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We have made it! - on this day 7.08 - 1947
Thor Heyerdahl`s own Kon-Tiki log book. 7.08 1947
We are slowly moving nearer and nearer land. The separate palmtrees can clearly be seen on small islands to starboard (even with my nearsighted eyes). Our bow points barely clear of south point but our side drift takes us against the last visible islands in the chain. Everybody onboard has a perfect spirit, dead calm and rather on the joking side. We are all aware of the danger we are heading into. With Machete knives the rest of our beautiful bamboo matting is cut to pieces on foredeck and bamboo rods removed to give centre-boards free opening. When we see all hope is out to steer, we cut off ropes and remove all centre-boards quickly. Thor will be in charge of one dingy with Herman and Knut, Erik will be in charge of other with Bengt and Torstein. This is generally consented with satisfaction. Radio communications are prepared by Knut and Torstein.
Bengt at present filling water bottles reel all films etc. locked up in 6 boxes under hut. Everybody ordered to carry passport on body. Everything is upside down inside hut as we rearrange personal belongings and equipment. Islands getting nearer.
Wind turning in still, more unfavorable direction for us and there seems to be no chance to get past. No nervousness onboard, but preparations are going on everywhere.
Wind 800 ft/min. takes us direction beyond second last wooded island in chain. We can now plainly see solid swell above surface that link all islands together with white breakers washing into the air all along. Bengt is just offering us hot meal, our last before the great action. On the reef just inside us we see what looks like the wreck of a small sailboat. Maybe it is only drift-wood piled up. We can see the huge calm lagoon behind it all and in distant being blue palmclad islands on other side. It is the south point we have in front of us, and we are just a couple of degrees from making it.
Very close now, few hundred yards only. Torstein just informing Cook Islands stand by 10 min each hour and inform Norwegian Embassy, Washington, if we are silent for 36 hours. All food cartons and loose goods stored on top boxes inside hut. Have to pack away diary by now. We are all in best spirit but realize the danger. But we will make it!
WE HAVE MADE IT. THANKS GOD!
We have gone through an inferno, no ordinary craft would have mastered with crew alive.
(Continued): Last orders before action were: Hang on to raft. Hang on to raft whatever happens and never dream of finding a a better solution then to hang on to our firm logs. Shallow-going huge logs would be lifted up again and again and tossed in over reef. Bottom would not crash like on a boat, or get stuck too early. We should hang on until raft was tossed through (were) main inferno was, then jump up on coral reef. In this connection everybody told to put on shoes for sharp corals. Then life-wests were ordered on. But first and last the order was KEEP ONBOARD KON-TIKI till far enough up on reef.
Then a sudden suction pulled us closer to shore that expected, we could not reach fairly big island we were heading for. All hands were called on deck. Ropes on centerboards were cut of and were pulled up. This difficult as covered with shells.
Everybody was dead calm and did his duty in detail and to perfection. 150 yards before line when breakers started to rise, anchor was ordered to go. This was taken care of by Herman and Erik. Nearly 100 yards of ½ inch diameter rope rushed out before improvised anchor caught bottom. Anchor-rope was lashed to port side mast while Bengt lowered main sail which we left on deck crumbled up to boom. Erik climbed mast and took down top sail. Torstein completed radio message and concluded: “O.K: 50 yards left, here we go. GM (good morning) Gordon OM (old man-radio slang)out.” Then he stormed out. Knut saved all radio logs and papers and rushed out too. Each man did his duty with a calm attitude I would never have dreamt of. Everybody realized the immediate danger although some perhaps not to its full extent. There was no sad or macabre atmosphere. There was an atmosphere of intensive determination. Now everybody was told to forget about all goods and property and concentrate on one single thought, grab a rope and stick to it till Kon-Tiki was tossed clear of inferno. Think of no other out way. When clear of breakers we should use dingies into dry land if required. Erik was in charge of one, Thor of other. On top of wooden cases solidly lashed on in front of hut stood on starboard corner Torstein, clinging on to ropes in which main sail usually hang. Then in centre stood Bengt, holding on to same ropes. Then stood Herman holding on to lashed-on gable of hut. Erik crawled in door as he had not got his shoes on. He sat inside hut toiling to get brown shoes on feet that were not used to imprisonment for 3 months.
