Adventurers of the Year 2006

Olav Heyerdahl: Heir to Kon-Tiki

Before Olav Heyerdahl, 29, set sail for Tahiti from Callao, Peru, with three fellow Norwegians, one Swede, and one Peruvian, he had almost zero experience as a sailor. What he did have was a personal connection to one of the greatest journeys of the 20th century and an unflagging desire to repeat it. In 1947 Olav's grandfather Thor Heyerdahl floated 101 days and 3,247 nautical miles (6,013 kilometers) aboard the renowned raft Kon-Tiki. And while the purpose of Thor's journey—to prove the possible colonization of Polynesia by South Americans—has been effectively discredited, the magnitude of his adventure never lost its luster, especially in the eyes of his grandson.

Like Thor, Olav and his crew built their 56-foot (17-meter) raft at the launch point from balsa trees cut in Ecuador, but in keeping with the latest research on ancient nautical techniques, they added a broader sail, adjustable centerboards to help with steering, and a hardwood cabin. Their craft, the Tangaroa, was, as Olav says, "the raft my grandfather would have built today." Supplied with copies of Thor's original logbook, Olav and his team drifted more than 4,500 nautical miles (8,334 kilometers) in 93 days, braving gale-force winds and swells exceeding 20 feet (6 meters). "When we came to our end point in Tahiti," Olav says, "the captain and I just wanted to keep on to New Zealand. I believe my grandfather would have been really proud of what we achieved."