Little Sisters 1954
[ img - 1954-SevenLittleSisters.jpg ] William Willis sailed singlehanded on his raft Seven Little Sisters from Peru to American Samoa, and completed successfully the journey. He sailed 6,700 miles, which was 2,200 miles farther than Kon-Tiki.
Result: Raft raid completed.
1963 in a second great voyage ten years later, William Willis rafted 11,000 miles from South America to Australia with a metal bodied raft ‘Age Unlimited'. The raid was completed but his raft is not counted as a wooden log-raft.

#3 - La Kantuta 1955
The explorer and adventurer Eduard Ingris attempted to recreate the Kon-Tiki expedition on a balsa raft called Kantuta. This first expedition, from Talara in Peru led to failure on the Galapagos of Ecuador.
Result: Was caught in the Equatorial Counter Current and after three months there in the Gyre then lost.

#4 - Tahiti-Nui 1956
[ img - 1956-TahitiNui.jpg ] The famous French seafarer Eric de Bisschop committed himself in a project he have 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. When near the Juan Fernández Islands (Chile) 6 months later, the raft was in a very poor state due to an infestation of the clam Teredo Navalis, and they asked the Chilenean Navy for a towing, but the Tahiti-Nui was damaged during the operation and had to be abandoned. They were able to save a part of their equipment on board.
Result: Raft lost due to Teredo Navalis

#5 - Tahiti-Nui II 1958
[ img - 1958-tahiti_nui_2.jpg ] Eric de Bisschop build a second Tahiti-Nui from Cypres-logs in Constitución, Chile; in April they left towards Callao, then turning towards the Marquesas, but they missed their target, and after four months at sea, too this raft began to sink due to the same Teredo Navalis.
Result: Raft lost due to Teredo Navalis.

#6 - Tahiti-Nui III
The raft was build out in the ocean by the more buoyant parts of Tahiti Nui II and this new and smaller raft were swept along towards Cook Islands, but went aground and was wrecked at Rakahanga atoll on August 30. Eric de Bisschop was the only person who died in this accident. A death as this great sailor probably self would have taken, if he have had the choice. Ref. Book: 'From Raft to Raft', by Bengt Danielsson.
Result: Raft lost due to Shipwreck.

[ img - 1959-Kantuta.jpg ] #7 - La Kantuta II 1959
Eduard Ingris built a new balsa raft, Kantuta II, and tried to repeat his previous expedition. This second expedition was a success. Ingris was able to cross the Pacific Ocean on the balsa raft from Peru to Polynesia.
Result: The Raft raid completed - no more information given

#8 - Tangaroa 1965
[ img - 1965-Tangaroa.jpg ] Inspired of Heyerdahl Carlos Caravedo build his raft in Callao; but as Peruvian citizen Carlos Caravedo Arca was a natural victim to be trapped by the authoritarian and inflexible latin bureaucracy.
Of incomprehensible reasons the authorities wouldn't give leave for departure.
At last a permision to sail-off was promised against taking on board a special friend of the port authorities - a pilot and his assistant.
With 4 months spent on waiting, while his balsa raft got more and more waterlogged, Carlos Caravedo was submited this latin idiosyncrasia, and had to accept or lose his raft. Of course he accepted; and he send his own crew ashore and took those two strangers onboard paying them their salary and costs - and they sailed off from Callao.
With such composed team the cooperation wasn't without difficulties, but the three men were forced to sail together, and they crossed the Pacific Ocean in 115 days, of which the 18 last days were used to pass the dangerous Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia by own means.
Tangaroa ended her Pacific crossing on the Fakarava Island, and there the team stopped further cooperation. The raft was donated to the local community - and the men parted.
The sad circumstances around this raid had discouraged Carlos Caravedo and neither it had animated his family to publish anything about this Tangaroa raid. Carlos Caravedo died as a bitter man; but 50 years after this raid he at last got a posthumous acknowledgement from the peruvian society.
Result: The raft raid completed - no official documentation published.
Please note, that the raft was steered by three Guaras only - one in front and two aft.
The trunks had been submerged in used oil spiced with poison - got therefor only limited attack by Teredo Navalis, but wouldn't be able to sail back.

#9 - La Pacifica 1966
The Spaniard Vital Alsar boarded a simple raft, La Pacífica, intended to cover the route between Ecuador and Australia. This journey was cut short by a severe Teredo Navalis attack in the wood of his raft. The raft sank after 143 days of navigation, and the lonely captain was rescued by a German ship.
Result: After 143 days on sea, raft lost due to Teredo Navalis.

#10 - La Balsa 1970
[ img - 1970-LaBalsa.jpg ] 'La Balsa' was the second raft of Vital Alzar. La Balsa was build by trunks of balsa wood tied together with hemp rope. Upon this was mounted two masts joined in 'A' to support a lonly square sail. In contrast to the oar used for steering on Kon-Tiki, the La Balsa was equipped with hardwood daggerboards, known in Ecuador as guaras, which allowed the raft to be actively sailed toward currents and winds, rather than drifting.
The La Balsa expedition lasted 160 days, starting in Ecuador on May 1970, and ended at Mooloolaba in Australia on November same year.
Alzar had recruited a Frenchman and a Canadian to participate as crew, and later, with the work advanced, they were joined by a Chilean student - only three companions. The crossing was successful. The 8,600 miles voyage was, at the time, the longest known in post colonial history.
We have not found any report neither around their sailing nor their possible experimental archaeological results.
Result: The raid completed - raft partial tarred, and no attack of Teredo Navalis is published.