Most solid point in my estimation at that time was heavy double rope secured to huge trunk in bow and stretched to top of mast where the two strong mango-masts joined. When masts crashed these ropes would still hang over deck from bow, as raft turned bow to seas when breakers caught us. Holding on to these ropes standing temporarily on dingy, stood Knut and I, myself nearest bow, Knut between me and three men on cases. Then the big moment came. After a few wild high seas when I ordered ‘cut anchor’ as this proved to give away slowly, we were lifted high up while ropes squeaked all over raft. Anchor was let loose by Herman who stood beside lashing. Then we went up and up and I remember that I in default of any other idea waved one hand and shouted: Hurrah! Here we go, hurrah! Hoping we should all get into it with a smile and determination.
I caught a glimpse of Torstein, who smiled all over his face and then an immense green wall of water closed in high over my head and all was gone. I was dragged with a strength that was to immense that only with the use of my utmost strength and will I was able to cling on, cling, on cling on. I believe the limbs would have been torn apart before the human will consented to let grasp go in such a case. And then the mountain of sea thundered past me; as it rolled on I saw Knut beside me like a ball of hard will hanging to same pressed rope as me, and then I saw three others on cases against hut-roof as sloping grayish wall washed by high over Kon-Tiki hut and all. Somehow dingy was still lashed on sheltered by bow planks, and I reassumed position quickly with firm grip on ropes. I heard an encouraging shouting from midship and then saw next wall rise over stern and shouted “here comes next, hang on, hang on!” Then hell was on again as we all were entirely submerged with Kon-Tiki. This time I heard myself jumped up and tossed left leg around rope too.
A third see followed here when exactly the same things happened a second time. Knut took second sea on cases with other boys in accordance with my advice and as I asked him to go still further back he took third sea from kitchen place holding on to rope-ladder. Later I saw him no more. When this sea was over and we all were above sea for a moment I heard a proud and happy call from Knut: “Look at my bow planks, look at them, they stand firm!” I looked and agreed, while I warned for next sea higher than any that towered up and up as glassy green wall with foaming white edge on top. While it approached, I remember Herman worked his way to portside holding on to hut. He shouted he would save the steering oar. I was furious as I roared with all my energy that he should give hell in the oar and think of saving himself. He had just saved the movie camera which I had used till we reached top of the breakers, whereupon I have tossed it into box on top of cases beside him. The camera had not straps and I had no chance to hold on to it. Herman thought of it, and handled it after one or two seas to Bengt, who in some mysterious way managed to toss it into hut. I am glad I saved it now, but I was not then. I would not face the world if one of the men on Kon-Tiki were lost. Because it should not be necessary if each man held tight for some horrible moments and thought of nothing but save himself.
Then the enormous giant towered in over us. I jumped up and climbed as high up the two united ropes I could, then hooked arms and legs around and made myself believe I was to die in this one position, if I did not get through alive. I believe we hit the reef this time. I am not quite sure as I hung in the air and did not touch the raft. Then many tons of ocean broke in over us. I disappeared first and the other boys say that the green wall stretched about 8 meters above the bow (24 feet) and about 5 meters (15 feet) above my head when it engulfed all.
They were seconds I shall never forget. I thought of nothing but that all of us should hang on, hang on, hang on hang, hang. And I asked a silent prayer. I know a couple of the other boys did the same. Others did not. To me it always gives an unidentifiable new supply of strength and will. I am not a member of any church by own actions, and I never visit them. But I know from this and many, many other experiences that there is something that can multiply my own limited powers hundred times when I ask for it. Some people call it God. Others call it Tiki. I call it God. Be what is may. It helped me again to concentrate a stream of unidentifiable resources. And the roaring inferno thundered ahead, over, over, and revealed to me a horrid sight that is imprinted upon my memory for all my life.
With one stroke like from the hand of a magician Kon-Tiki was suddenly enchanted to a wreck. In one second our proud craft was no more, and could never more be what it was. I saw a human body today pressed flat in right angle lower past against front wall and body over gable face down and arm stretched out, clinging emotionless to a hut that was crashed sideways over to starboard side. It was Herman. He looked dead. No other life was seen. Starboard hardwood mast was broken and port side mast turned over to starboard in sloping position with rope ladder hanging loose over starboard logs. Cans, sail, broken bamboo and cargo was smashed and jammed in pile, against hut’s front wall under Herman’s feet. Plated deck plates were smeared up against hut and cargo like wet paper. Stumps peeped out with ropes here and there. Knut’s bow planks were splintered on port side.
