Memoir by a balsa-raft adventurer who tried to sail from Ecuador to Hawaii.
Inspired by seafaring legend Thor Heyerdahl, Haslett set out to conquer the Pacific Ocean the same way an ancient Ecuadorian people called the Manteño did: without the use of modern technology. After assembling a crew, including native Ecuadorian Dower Medina and a mentally unstable German named Frederick, he launched his first balsa raft, named Illa-Tiki, in honor of Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, in 1995. His narrative mirrors the journey itself: long bouts of monotony occasionally interrupted by harrowing moments. Haslett catalogues the excruciating minutiae of daily life aboard the raft, from repairing structural problems to catching enough fish to ensure survival. These meticulous descriptions serve to both alienate and fascinate; non-adventurers will be perplexed by the vast amounts of time and money spent on this seemingly frivolous expedition (the author himself confesses that he was at first solely in search of adventure), but it’s difficult not to be impressed by the travelers’ ingenuity and unbending will. After reaching Panama, Illa-Tiki suffered a demise brought about by shipworms. Dismayed but not disheartened, Haslett constructed the new and improved Manteño in 1998, with the redoubtable Dower the only returning crew member. Growing from thrill-seeker to scientific researcher, he sought to determine exactly how the Manteño constructed rafts that could survive the voyage to Central America. Though the new ship met the same fate as its predecessor, captain and crew made a number of invaluable discoveries, including the fact that the Manteño used tar to impede the progress of shipworms. The author also spends a great deal of time psychoanalyzing his traveling companions and theorizing on the behavior of men in isolation. His insights are interesting, though sometimes overly dramatic; one gets the sense he’s attempting to make his already impressive journeys even more epic.
Ideal for adventurers and MacGyver fans, less appealing to pragmatists.