Additional photos added 01 May 2016. Scroll to bottom of post.
Thor Heyerdahl was born in Norway in 1914. After studying at the Oslo University he went to the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific. He and his wife studied the possibility that the Pacific Islanders could have migrated from South America many centuries before. World War2 interrupted his work. He served with the free Norwegian Air Force as an officer in the special parachute unit operating in the Arctic Norway. After the war he continued his research. He led archaeological expeditions to the Galapagos and Easter Islands.
He built the Kon-Tiki Balsa raft in Peru. He left Callao on the 28 April 1947 and sailed it for 6,900Km Km across the Pacific to Tuamotu Islands arriving on the 07 August. This proved that the Incas had the ships capable of navigating the vast distances of the pacific.
He then considered that the Phoenicians sailed across the Atlantic many centuries before Columbus “discovered” the “West Indies”. Similar reed boats are used in the Mediterranean, along the West Coast of Africa and in South America, notable on Lake Titicaca. Wherever these boats are used the pyramid type buildings were constructed. The Olmecs, Aztecs and Incas used a similar calendar to the one used by the Egyptians. Both of these calendars start around 3000BC. This led him to believe that the early Olmecs originated or were influenced by the Phoenicians. But could reed boats cross the Atlantic? The experts said no.
In 1969 and 1970 he built papyrus reed boats and sailed from Morocco. He named these boats Ra after the Sun God. The first started to break-up and had to be abandoned before it reached the Caribbean. Undaunted by this setback he returned to Morocco and built Ra II. This time he employed four Quechua and Aumara Indians and a translator from Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. They built boats almost exactly as depicted in the carvings of the Pyramids.
Ra II was 40 feet long, 16 feet wide and 6 feet deep. It had a 12 x 9-foot cabin. It was made from Papyrus reeds source from Chad. They set sail from Safi in Morocco on 17th May 1970 and arrived in Barbados late on the 14th July. A journey of 6,100Km.
Pat Toppin (8P6AZ) and Allan Otway (8P6AH), Barbados Radio Amateur Operators, were in contact with them during their voyage. They provided a reliable link to the families of the explorers.
As they got close they were met with the MV Calamar and the Tug Culpeper from Barbados. As they sailed along the South Coast and into Carlisle Bay a flotilla of boats including fishing boats, pleasure boats and the pirate ship Jolly Roger accompanied them.
Prime Minister Errol Barrow flew a small plane and circled them.
My brother, parents and I were at the Pierhead, along with hundreds of others, when they arrived. The boat was very low in the water, as the Papyrus had absorbed a lot of water. It was put on the Blackwoods Screw Dock and lifted out of the water. When I visited it a few days later water was still dripping out of it.
It is still debated if the Ancient Egyptians influenced the pre-Columbian civilisations of Central America. Thor Heyerdahl has proved that they had the sailing craft to reach the area. It is left to an archaeologist to find hard evidence that they did make the crossing.
During his stay in Barbados Thor Heyerdahl stayed at a house close to Sam Lords Castle. Daddy had a book on his earlier Kon-Tiki adventure which I borrowed, rode to The Castle and found his house. He invited me in and we talked for a long time. He showed me a lot of gear that they used on the crossing including the HF radio.
Little did I know that in a few months I would join Cable & Wireless and embark on a career in radio communication. Before I left he autographed the book, which I still have.
Below are a selection of Ra Expedition photos. You can click on the thumbnail images below to see a larger image with captions.
Ra Expedition Film from Kon Tiki Museet Norway
Here are some addition photos of Ra II sent to us by Jim Webster. You can click on the thumbnail images below to see a larger image with captions.