Then came Torstein’s body out of disappearing sea on starboard side. Like a monkey he hang on to four ropes from handy billy ( block) in which sail was ordinarily hoisted. He managed (to) get on board and up on high cases beside Herman, who proved to be fully alive and turned to me with a broad grin all over his face. I shouted a question as to where the others were, and heard Bengt’s unexcited voice shouting calmly from direction of hut door, that all were intact, Erik inside hut. I did not see Bengt, who had got a blow in his forehead from the falling mast. The sharp edge from the broken part fell down and cut right through hut roof, where Erik was sitting having by now just got on his shoes. His experiences were by the shaking and squeaking and thundering noise and walls that gave after several degrees for something that banged into port side and stern wall. Little water entered hut as it rushed by and all over in terrific torrent, that sent now backward side-branch in open hut entrance. Fortunately he did not sit where mast cut through. Bengt heard Erik’s call and as he says, his strength was entirely exhausted, holding against water pressed to wall, so he crawled In to Erik. This was a wonderful solution, and although not crawling all in Knut thought safety in door entrance holding firm to posts and watching red reef against which we were thrown again and again. With mast turned over I had no more raft under me but found myself swinging off starboard side in the two united ropes which now had an uncomfortable horizontal slope. Torstein crawled quickly onboard squeaking raft and climbed and climbed up on boxes near Herman. Then I saw new sea of same size as last, and gave new desperate warning. Here comes a new large one, hang on, hang on whatever you do. And that was all I did myself, I hung on, and was lost in new sea as bad as the last one. This was my limit. Now Torstein stood on box and Herman. I was lower down, and outside edge. None of use joked nor smiled any more. Someone said: “This does not go well.”
From that moment I doubted myself and felt a terrible horror for having trusted my theories so completely that I have caused the death of five other men. One man dead, and I will never be myself again was my only thought. As the ropes swung in I got firmer grip further midship and threw arms and legs around as ocean breakers washed in over raft. Now I was sad and dead tired. When this sea was over Torstein stood on red coral reef on starboard side holding tight to ropes this time with very serious face, I believe he felt the hopelessness as I did. He sprang onboard like a cat and two or three more seas of less fury took us, of which I remember little.
Now raft was lifted further into reef, the starboard stern first, Knut following development form door, took a chance when a sea withdrew and sprang off raft up on red coral rock, taking with him a good rope, that once had been fastened to stern for dingy. He ran far into reef before next sea crashed over Kon-Tiki, and managed to stay firm on reef with rope in hand and water to waist as it washed in and out.
The dingy on foredeck had long since been torn loose and washed over board in over reef, where it hung attached to raft by its line. When Knut jumped up on reef Erik crawled out of hut and saw dingy in line. He just caught hold of line and started to pull assisted by Bengt, when dingy flap in which rope was lashed tore loose. Dingy drifted in through reef between numbers of sharp black rocks, where it finally got stuck. But our amazing radio onboard dingy hung on to rope and was pulled in by Erik and Bengt. At this time we were over dangerous rim of reef and were getting further and further in. Great water-masses now only broke over bow and portside and over partly submerged terrace. Torstein and I let our blessed ropes go and joined Erik, Bengt on deck outside door.
Herman in same moment came over hut roof. He had untied it from secure lashings with dingy bottom up on port side hut roof. We put on sea between Knut and raft to use if the situation required it. But Kon-Tiki was pushed higher up, and the inferno was over. It was decided to leave the raft in case of unexpected large seas should smash us again, and one by one was ordered to jump up on reef where one sea had smashed and the next behind not too threatening. Erik first, then Herman, then Torstein, Bengt and I. But once Erik, Herman and Bengt were ashore the whole thing proved to be so simple as raft still moved slowly up, that Torstein and I decided to stay put and rescue cargo, since we were already twenty yards inside step in coral reef where breakers broke sunder and where Kon-Tiki had had its master test. The first dingy was now going in over reefs with the tide, and Herman, Bengt and Knut waded over and saved it, baling water out as it was filled right up with seas. Erik came back to assist Torstein and me in loading radio equipment into the second dingy on lee side of raft, and henceforward we all assembled rescuing radio equipment, food, water, personal belongings and all.
We loaded the dingies and pulled them after us over the reefs, where water reached us variously from the ankles to thighs. We had one tiny little palmclad island inside us on right hand about 600 yards from our marooned raft and the front of the reef. Then we had a larger island with palmforest further to the left of us. We chose the little one that looked like a basket of flowers or a concentrated bit of a Paradise against a huge calm blue lagoon behind it.
