On 17th May 1970, the reed boat Ra II set sail from Safi in Morocco
on course for Barbados. With this expedition
Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove that one could have used this type of
vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean in ancient times. 57 days and 3,270
nautical miles, 6,100 km, later the 8-man crew could show the entire
world that people of different cultures and religions, from different
nations, had managed to work together under stressful, difficult conditions
towards a common goal. A mere year earlier, the first Ra expedition
had almost made it across the Atlantic Ocean. With only a week remaining
a construction fault resulted in the expedition having to be abandoned.
Thor Heyerdahl had used wall paintings of papyrus vessels from ancient
Egyptian burial sites and reliefs in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and
Central and South America as his starting points for the construction
of his first reed boat, Ra. Thor Heyerdahl also believed as early as
the expedition to Easter Island in 1955-1956 that he had discovered
reliefs of reed boats with masts and sails on statues and paintings
on stone slabs.
Could it be that not only balsa rafts, but also reed boats could have
carried people over wide expanses of ocean? Ra and Ra II were named
after the sun god Ra and sailed under the flag of the UN. Thor Heyerdahl
also wrote a book about the Ra expeditions and the film was nominated
for an Oscar.
the first Ra expedition Thor Heyerdahl constantly noticed floating clumps
of oil in the sea. He became worried that the world’s oceans
were becoming polluted.
This was reported to the UN and he was asked to make systematic observations during the Ra II expedition. The resulting report became a key document in the UN’s environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972.
Thor Heyerdahl also reported his observations to the USA, both to a congressional committee and in the House of Representatives, as well as in more than 20 other countries.
His environmental efforts resulted in, among other things, a ban on emptying waste oil from tankers into the sea.
An award, the Thor Heyerdahl Environmental Prize, worth USD 1 million is now awarded by the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association every second year for efforts aimed at combating ocean pollution.