07 Jul Don’t Try this at Home: Historic Harrowing Sea Voyages
Do you ever find yourself wondering what it would be like to build your own boat? Or what it would be like to travel across the sea on an expedition? While many of us may dream of doing this, many of us probably would not be comfortable actually doing so if push came to shove. There are too many areas for things to go wrong, and we all know that Mother Nature can be ruthless and unforgiving. Despite the risks, in the past, there have been sea captain’s that have done just this. Some have even taken their handmade creation out on a risky and dangerous sea adventure.
While we don’t recommend trying this at home, you might get a few good chuckles reading about some of the most insane (yet brave) and craziest sea voyages ever taken.
Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 27-man crew set sail for the Antarctic on the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Starting in Plymouth, England the goal of this expedition was to complete the first crossing of the continent. The barquentine ship, Endurance, was considered to be the strongest wooden ship ever built in its time, as every detail was scrupulously planned and she was designed with polar conditions in mind. Despite this, the Endurance never landed in Antarctica, as it eventually succumbed to the weather conditions and sunk in the Weddell Sea. While this ship was not designed by amateurs, there was still a significant design flaw that eventually caused this ship to sink. Since the Endurance didn’t have a bowl bottom, she became subject to the pressure of compressed ice. The Endurance was only designed to operate in loose ice, so when the Endurance was forced to drift for months beset in the ice, the pressure eventually broke the hull forcing Shackleton and his crew to abandon ship. Luckily, Shackleton and his crew survived the ordeal after Shackleton had to venture off alone to retrieve help.
In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl set out on the Kon-Tiki expedition, in which Heyerdahl set out on a journey across the Pacific on a raft from South America to the Polynesian Islands. This idea was fueled by the belief that people in South America could have crossed the Pacific and populated Polynesia. To prove this, Heyerdahl created a 40-foot replica of an ancient Polynesian raft using only the technologies and materials that were available at the time. Heyerdahl and his crew were able to sail the homemade raft over 4,300 miles over the course of 101 days before they crashed into a reef. Fortunately, Heyerdahl and his crew all made it back to land safely.
Seven Little Sisters Expedition
Writer and sailor William Willis completed his first solo expedition in 1954 at the age of 61. Unlike many others at the time, Willis’ reason was not to prove some academic theory. Willis simply just wanted to test himself against the sea, so he built a balsa wood raft and set out from South America to American Samoa. Willis named his raft the “Seven Little Sisters,” and his crew consisted of himself, his parrot, and his cat. Despite his small crew, all three arrived at their destination in one piece. Yes you heard right, a man, his bird, and his cat sailed 2,200 miles further than Thor Heyerdahl did on his Kon-Tiki expedition, but it wasn’t without its fair share of setbacks. Shortly into the journey nearly all of Willis’ water supply became contaminated, so Willis had to survive on seawater, rainwater, condensed milk, and raw flour. There was even a battle with a shark when it was tossed onboard, but according to Willis nothing compared to the horror of losing his cat. Which is why every time his feline friend was thrown overboard, Willis would jump in and brave the Pacific Ocean to rescue his beloved pet.
In 1956, French seafarer Eric de Bisschop also built a Polynesian bamboo raft and planned to cross the Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to Chile. Wanting to accomplish his goal quickly, de Bisschop sailed south of the 40th parallel, which many experts have deemed as the “suicide” route due to constant gale-force winds. While the Tahiti-Nui handled well in most conditions and survived the brutal seas, by the time de Bisschop and his crew were halfway to South America in 1957, they noticed that their raft was disintegrating. After 199 days at sea, rescue was finally radioed when they were about 150 miles off the coast of South America because the raft began to sink. Undaunted by the initial failure, de Bisschop built another Polynesian raft and set sail again in 1958. Tragically, this mission was also not a success, as de Bisschop died in a tragic accident when their raft was swept along and went aground while approaching the Cook Islands.