About 100-150 yards inside Kon-Tiki was a large round, black coral rock, which we frequently used as intermediate station. I think we all felt in heaven. I saw Knut wading ashore once, smiling all over his face with his deal little model raft under his arm, a true copy had he worked on day out and day in, in his spare time onboard. I saw Bengt, our “stuart” wading ashore pushing a big floating case in front of him. He opened the lid and showed me proudly it was the kitchen case intact with primus-stoves inside, ready to operate.
Small sharks 4 feet long swam around in tide-water when we waded. One came against Bengt, as he came along pushing his case. But he got more afraid than I , Bengt said. Knut waded to island, came ashore 11.15 AM and reported that he was met by crab with swastika on back. Still the island was so nice that I forgave that reception.
The most unbelievable things like petrol lamps with glasses intact although long since rusted to pieces were found in best condition inside canvas-clad hut. Even Erik’s guitar and Bengt’s 73 books. When most principal items were saved I remember, I picked up a green sprouting coconut between the wreck on foredeck, and waded ashore heading for the little island with the little palm-to-be in my hands. Never, never shall I forget the happiness and the gratitude that filled my mind. Never. Behind me the apparent wreck of Kon-Tiki with the sloping mast against the breaking seas that filled the air with music-thundering music. Over it heavy rolling clouds. In front of me the glorious little island, green and peaceful with palms peeping up in all directions from round low green bushes.
The island is surrounded by a yellow beach and behind is the calm colourful lagoon surrounded by many more islands silhouetted in distance as blue shades of our own little island. The ragged water-torn reef on which I waded was first reddish then grey and of changing colours. The water ran into the lagoon like a clear spring around my knees. I saw large brown animals, attached to the bottom, shells and corals of many forms, also colourful small fishes rushing to hide under rocks. For a while I had a green and blue fish like a small dolphin swimming like a pilot in front of my feet. I wonder what happened to the pilot-fishes we adopted the day before our last shark, that still lay dead with its ferocious mouth half open beside the steering-trunk of old Kon-Tiki. A steering-trunk that was now twisted sideways, with an oar that was splintered right off into three pieces.
Then I reached dry warm sand on a grayish yellow beach, and dugged my toes into it of happiness as I headed for the palms. I enjoyed seeing the footprints grow closer to the green paradise, and was soon engulfed by green palms and vegetation, white flowers on low trees had a perfume that nearby made me dizzy so sweet and wonderful. I went right in to the center of the island, where two tame snow-white terns flew between the low palm-crowns and sailed like bird-shaped clouds so light around my face. Small lizards rushed away from my feet, and great numbers of large deep-red hermit-crabs in white snail shells, the size of an egg.
I was nearly overwhelmed, I fell down on my knees. A voyage was over. We were marooned on a lovely little island, and we were all safe and unmolested. Then I returned to the raft and took some film. Erik took photos. Everybody beamed of satisfaction. We shook hands and talked about our merits. We all agreed that no craft but a flat-bottomed solid log-raft could have done this with six men and all goods safe onboard. We lost some clothing and minor items, and we lost our last and sprouting potatoes, which had been forgotten with the coconuts in a basket in the bow. But we saved even the calabash, that hung on the was inside the hut. We had learned things nobody alive today had been able to tell us: Build your hut elastic on the raft, strengthen it with no nails but many strong ropes, and hide yourself like Erik inside, while the shallow solid raft goes through the inferno directed by anchor that is given rope and keep course. Then step ashore.
By examination of Kon-Tiki we found all main 9 logs unbroken and in perfect condition lashed together as when we started with ropes filled in, so corals did not get at them. Wet and raw balsa-logs must be tough as cork to take such a smashing unhurt. Of all cross-logs only the one stern was broken right off, and this was an unsatisfactory log of poor quality in lack of any better! Main construction of Kon-Tiki was in top condition, only superstructure and accessories were badly harassed by seas. Otherwise we may repair all damage of importance, try to get raft into lagoon in right tide, and continue to Tahiti. This was suggested but I was all against it. Our trip is done. We have landed in Polynesia the hard way. No modern chart nor tug-boat gave us any assistance. And six men and nine logs Kon-Tiki are all intact.
The Kon-Tiki raft was taking home to Norway and can be explored at The Kon-Tiki Museum.
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