April 6, 2011 -- Talk about your ancient mariners! British adventurer Anthony Smith, 85, and a senior citizen crew have sailed their tiny raft, An-Tiki, some 3,000 miles from Portugal's Canary Islands to St. Martin in the Caribbean. They arrived this morning.
Smith and his three-man crew wanted to show what the elderly can do when they set their minds and hearts to it. The crossing puts one more quill in the British traveler and author's already feather-festooned hat. As a young man, Smith traversed Iran by motorcycle and, as a man merely middle-aged, crossed Africa aboard a one-man balloon. He is the author of 30 books and lives in London.
According to the adventure newsletter Expedition News, Smith's latest escapde began more than three years ago when he placed the following advertisement in a London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph: "Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveler requires 3 crew. Must be OAP [Old Age Pensioner]. Serious adventurers only." He got hundreds of eager replies from men fed up with gardening and playing bridge with their wives.
Smith built An-Tiki out of polyethylene pipes, lashed together. That formed the deck. For the cabin, he used a prefab pig shelter. Sponsors of the voyage included a pipe company called GPS PE Pipe Systems. Says Jeff Blumenfeld, editor of Expedition News, "An-Tiki has given new meaning to the term 'pipe dream.'"
The raft's adventures included being surprised, mid-ocean, by an enormous freighter that "overtook us quite closely," according to the crew's blog. "But no one had their thumbs out as she went past."
An-Tiki collected wildlife along the way, including flying fish which leapt onto the deck at night, and "a very interesting and pretty small squid," which the crew, after admiring it, ate for lunch. The four men, the youngest of whom is 45, subsisted variously on flying fish and peanut butter.
They used their crossing to raise money for WaterAid, a U.K.-based non-profit whose goal is to give the world's poorest communities access to safe water and better sanitation. A WaterAid spokesperson told the Anguilla News that An-Tiki had raised enough money for the organization to improve the lives of hundreds of persons around the world.
The raft's name is a play on Kon-Tiki, a famous raft in which Norwegian explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 sailed across the Pacific from South America to the Polynesian islands, to show that ancient peoples might have made the same voyage. Heyerdahl's book The Kon-Tiki Expedition was a huge best-seller. Smith is writing a book of his own about An-Tiki. He already has recounted the crossing day by day, on his website.
On arriving in St. Martin, Smith told the Anguilla News the trip was the voyage of a lifetime and that he would miss, among other things, his nights standing watch in the mid-Atlantic. He said he would miss the stars and the light of the moon, the sound of wind and waves.