#11, #12 + #13 - Guayaquil, Mooloolaba and Aztlan = Expedition 'Las Tres Balsas' 1973
[ img - 1973-lasTresBalsas.jpg ] Las Balsas expedition was the first multiple-raft crossing of the Pacific Ocean in recent history. This expedition too was led by the Spaniard Vital Alsar, who in 1970 had led the ‘La Balsa' expedition - and 1966 La Pacifica.
The three rafts was 14 metres classic Ecuadorian design and each with a crew of 4. The purpose of this 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 that ancient mariners knew in same way as modern humans know a road maps, and 3): to show that the original expeditions, directed toward trade or colonisation, may have consisted of small fleets of balsa rafts.
Two of the three rafts reached Australia - the ‘Guayaquil' raft was lost in a storm. The expedition is the longest-known raft voyage in recent history. With 9,000 miles (14,000 km) and 179 days of duration this expedition eclipsed the earlier of ‘La Balsa'.
Result: Two raft raids completed and one raft was lost
- the rafts were partly tarred and all partly eaten by Teredo Navalis (ref: John Haslett's book The Lost Rafts p. 286).

- - - 20 years pause - then a new generation - - -
[ img - 1995-Raft-illaTiki.jpg ] #14 - 1995 Illa Tiki 1995
John Haslett build a copy of Kon-tiki and sailed it to Panama - here the raft was abandoned destroyed by the ship-worm Teredo Navalis. The raft could have been saved by modern chemicals, but then it would not any more be a worthy archaeological experiment.
Result: Raft lost due to Teredo Navalis.

#15, #16 + #17 - Manteña Huancavilca + Manteña Huancavilca II + La Endurancia 1998
[ img - 1998-RaftMantena.jpg ] John Haslett tried again, and as continuation of Illa-Tiki he build a rather big raft (20 metres) equipped with two masts and lateen sails and set off from Ecuador bound for Mexico - and with aim to go further on. This raft too was attacked by the Shipworm Teredo Navalis and was losing buoyancy and sailed to Colombia to be repaired with new logs
- 1998 this second raft was caught by circular currents in the doldrums where it circled around in ring more than two months, but again infested by Shipworms she was abandoned on sea.
A third raft La Endurancia was in 1999 build in Costa Rica to replace the lost ones, but under a storm in the beginning of their raid it was thrown on the rocks and destroyed.
Book ref: 'The lost Raft', by John Haslett and Cameron Smith - ISBN 9780692545363
Result: two rafts lost to Teredo Navalis + one lost by shipwreck - the rafts were partly tarred

#18 - Tangaroa-II 2006
[ img - 2006-Tangaroa2.jpg ] The raid was a review of Kon-Tiki experience using a newly built raft with the name Tangaroa - the name of a Maori sea-good. The six-man crew was led by Norwegian Torgeir Higraff and perhaps most important for the prestige it included a grandson of Thor Heyerdahl - Olav Heyerdahl + the renown circumnavigator the norwegian Bjarne Krekvik as captain.
Tangaroa-II was launched on the same day as Kon-Tiki had been 59 years earlier - 28 of April - and it reached its destination in July, which was 30 days faster than Heyerdahl's result, where Kon-Tiki had taken 101 days for the voyage. The speed of Tangaroa they credited to the proper use of Guaras (daggerboards), but with wind mainly from aft, the higher speed probably was more due to a bigger hull and the 3 times bigger square sail.
Tangaroa-2 have not left any evidence nor report around Guara-navigating neither nothing around other archaeological matter. It looks more like pure adventure or propaganda-trip.
Result: The raft raid completed - the rafts was partly tarred - and no information of any Terredo navalis attack.
Afterwards the Tangaroa-2 raft was brought to Norway and later recycled as raw material for a Kon-tiki replica, as entered in the scenery for a new film around the Kon-tiki voyage of Thor Heyerdahl.

#19 + #20 - Rapa Nui + Tupac Yupanki = Kontiki-2 expedition 2015
[ img - 2015-Kontiki2_2rafts.jpg ] Torgeir Higraff build two new rafts as departed from Callao navy shipyard with intentions to sail to Easter Island - turn around the island and go back to their starting point Callao. They reached Easter Island without greater problems blown by wind mainly from behind. On their return they were drifted west and south and after 10 weeks on sea they abandoned their rafts still far away from South America. The cause for this disaster is described earlier on this web-site.
Archaeological Lesson: A hull shape developed on base of hundreds of years experience is not easily transformed to other shape without reprisals from sea deities: Ægir, Njord, Poseidon or Neptunus.
No report is still not published around Kontiki-2 expedition - nor any archaeological result.
Result: Both rafts were abandonned in open sea by their crews
Both rafts was partly tarred - no evidence about attack of Teredo Navalis.

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Thank you for your deed!

We want here to express our deep gratefulness to the two authors and raft-skippers:
Thor Heyerdahl on his Kon-tiki-1947
and John Haslett with his Illa Tiki + Manteño Huancavilca rafts 1994-98

Thanks for their carefully written accounts of their raft-raids in the Pacific.

- even if we still are waiting for the rest of the twenty raft-sailings,
we have to recognize, that a great part of those accounts probably never will be written -

And too a special thankyou to Loren McIntyre for drawing our attention to "the reverse side of the medal"
- As he declaires in year 2000:
Cite: "Nearly all the 16 rafts I know about, their captains had to deal with confinement psychosis"

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Lima - November 2018 - Second Edition of this page