Leg 2, Day 78 – The Kon-Tiki expedition

Emma Mitchell By

Day 78 – The Kon-Tiki expedition

“But we did not really feel these enormous distances, for the horizon glided along with us unnoticed as we moved, and our own floating world remained always the same, a circle flung up to the vault of the sky, with the raft itself as centre, while the same stars rolled on over us night after night.”

I had mentioned to Laura on the oars a week or so ago how it doesn’t matter how hard we row or what direction we point ourselves we never get any closer to the horizon and our Pacific bubble merely contracts or expands around us with the changing weather and sea state. When I read the above quote in the Kon-Tiki Expedition, a book about a group of six men crossing the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft, it brought home the similarities between their adventure and ours. Simon TY kindly gave Laura the book to read and she brought it with her on board Doris to share with the rest of us. The Kon-Tiki expedition aimed to prove Thor Heyerdahl’s theory that the Indians in ancient Peru had crossed the Pacific on their rafts and discovered and populated the Polynesian islands. In comparison to Doris their balsa wood raft with its bamboo cabin was basic but in the same way as Doris has become our home, the crew of the Kon-Tiki felt safe, protected and at home in their shaky cabin. Where we row, their raft effectively floated across the Pacific, mainly under sail, from Peru to the Polynesian island of Raroia in 97 days following the current and trade winds which ensured that they had not a single day where they travelled back towards America. Maybe we should try our journey again following their route and avoiding an El Niño year!

Although very different expeditions both our Pacific row and the Kon-Tiki’s Pacific crossing share similar important areas.

Routines: On both Doris and the Kon-Tiki each crew member has their own areas of responsibility and other ‘dirty’ jobs like steering and cooking are divided equally. On Doris we row for 2 hours and steer every other row shift whereas on the Kon-Tiki the men had one 2 hr daytime and one 2 hr nighttime shift at the steering oar. In rough conditions the men would have to work in pairs to control the steering oar in a manner more like our pairs on Doris. Routine is what gets us through the days when we are sleep deprived and exhausted from rowing and is vital for a successful expedition of this type. However we all also crave variety and try to introduce some with social time, sleeping in different cabins and mixing up our pairs.

Food: The menu on Doris is limited to our selection of freeze dried delights and the treats in our snack packs. The men on the Kon-Tiki had a supply of army rations but they also sourced a lot of their meals from the ocean itself. First thing in the morning the designated cook would collect all the flying fish that had landed on the boat overnight and fry them up for breakfast. We may have missed a trick on our way into Hawaii when we had about a hundred a night hitting us on the oars. They also ate mahi mahi, tunnies, squid and shark and plankton soup fresh from the ocean. We may have to sharpen up our fishing technique if we are out here for much longer but at least we know the ocean could keep us well fed.

Water: The crew of the Kon-Tiki found what we have been noticing, especially over the last few roastingly hot days, that you can drink as much plain water as you can fill your stomach with and still have your thirst unquenched. They would add 20-40% bitter salt water to their water ration and found that it helped. Fortunately we have our SOS rehydrate isotonic drink to refuel us and it is amazing how much better it makes us feel on a hot airless day. Fresh drinking water is essential for survival. We make our fresh water using our watermaker whereas on the Kon-Tiki they carried a large number of water containers and collected rain water.

Safety equipment: For any expedition safety is of vital importance and both our boat and the balsa wood raft had a plan in case of emergency. On board Doris our generous sponsors have kitted us out with the latest in safety equipment, from our Crew Saver life raft and life jackets to our McMurdo EPIRB and personal PLBs and AIS beacons and should we get into trouble we know that people would know where we were and be able to coordinate help. We also have our satellite phones, Iridium Go! and Yellowbrick tracker to allow us to communicate with the outside world and let them know where we are. On board the Kon-Tiki the men had a rubber dingy attached by a line to the raft. Considerably less high tech than our life raft but practical for what they could carry. For communication they had a wireless station with two of the men on board being experts in this field. They used the wireless daily to send reports and weather observations which were picked up by casual radio amateurs who passed on the messages. Although they successfully used this to communicate throughout their expedition it took constant work to maintain the wireless station in the spray and dew a foot above the water.

Wildlife: “The closer we came into contact with the sea and what had its home there, the less strange it became, and the more at home we ourselves felt.” When reading the book I was struck by how much of the writing was dedicated to the wildlife the men had seen. It reads a little like our blogs with excitement when a whale or shark was spotted, constant mentions of the mahi mahi and pilot fish and the happy feeling when spotting a frigate bird or boobie which means you are within 1000nm of land. One of the most special things about being aboard Doris is experiencing the wildlife so close up. We are so low to the water that we don’t look down on the whales as from a whale watching boat but see them swimming at a level towards our oars. The birds swoop centimetres over our head and rest on the ocean close enough to touch and the jumping fish land on us in the night. We may not have dragged any sharks on board by hand yet but we have had many magical wildlife encounters.

