Attempt to Sail Reed Raft Across Pacific Ends in Tahiti

An attempt to sail a ship made almost entirely out of reed across the Pacific Ocean has come to an end in Tahiti. The boat, which is called the Viracocha III, set out from Arica, Chile back in March with the intention of continuing all the way to Australia. But a massive storm caused damage to the vessel, bringing a premature halt to the voyage, which had been four year in the planning and preparation.

The goal behind the Viracocha Expedition was to demonstrate once again that humans could have sailed across the Pacific from South America using rafts or boats made from simple materials found on that continent. The ambitious goal for the eight-person crew had always been to complete a full crossing of the ocean, covering some 10,000 nautical miles (18,520 km/11,507 miles) over a six month period. Unfortunately, the voyage faced a number of challenges along the way, including slower progress that anticipated. Still, the Viracocha III and her crew were continuing to make headway towards their goal of reaching the coast of Australia before disaster struck.

According to ExWeb, the Viracocha III traveled for 86 days without spotting land before reaching Tatakoto, an isolated atoll that is a part of the Tuamotu Islands in the South Pacific. Once there, the plan was to drop off a few crew members who had other commitments requiring them to return home early. The islands also made a good spot to conduct some repairs to the raft too. Crossing the open ocean had inflicted some minor damage to the vessel, which was impossible to repair while at sea.

Photo Credit: Valentinapazmunoz via WikiMedia

While making their way towards their intended destination, a massive storm struck the area, bringing high winds, heavy rains, and rolling seas along with it. The storm was so intense that it actually lasted for 19 days, which would be a bit much for any ship and crew to handle. A few days of rain and wind is one thing, but nearly three weeks of constant bad weather could test the resolve of veteran sailors aboard modern boats with warm and dry living quarters.

Although it was getting continuously blasted by the storm, the Viracocha III was still making its way towards Tahiti. The hope was that they could make another stop there before proceeding on to Australia. The storm ended up inflicting severe damage on the raft however, causing the crew to have to cut off part of the bow in order to save the remanider of the vessel. Due to its unique structure, and the reeds that make up the hull, it was still able to stay afloat for an extended period of time.

But as the days passed, it became increasingly clear that the raft was slowing down and becoming less seaworthy. Eventually, a passing ship noticed that the Viracocha III was in distress and came to the rescue of the crew, Despite all of their hard work, preparation and planning, they were forced to abandon their ship at sea, watching it drift off into the horizon, alone and unmanaged.

Eventually the crew were safely delivered to Tahiti, where they were safe to be back on dry land, but a little sad and disappointed too. Their adventure was over before they had accomplished what they had set out to do and their loyal raft had been set adrift. There was no saving the expedition, which was done in by forces beyond their control. Their raft was indeed seaworthy, but Poseidon had other plans for them.

This journey reminds me a lot of Thor Heyerdal’s famous Kon Tiki voyage, which took place all the way back in 1947. The idea of sailing a vessel of ancient construction, design, and materials across the Pacific has proven that it was possible for humans to depart from South America and explore the ocean. Whether or not it actually happened remains open to conjecture, but it does seem that it was at least possible. I’m sure the crew of the Viracocha III are extremely disappointed that they couldn’t complete their entire voyage, but there are worse places than Tahiti to have it come to an end. Having visited that part of the world a few years back, I can tell you that it is a paradise that all world travelers should experience at some point.