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
in the Canary Islands, offered him advice both on steering with the
Manteno's system of moveable centerboards and on crossing the difficult
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
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 www.balsaraft.com.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.