NadiaLas Balsas Expedition 40th Year Celebration 1973-2013
map and front page courtesy of Ballina Naval and Maritiime Museum
On 27th May 1973 three huge rafts each almost 50ft long and 20ft wide made of nine massive balsa logs, secured together only with wooden pegs and handmade sisal ropes set out on an 8,600 mile voyage across the whole Pacific Ocean from Equador to Australia.
No motors, no GPS, no mobiles and no land until they arrive in Ballina on 21st November, one hundred and sixty days later. Each had a crew of four.
Inaugural Ballina Prawn Festival, celebrating 40 Years of Las Balsas find out more here
A huge heavy cloth sail and only 'guaras' vertical planks pushed down between the logs at the bow and stern to steer with. They had a collection of Monkeys, parrots and kittens and would rely on the ocean for the most part when their limited food rations ran out. The covered shelter on the rafts was minimal to say the least.
These rafts were replicas of the ones used by South American natives when the Spanish explorers arrived there in 1526. They were centuries old then. The purpose (yes Mr. Bocking there was a purpose) was to prove that the Pacific Islands were populated by migrations from South America in such rafts centuries before. Scientists had previously thought that impossible.
The raft in the museum is the result of combining 'the best' of the two rafts that successfully landed in Ballina. The third raft was so water-logged it was abandoned and drifted its way down the coast to wash ashore in Newcastle where it was set alight by vandals.
On that note the expected landing destination was Mooloolaba in Queensland but the ocean and destiny chose Ballina. I can only imagine what Newcastle or Mooloolaba Councils would have made of such a 'gift from the seas'. (written by Jeanette Mangleson-Henry)
Supporters who turned out to a public meeting to discuss the plan in front of Las Balsas 5 March 2013
The sail was inspired by a Dali work done for the voyage and painted by the crew.
Have you seen the Dali?
Luis Anibal-Guevara from Ecuador was one of the sailors. His daughter, 28 year-old Elyse Guevara-Rattray, lives in Redfern, Sydney.
"There was a very real chance that not all of them were going to make it and they all knew that. I wasn't around when they did the adventure, but I can imagine it would be heartbreaking to see your family member go and not ever know if you were going to see them at the other end".
Someone who was around at that time was Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Mexican sailor Paco approached him to ask if he wanted to sponsor their epic journey.
"Everyone else in the world has seen your paintings, but not the dolphins, whales or seagulls."
With that, Dali painted a 5-foot by 6-foot sail in his unique style as assurance, to be sold if they got into trouble. And it was lucky he did, as when the men reached Ballina, their clothes were rags, they were hungry and had no money. Their food only lasted for one hundred days. They were at sea for 178.
Their special Dali sail was taken down and given to Laurie Wood, owner of the Suntori Motel in Ballina for clothes, food and a place to stay for the weary sailors. That sail is now missing. It's believed it was once held in a local bank vault, but now no one seems to know of its whereabouts. No one seems to know where Laurie Wood is either, although many rumours circulate.
photographs by Dave from Digital and Virtual Environments