Pacific Ocean

Seapeople Tidbit: Kon Tiki

Thor Heyerdahl and companions, Kon-Tiki expedition, 1947.

Thor Heyerdahl and companions, Kon-Tiki expedition, 1947.

Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, the story of his amazing 1947 attempt to drift from South America to Polynesia on a balsa-wood raft, was published in Norway in 1948 and translated into English two years later. It sold millions of copies and was eventually translated into more than sixty languages, including Mongolian and Esperanto. Described by the New York Tribune as, “great as few books in our time are great,” and by the London Sunday Times as, “certain to be one of the classics of the sea”—which it has indeed become—it was praised by Somerset Maugham as both incredible and true. The film, based on footage shot aboard the raft, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1951 further catapulting Heyerdahl to worldwide fame.

Sea People Tidbit: Imaginary Islands

I love this map because of the way it so confidently depicts a chain of islands that never existed. The Portuguese navigator Quiros believed that islands—or maybe the edge of Terra Australis Incognita—lay just to the south of the routes he had taken across the Pacific in 1595 and 1605, and many later maps show bits of coastline (sometimes marked "Seen by Quiros") in this part of the ocean. This one goes the whole hog, envisioning an entire chain of islands strung like stepping stones across what is, in fact, an utterly empty region of the sea.

Jan Jansson, Chart of the Pacific Ocean, 1650.

Jan Jansson, Chart of the Pacific Ocean, 1650.