Kon-Tiki

By Thor Heyerdahl

In 1947, when nobody in the academic world believed it was possible that the South Pacific islands could have been settled from South America, Heyerdahl, who put forth the article that was rejected time and again, decided his only option to prove it was possible was to do it himself. With plenty of conviction and an unrealistically short timeline, Heyerdahl set out to garner funding, material support, and a crew to set out on an unpredictable journey across 4,300 nautical miles using nothing other than ocean currents and wind patterns. Intent on providing it would have been possible centuries earlier, Heyerdahl and his crew cut down enough balsa trees to build a raft in traditional style a cabin large enough for the 6-person crew to sleep in, and a mast, sail, and steering oar as their only means of directing their travel. Putting their fate in the hands of nature, the crew set out from Peru with hopes that the Humboldt current would take them to the South Pacific. Through calm seas, massive storms, and a veritable universe of unknown sea creatures, the crew made landfall on an uninhabited island paradise after 101 days at sea. This book tells the unbelievable journey.

“Kon-Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl is the true story of how a handful of people managed to survive across vast stretches of ocean on nothing more than a bunch of logs tied together with woven ropes. Their singular experience offered them unique opportunities: the first to see species of fish that were unknown before, an acute awareness of the massive expanse of nature, and the technological solitude to an almost unfathomable degree in Western society today. Heyerdahl writes a narrative of the adventures that includes a few particularly notable snippets from the ship log (more accurately called the raft log), but is generally compiled of the adventures of the team, his observations, and some meandering thoughts about the journey. Other than a few densely nautical passages, his writing style is easy and compelling to read. Chapters are broken up according to segments of the journey, starting with the initial conception of the adventures, through planning, all the way until they are taken off the South Pacific islands to be returned to Western society after months of isolation. Although the weight of evidence in recent decades has shown that the South Pacific islands were settled from Asia rather than South America, their journey is nonetheless remarkable and fascinating.

As someone who is highly skeptical of any sea-faring story since reading the supposedly true (but actually fictional) story of “Life of Pi,” I was well into details of how they planned the journey and built the raft before I accepted that this might be a true story. And what a story! Although I skimmed some of the details about what happened astern of the boat and checking the lines beneath the boat, I was absolutely captivated by every aspect of the journey. I highly recommend this book, and might even consider lending you my copy.

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