January 6, 1999

Adventurers retrace ancient route in wooden raft

                  BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Sailing in the Pacific on a 60-foot balsa wood
                  raft, an American-led crew hopes to exalt the legacy of an ancient seafaring
                  people and prove they were capable of making long-distance voyages.

                  The four-man crew began its journey in Ecuador, stopped for emergency
                  repairs in Colombia after sea worms feasted on the raft's hull, and now plans
                  to cross the Pacific to Hawaii.

                  The sea worms forced the 20-ton raft to stop for emergency repairs at the
                  coastal town of Bahia Solano on Oct. 30, two weeks after it began its
                  journey. Its damaged trunks replaced and covered with seven coats of
                  worm-proof tar, "La Manten" went back to sea this weekend.

                  The crew hopes to reach Acapulco, Mexico, before March, then head to
                  Hawaii, a 3,300-mile Pacific crossing that could take three more months.

                  Led by 34-year-old John Haslett, a former newspaper distributor from
                  Dallas, the raft is a meticulous replica of those used by the Mantenos of what
                  is now northern Ecuador. The pre-Columbian civilization dates back to 500

                  Haslett was inspired by Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer who
                  described his 1947 raft crossing of the South Pacific in the book, "Kon

                  Heyerdahl drifted from Peru to Polynesia, bolstering the theory that South
                  Pacific islanders descended from people who migrated there from South

                  Haslett said "Kon Tiki" changed his life. Heyerdahl, now in his 80s and living
                  in the Canary Islands, offered him advice both on steering with the
                  Manteno's system of moveable centerboards and on crossing the difficult
                  equatorial countercurrent.

                  Some scholars believe the Manteno ran a vast maritime empire, trading by
                  ocean with people as far north as the Aztecs in what is now Mexico.

                  "These people were making voyages of 3,000 or 4,000 miles, perhaps as
                  many as 600 or 700 years before Columbus arrived. The Greeks weren't
                  doing that," Haslett said in a telephone interview from Bahia Solano.

                  Yet the Manteno's history is largely ignored, said Haslett, who is determined
                  to correct the slight.

                  Working with archaeologist Cameron McPherson Smith, a 31-year-old
                  from San Diego, Calif., Haslett and crew built their raft according to records
                  preserved by Manteno ancestors living in Ecuador.

                  By sailing his raft from Ecuador to Mexico, Haslett hopes to experience life
                  as a Manteno sea mariner and settle any doubts of their long-distance
                  voyages. "The trading route now is strictly a hypothesis, we want to find out
                  how long it takes, what happens," he said.

                  The second-leg of the journey, from Mexico to Hawaii, is to correct another
                  perceived historical slight. "If we can strike that tiny little point in the middle
                  of the ocean, I think we've proven that the raft is a real oceangoing ship,"
                  said Haslett.

                  This is Haslett's second attempt. He got as far as Costa Rica in a 1995
                  voyage but was forced to shore by the voracious sea worms.

                  The new raft was put together in the Ecuadorean village of Salango, once the
                  seat of the Manteno civilization. Seven men worked 12-hour shifts for 28
                  days, roping together the balsa and bamboo foundations with hemp strands.

                  The two canvas sails, spanning 742 square feet, were stitched out of Indian
                  cotton by a tent-maker in Guayaquil, Ecuador. A small bamboo cabin
                  provides shelter.

                  After leaving Colombia on Saturday, La Manten faces more dangers:
                  unpredictable winds, testy currents, jagged rocks, and modern-day pirates
                  known to board boats, kill their inhabitants and steal their wares along a
                  lawless stretch of coastline from Colombia to Panama.

                  The raft has been stocked with five months of water and rations, including
                  400 pounds of rice, 300 pounds of flour and plenty of marmalade, hot
                  chocolate and coffee. The main staple, however, will be fish, which the men
                  plan to catch and cook on gas stoves.

                  The 5,500-mile voyage will cost $75,000, most from donations.

                  Along with a ham radio and an inflatable life raft, the stoves are the only
                  items not available to the Manteno mariners.

                  Alejandro Martinez is one of two Colombian crew members along with
                  28-year-old documentary filmmaker Tyler Young, from Bethel Park, Penn.
                  Martinez joined the expedition after walking across the raft.

                  "It looks fragile. But once you get up on top, you realize it's a solid ship,
                  well-designed, with resistant masts and well-designed sails. That gives you
                  confidence," said Martinez, 28.

                  Enough confidence to ride a wood raft to Hawaii with a guy who had an
                  epiphany reading "Kon Tiki?"

                  "There are opportunities you only get once in a lifetime. You have to take
                  them," he said.


                  EDITOR'S NOTE -- The crew's Internet site is at

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.