Ove Ronny Haraldsen
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Thor Heyerdahl travelled from Callao close to Lima, Peru towards Polynesia as early as 1947, with the goal of proving his theory about migration in the Pacific Ocean. When the voyage ended on a coral reef in Polynesia after 101 days at sea, Heyerdahl had managed to prove that balsa fleets can float and sail from the West coast of South America to Polynesia, demonstrating that humans could have travelled in pre-Columbian times.
Now, almost 70 years later, what started with a bright idea and a great deal of adventurousness, has resulted in a second KonTiki expedition in Heyerdahl’s footsteps.
While the KonTiki II expedition uses the same type of balsa raft employed by Heyerdahl and his crew, the modern day KonTiki expedition that reached the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) just in time for Christmas, is equipped with a whole range of modern, state-of-the-art technology.
“Our idea was to make the same journey as Thor Heyerdahl made in 1947, using the same type of raft but with more modern equipment. This is an excellent opportunity to combine an historic adventure with top modern, Norwegian technology in order to conduct valuable research along the way, explains Torgeir Higraff, initiator and expedition leader.
“This will provide new and unique insight into this specific region, but it will also contribute to shedding light on the initial journey made by Heyerdahl and his companions”, Higraff states.
As opposed to the initial voyage, the modern expedition consists of two rafts instead of one, both for safety reasons and in order to carry more research equipment. The rafts are manned by two highly skilled crews put together of sailors, scientists and technical experts. There are several research goals, of which one is to show that balsa rafts can be sailed, and not just drift.
The expedition also provides a unique opportunity to conduct environmental research, particularly on the environmental impact of plastic in the region. Only one hour after departing Lima, Peru on November 7th, the Manta trawl from 5 Gyres was out in the water, looking for plastics, and according the expedition manager, an enormous amount of plastic was discovered along the route.
As one of several sponsors, Kongsberg Maritime has contributed with systems to the expedition. The rafts are equipped with echo sounders from the fishery department for use in environmental research. In addition, Maritime Broadband Radio (MBR), AIS and Seanav have been provided from Kongsberg Seatex.
Seanav is equipped with double GPS antennas which can provide the fleet’s position, speed and heading, while the MBR will provide communication between the two rafts.
“Kongsberg Maritime produces advanced equipment which makes the expedition safer, more interesting and more meaningful,” comments Håkon Wium Lie, Chief Technical Officer on the expedition.
“While the AIS allows us to tell others where we are, the echo sounders enable us to look down into the sea beneath us and to collect data to be analysed by scientists after the voyage. They will study ocean life and variations between the different areas in which we have been sailing,” he says.
The systems were chosen as a result of meetings with engineers from Kongsberg Maritime outlining the possibilities of the balsa rafts as well as the scientific value of the expedition.
“It was very interesting to meet with the KONGSBERG engineers ahead of the journey to discuss which systems could be useful for the expedition. The systems have functioned well despite some challenges adapting to the humid climate of the balsa rafts. However, the technical support from KONGSBERG has been great, and we decided to replace some components before our return voyage. On the return journey, we will also be equipped with a low light, underwater camera from KONGSBERG, allowing us to further investigate life beneath the raft,” says Wium Lie.
On December 19th 2015, the two balsa rafts reached the Easter Island after six weeks of sailing in the footsteps of Thor Heyerdahl. Now, only the return journey remains. The teams started their return voyage on 6th January, heading for South America.
This is the first time in modern history that ancient style vessels are sailed from Polynesia to South America. Apart from the expedition leader and a few other adventurers, the crew from the first leg has been replaced with new crewmembers who are undertaking the journey of their lives.