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Simple rafts seek scientific insight

Wednesday 11 November 2015 | Published in Regional


PACIFIC OCEAN – Two traditional rafts making a round-trip from Peru to Rapa Nui are hoping their journey will assist scientists as well as give an insight into the history of the region.

The Kon-Tiki2 expedition is named after the original Kon.Tiki which sailed from South America to the Tuamotu islands in 1947.

Chief technology officer Hakon Lie on board one of the rafts says the current trip, which began this week, could take about four months.

Lie says they hope to show how both ancient Polynesians and South Americans travelled the route centuries ago.

He says the rafts will also be collecting scientific data.

“We’re looking for plastics in the ocean. We’re trying to see if climate change has reached the southern Pacific.

“We are going to measure temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, many factors that scientists are very interested in.

“We bring lots of scientific instruments on a very, very traditional raft that is what we believe Incas would have sailed 500 years ago.”

The progress of the Kon-Tiki2 expedtion can be followed on the groups website.

“The first day at sea started in Lima fog, and ended with two rafts sailing into a beautiful sunset,” its most recent post says.

“One of the goals of the expedition is to show that balsa rafts can be sailed, and not just drift. The first day was therefore used to learn the ropes, and – more importantly – the guara boards.

“The rafts do not have rudders, but navigate by raising and lowering guara boards front and aft on the rafts.

“A frigate from the Peruvian Navy paid us a visit midday and its helicopter found some compelling angles for their cameras.

“The Manta Trawl, which filters water looking for plastics, was deployed for an hour and the crew started analysing the findings.

“We can also report of fair winds, blue skies, and a starry night in the southern hemisphere.”

This Kon-Tiki2 expedition, led by Norwegian historian Torgeir Higraff, goes further than two previous raft trips.

The crew aims to complete a 10,000km round trip, despite most naval experts saying it is impossible.

“Kon-Tiki2 got its name because we seek to double-down on Thor Heyerdahl’s famous voyage by sailing two rafts from South America to Polynesia and then back,” Higraff said.

“No one has done this in modern times, and we will prove that it can be done. It’s an unparalleled voyage of survival, science and exploration.

“DNA studies have shown that the prehistoric origin of the Polynesian people is in Taiwan. We’re not challenging this, but I believe – like Heyerdahl – that oceans were communication routes and not impossible barriers.

“Through Kon-Tiki2, we will learn more about how those communication routes could have been used.

“In order to understand human migration in the Pacific, it is essential to know what sea voyages were possible.

“While Heyerdahl demonstrated successfully that sooner or later currents naturally would carry a raft to parts of tropical Polynesia, effective steering and tacking systems would have been essential for South American mariners to sail towards specific destinations like Easter Island, and then find their way back to their beloved ones against the winds.

“It’s about time to present how sophisticated the rafts where – far more than just drifting with the current. Today, perhaps the most pertinent question is not, “Did contact occur?” but, “Who was contacting whom? – and how?”

“Kon-Tiki2 makes the ancient Pacific a pathway for both Polynesians and South Americans. We know both cultures had rafts, Polynesians probably used their superior double hulled canoe for exploration and rafts for migrations.

“We will show how Polynesians sailed to South America – Polynesian chickens were found in Chile – and back, and how South Americans did the same in the opposite order.”

- PNC sources