UPDATE: Today has been another hot hot hot day without a breath of wind to give us some relief. The aft cabin has reached 100 degrees and still feels like a cool respite from the burning sun. We have all developed some interesting techniques for dealing with the heat.

Nats: A fan of the sideways baseball cap to protect her face from the sun in a rude boy way reminiscent of Keenan and Kel.

Lizanne: A fan of a piece of blue tissue tucked under the nose of her sunglasses to absorb the sweat as it runs down her face.

Laura: A fan of wearing her long sleeve top as a shawl in a preppy manner.

Myself: A fan of wearing a long sleeved top which has stretched so big it could fit three of me in and looks like a dress.



  1. The kon-tiki raft is on display in a Museum in Oslo. Their expedition unbelievable, as yours will also be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Doris eventually in a Museum telling your amazing story. The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth has a good section devoted to Women at Sea and your adventure should be there for all to see.

  2. JG says:

    Fascinating – well done. Keep safe, Samoa looms

  3. Simon TY says:

    I love the idea of that weeny orange early Penguin edition crossing the Ocean with you. Thor himself will be looking down, willing you on. I saw him years ago at the RGS, already an old man. You are all so young, when I mentioned it to Laura, she had never heard of Kon Tiki, but for me he was one of the exploring heroes. You are worthy followers in his wake. And Doris floats better than wet balsa wood.

    So which other books did you take ? Or tell the crew about ? Survive the Savage Sea ? Salt water enemas when the fresh water ran out ? The diagram of which bits of a turtle are safe to eat ? I think there were four in a life raft about the size of a single cabin.

    Or The Lonely Sea and the Sky ? One of my all time favourite, uplifting, kick you in the backside, tales of adventure ?

    Or the Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, about too long at sea ?

    There was another, I forget.

    There are too few places to explore today, not many places you can not see another soul for 75 days. See whales that may never have seen mankind.

    I hope you join the pantheon of greats ! You deserve it !!!


  4. It must be a generational thing! Like Simon TY I grew up with the Kon Tiki story and a large size book illustrated with line drawings was one of my childhood favourites. I wish I still had it with all the little detailed pictures of the structure of the raft and the variety of wild life.
    So Lisanne still not got a fish for you all-perhaps a Cornish style line of mackerel feathers would do the trick! What’s the postage time to Samoa?
    Looking forward to seeing you and your team on the One show tonight,
    Stay safe x

  5. Another great blog. The Kon-Tiki story part of our childhood too and interesting to have you compare the experiences. Wholeheartedly agree with Linda and Peter that NMM in Falmouth would be a great place to display Doris and your amazing journey. Stay safe and will be watching The One Show tonight. xx

  6. Jim Andrews says:

    Please can you increase your blogs, to two a day? Only joking, they are so interesting and informative, I so look forward to my daily fix. I think there must be an excellent book in the offing, following this adventure, from which, both you and your deserving charities should benefit? Can’t wait to see the “One Show” this evening, looking forward to your story going nationwide and maybe prompting some renewed interest, plus some extra dosh. I look forward also, to the day you arrive triumphantly in Cairns, when you will all get that well deserved rest and recognition of your enormous achievement. Though I will also feel a tinge of sadness that my love affair with your adventure, like a superb book, comes to the last page. Stay safe. XX

  7. Barney says:

    Thanks to the back up team for advance notice of the short mention of your row on BBC1. I never watch any UK TV (I remember when BBC produced great programmes) but I made an exception this evening. Great to see Izzy in the studio and to hear Laura’s voice on the airwaves. Felt sorry for the family members who had been drafted in from miles away for a 5 minute spot but they all got their 2 seconds of prime time TV exposure! A little frustrating that BBC cannot give more quality time to your exceptional effort but maybe that will come later! In the meantime I will be thankful for small mercies!!!!!

  8. JG says:

    I waited until after the one show before writing a proper piece on here. I have to say that, in my opinion, the BBC failed on every level to do justice to The Crew. They give lovely Isabel a tiny slot and nothing for the families and Meg Dyos and also failed to make any mention of the charities that the girls are rowing for. All we had was that vacuous idiot Baker flapping his hands about like a demted penguin. What a shame they didnt give the slot to someone like Anita Rani to present who would have done a proper job. I’m just waiting for Sarah Moshman to turn the tables on them at the end. Plonkers! Keep it up The Crew – you are doing well. Keep safe.

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