The Adrenalist

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3 Extreme Ocean Adventures Re-Visited: Kon Tiki And More



As the wildest sea challenges are finally crossed off the never-done-before list, adventurers the world over are asking, “what’s next?” In a previous feature, we came up with a few extreme milestones not yet accomplished (Gangkhar Puensum, anyone?), but here’s another: recreate an oceangoing adventure that has already been done. You don’t have to be first to swim across the Pacific to be an Adrenalist (though that would certainly qualify you). All you’ve got to be is tough. See below for a few of the most incredible ocean adventure reenactments in adventure history.


The Original Adventure: 5,000 years before Easter Island was “discovered” by Europeans in 1722, it was discovered by people originating from Asia. Also inhabiting the remote island, known for its solemn stone sculptures, were Native Americans, but how did they get there? Could they really have survived a 4,000 mile journey across the open seas? A now-legendary Adrenalist took it upon himself to find out.

The Reenactment: In 1947, Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl embarked from Peru on a journey that most believed to be impossible. 101 days and 4,300 miles later, Heyerdahl’s craft, built of balsa, hemp and bamboo (no metal), lurched into Raroia reef off the coast of Tuamotu Island on the southernmost tip of Polynesia. Hyerdahl went on to publish a best-selling book documenting his voyage. Today, he is known as one of the greatest adventurers of modern history.

SS Anglo Saxon’s Jolly Boat Across the Atlantic

The Original Adventure: In 1940, at the height of World War II, the British merchant ship, SS Anglo Saxon, was sunk by the German raider, Widder, 800 miles west of the Canary Islands7 of 41 members of the crew survived, escaping into the night in an 18-foot “jolly boat” equipped with a canvas sail, 11 tins of condensed milk, and 18 pounds of canned mutton. The crew would call that jolly boat home for more than 2 months, during which the survivors were swallowed by the sea one-by-one. Leslie Morgan, an assistant cook, went crazy and died. Roy H. Pilcher, a radio operator, died from gangrene. Francis Penny, a gunner, slipped overboard. 70 days and 2,500 miles after the attack, the jolly boat made landfall in the Bahamas. Only two men survived: sailors Roy W.C. Widdicombe and Robert G. Tapscott.

The Reenactment: There are retiree cruises and then there is the An-Tiki. In 2011, octogenarian explorer, Anthony Smith, and a crew of elder gentlemen set off from the Canaries in hopes of reproducing the bittersweet success of the cross-Atlantic jolly ride that transpired 70 years earlier. Smith’s journey, too, was bittersweet (though much less so), with the crew deciding to abandon the journey on day 66 on the high seas, at St Maarten, 700 miles away from the final destination. A year later, Smith completed the journey with a new crew.

The Brendan Voyage

The Original Adventure: Who really discovered America? According to Irish tradition, it was the monk Saint Brendan of Clonfert in the 6th century AD (that would predate Columbus’ landfall by nearly 1,000 years). Legend has it Saint Brendan set off across the North Atlantic in search of the Garden of Eden. During his epic 7-year journey he meets fighting sea monsters, Ethiopian devils, gryphons, whales, Judas (sitting on a rock in the sea), and at one point makes landfall on an island inhabited by just a single dog. A strange story, certainly. Stranger than fiction, perhaps.

The Reenactment: Tim Severin has made a career out of reenacting fabled adventures. He motorcycled in Marco Polo’s footsteps across Asia, copied Sinbad’s voyage from Oman to India, explored the Mississippi like the conquistadors, and re-sailed the Odyssey. But of all his re-adventures, perhaps Severin’s most impressive is his 1976-1977 reenactment of the 4,500-mile Brendan Voyage. During the epic trip, undertaken in a hand-lashed replica of Brendan’s “currach,” Severin crossed the icy waters of the North Atlantic, following a course that passed the Hebrides, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland, identifying along the way what he believed to be the real-world landmarks described in the fable — “the pillars of crystal” (icebergs), “the Paradise of Birds” (the Faroes), and so forth. After 13 grueling months on the water and countless near-freezings and drownings, Severin made landfall on the shore of Peckford Island off the coast of Newfoundland. He had reached America, just as Brendan had 14 centuries before.

 Photo Credit: Gemma Stiles /

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