The international crew of the new Kon-Tiki 2 expedition that set sail last fall made their way from Peru to Easter Island, but didn’t manage to complete their planned return trip. All 14 people on board the expedition’s two specially constructed balsa rafts had to be rescued this week after 114 days at sea.
“I think everyone involved in the expedition is disappointed that we had to call it off,” Kari Skår Dahl, who was captain of the outgoing voyage, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday. The cargo ship Hokuetsu Ushaka plucked the crew members and the rafts out of the Pacific Ocean off Chile on Thursday, in a rescue operation coordinated by the Chilean Navy.
The expedition sailed from Callao in Peru last November and reached Easter Island 43 days later. The project, aimed at combining environmental, climate and marine research while also re-enacting the legendary postwar Kon-Tiki voyage of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, was a success on its first leg.
Up against ‘El Nino’
After leaving Easter Island on January 6, though, the two rafts sailing together drifted southwards and out of course. The seas were rough, with eight- to 10-meter waves striking the rafts in gale conditions at one point, and the crew realized it would take too long to reach South America.
An evacuation decision was ultimately made, when the rafts were still 900 nautical miles from land and weather forecasts were not promising. “The crew was okay on board, but didn’t have the resources to continue the voyage,” Dahl, who lives in Kristiansand on Norway’s southern coast, told NRK. “They didn’t get the weather they’d planned and this is a demanding portion of the ocean. Everyone is disappointed, but after 10 weeks they’re also surely glad to be able to travel home.”
Expedition leader Torgeir Higraff stated that the decision was made to evacuate, to be sure everyone remained safe. “We have shown that balsa rafts can sail to Easter Island,” Higraff stated on the expedition’s website. “We also made good progress on the return journey, but this is an El Nino year and the weather patterns we encountered have been atypical.”
Still collected ‘valuable’ research
Dahl stressed that the crew was able to gather “valuable and important” research data from the southern Pacific, providing information on the atmosphere, surface water and El Nino.
“We had a great research team on board (with members from several countries),” Dahl told NRK. She’s already back in Norway, after returning to her job as a chief engineer on board a Norwegian rescue vessel that was sailing off Lofoten this week. She said the Kon-Tiki 2 sailing went well during her portion of the expedition, “but we also had some days where we weren’t certain whether we were going in the right direction. Then the wind would turn and in our favour.”
The expedition was supported by, among others, the Thor Heyerdahl Institute and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Higraff and Captain Signe Meling thanked the captain and crew of the Hokuestsu and the Chilean Navy, as did the Norwegian Embassy in Santiago.