Thor Heyerdahl – the Man

Our wonderful ship, the Thor Heyerdahl, is of course named after the famous Norwegian explorer. On Tenerife we had the opportunity to visit the Thor Heyerdahl museum in Gueimar.

thor-3(all photos taken from Google images with thanks to the publishers)

As KUS fans know by now our first captain Detlev Soitzek is the initiator of the whole concept of using the ship to educate and develop young people. He and a colleague bought the Thor and asked Thor Heyerdahl to give his name to the ship after he sailed as navigator with Thor Heyerdahl on the Tigris expedition and was very strongly influenced by his experiences on that journey.

The museum on Tenerife is fascinating. There are detailed records and exhibits of the well known sea expeditions Thor Heyerdahl put together with Kon Tiki  (of which you can see a brilliant replica) Ra, Ra II and Tigris.


We also found out a lot more about Thor Heyerdahl as a person, most of which I hadn’t ever heard of before.

Heyerdahl (1914 to 2002) was a free thinker, an artist, a nature lover, an environmentalist before that even was a word, and a person of strong humanistic values who believed that no matter what ethnic background, skin colour, culture or religion, we could all get on if we tried to understand each other, a believer in peace.


He was in every way well ahead of his time. The Kon-Tiki museum in Norway has a wonderful website which tells you a lot more details about his biography and is well worth reading.

We also watched the Kon Tiki film on one of our movie nights on board. I highly recommend it.

For me the most fascinating thing I learnt was how even as a child Heyerdahl already had this amazing drive to explore outdoors and to then combine what he learnt out there – by doing, living and having experiences – with research and study to move his thinking along. He communicated his insights in a brilliantly engaging way. Sometimes his views were contrary to established theories and he had to overcome big obstacles to get his papers published but that didn’t put him off.

After living on a South Pacific island for a year with his wife and listening to local legends he became convinced that Polynesia was first settled not from Asia in the West but from South America in the East and ultimately the Kon Tiki expedition from Peru to Polynesia was his way of proving that new theory against all accepted archeological doctrine and naval advice.


He basically invented experimental archeology, i.e. doing something practical in the way an ancient culture would have done it, using only the materials and tools they would have had, and thereby proving or disproving a theory.

He worked with world leaders to bring about conflict resolution and peace between nations during the cold war period. He raised awareness for ocean pollution and the plight of marine life by recording in great detail what he found on his expeditions and publishing his alarming findings as widely as possible.

He was a doer who put himself right into the middle of extreme environments and lived through experiences which I think gave him a different kind of confidence and authority compared to scholars relying solely on learning from books. As someone who also learns best by doing and experiencing things myself with others out there in the real world, I find that very encouraging.

He also was a scholar and thinker, though, and amassed a huge amount of knowledge by leveraging what he learnt from others.


And last but not least, he was a person who recognized the importance of good communication. If you can’t bring across what you have learnt successfully, much gets lost. His film documentary of the Kon Tiki expedition is a brilliant example. His books are translated into more than 70 languages and have fascinated millions of people around the world. He certainly has inspired me.

Here’s a few quotes from Thor Heyerdahl (taken from the Museum website and his books, thank you!) which I think are very relevant to what’s happening today:

“Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people”

“Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity”

“One can’t buy a ticket to paradise, you have to find it within yourself”

“One learns more from listening than speaking. And both the wind and the people who continue to live close to nature still have much to tell us which we cannot hear within university walls”

“Because every minute, the future is becoming the past”

“We are living in a time where we think everything is technology, everything is pressing buttons, everything is economy and we are losing sight of reality”

“It is also rarer to find happiness in a man surrounded by the miracles of technology than among people living in the desert of the jungle and who by the standards set by our society would be considered destitute and out of touch”

“Civilization grew in the beginning from the minute that we had communication – particularly communication by sea that enabled people to get inspiration and ideas from each other and to exchange basic raw materials”

“A civilized nation can have no enemies, and one cannot draw a line across a map, a line that doesn’t even exist in nature, and say that the ugly enemy lives on the one side, and good friends live on the other”

“In fighting nature, man can win every battle except the last. If he should win that too, he will perish, like an embryo cutting its own umbilical cord” 


The world would be a better place if we all listened carefully to that.







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