Three men clung to the steering oar of the raft, trying to hold it steady while great waves lifted the raft up and down. Three other men struggled with the big square sail.The tugboat that had pulled them out to sea swung away and headed back. Now the six men alone on their little raft headed west across the wide Pacific Ocean.
The name of the raft was the Kon-Tiki. Its captain was Thor Heyerdahl. When he first said he was going to sail all the way across the Pacific Ocean on a wooden raft, people thought he was crazy. They said that all men would be washed off the raft by the big waves and that the raft would be smashed to bits. But Thor Heyerdahl was sure they were wrong. Now he was going to find out!
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Thor Heyerdahl wanted to across the ocean on the raft because of a story told to him by an old man on an island in the South Pacific. The old man said that long, long ago a great chief named Kon-Tiki had brought his people here to Fatu Hiva and other South Sea Island. To get here they had crossed the ocean from a far off country. That was long ago, before people knew how to build boats. So Thor Heyerdahl thought that the only way Kon-Tiki could have crossed the ocean was on a raft.
He thought,” If I build a raft like Kon-Tiki’s I can try to sail it across the ocean and see if it reaches Chief Kon Tiki’s islands. If it does, I’ll know that the Kon-Tiki story might be true.” In the country of Ecuador, in South America Thor Heyerdahl went into the jungle with a friend and cut down 12 great balsa wood trees. Balsa wood is very light and floats easily. The men rolled 12 balsa logs into the river to be floated to the ocean. In the bay near Lima, Peru (another country in South America), the tied 9 of the logs together with ropes. On their raft they built a cabin of bamboo sticks and put up a sail.
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Before the Kon Tiki began its long voyage the men watched how it rode on the water. It did not overturn and it stayed on top of even the biggest waves.Six men were aboard the raft when it set out. On the trip they caught fish and cooked them. Some of the fish were flying fish that jumped out of the water onto the raft. Suddenly one day someone shouted,” Man overboard!”
A man named Herman had fallen into the water. On the Kon Tiki the men grabbed a life belt and threw it out toward Herman. But the wind blew it back.Herman was farther and farther behind and there was no way to turn the raft around.
Then one of the men dove into the sea with a life belt that was attached to the raft by a rope. First the men saw Herman’s head above the waves but Knut’s was gone. Then they saw Knut’s head but Herman’s was gone. Then they saw both heads together. Herman and Knut were hanging onto the life belt. The men hauled them safely back to the raft.
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At last they sighted land. The raft was heading straight for a dangerous reef, a line of rocks where the waves were very high. With worried faces they all watched while they drifted helplessly in. Now they could hear the thunder of the waves against the reef. The Kon-Tiki was lifted into the air and a mountain of water pounded over it. The cabin was crushed in. The mast was broken. Bamboo sticks and rope ends flew everywhere. But everyone hung on and the raft slipped over the reef into calm water.
They had landed in South Sea Islands 101 days after they had started. They had proved that a raft could carry men across the Pacific Ocean.
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