It started with an ad in a British newspaper: Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveler requires three crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.
The ad was placed by 84-year old adventurer Anthony Smith and it set in motion a rafting adventure that saw four men complete a 66-day voyage from Gomera in the Canary Islands to St. Maarten, in the Dutch West Indies, on a craft made of water pipes.
Smith, the man behind the scheme, is no stranger to high-profile adventure and his bio reads like something from a Boy's Own annual from the 1960s: ballooning over the Alps, rafting down the Amazon, presenting a science program on TV. So it's no wonder that his ad attracted three likely lads for what many said was a foolhardy voyage.
Although risky, the voyage also raised a substantial amount of money for the charity WaterAid, an organization dedicated to providing clean water, safe sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.
"WaterAid is a very good cause. We're very happy to be promoting them. We had a great trip and we can say that WaterAid can benefit," said Smith shortly after he stepped ashore at the Maarten Yacht Club.
An-Tiki carried a 'Yellow Brick' tracking device, which allowed her many supporters to track the voyage through the adventurers' website. When the raft left Gomera on January 30, the announced plan was to sail to the Bahamas some 400 miles north of her actual landfall. This seemed to suggest that the raft was difficult to steer, however the reverse appears to be true. Sailing Master David Hildred had nothing put praise for the handling capabilities of the raft, claiming the reason they changed course was because the trip was taking longer than planned and members of the crew had commitments ashore.
"We managed to get this incredible vessel to track very well, not only dead downwind, but on broad reaches and even on a beam reach," says Hildred. He described how the rudders broke two days out and explained how they were able to steer by means of four dagger boards, one at each corner of the raft, and a long sweep attached to the stern. Using these, he says "we managed to get the vessel to track from one point to another chosen point, which is pretty amazing for a raft."
It's fitting that a raft voyaging while raising money for WaterAid should be constructed of heavy duty water pipes.
"The company couldn't have been more supportive," says crewman John Russell when referring to GPS PE Pipe Systems, the company that donated the pipes used to build the raft. "They've been in touch with us throughout the journey. They have been brilliant. We couldn't have asked for more."
Four Polyethylene pipes made up the main structure of the raft. Fourteen smaller diameter pipes acted as crossbeams. Of these, seven were water pipes and seven gas supply pipes. The water pipes/crossbeams also carried the raft's fresh water supply.
The cross pipes and the main pipes are held together by ratchet strap lashings with a 5000kg breaking strain.
Crew accommodation comprises of an animal shelter secured to the deck. It all sounds rickety and uncomfortable. However, the raft was in perfect shape when it arrived in St. Maarten and the crew was in perfect health and well rested.
"When I first got involved with this with Anthony, his first comment to me was any fool can be uncomfortable on a raft, so we had all the creature comforts of home," says Hildred. "We had plenty of food, plenty of water. We washed in fresh water and we showered in fresh water."
Doctor Andrew Bainbridge kept a close watch on the crew and noted that other than a chest infection, and a few minor skin ailments, the crew remained healthy. "We had excellent nutrition. Once we got rid of the bugs we'd acquired in the Canaries, there were no further problems after that."
The voyage of An-Tiki was closely followed by the international media and much was made of Captain Smith's birthday, and rightly so. It's not everyone that can say they turned 85 while in mid ocean on a raft. The crew made Anthony a cake, and images of the celebration were beamed around the world.
For now An-Tiki lies at rest in St. Maarten's Simpson Bay Lagoon, but the voyage isn't over.
"There is some possibility that we will continue this voyage to the Bahamas," says Hildred.
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He hosts the radio show YachtBlast on Island 92, St. Maarten, and is the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: