On 30 January 2011 Anthony Smith an 85 year old adventurer, and a crew of three volunteers departed from La Gomera in the Canary Islands in a custom-built raft with a garden shed on top, with the intention of crossing the Atlantic Ocean within three months. The contraption named An-Tiki (or AnTiki) had been singlehandedly build by the team of aged explorers that got their inspiration from Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition and a 1940 boat disaster. And now they wanted to sail their garden shed across the atlantic without an engine trying to prove the raft could be navigated the old Peruvian “guara” navigation technique.
Start of the AnTiki expedition idea
Anthony Smith has been an adventurous centipede in his life embarking on a multitude of adventures. So when he announced his idea of sailing across the Atlantic on a self build raft with garden shed when he was 85 years old…well…people kind of expected it from him.
Smith had been inspired by both the Kontiki Expedition of Thor Heyerdahl (who he knew and sailed a steerless raft from South America to the Polynesian islands in 1947) and the incredible story of the survivors of a 1940 boat disaster who spent 70 days adrift on a vessel named the ‘jolly boat’ in the Atlantic. The Jolly Boat was a small lifeboat launched from the SS Anglo Saxon on 21 August 1940 after it sank in the Atlantic. The lifeboat carried the surviving members of the ship’s crew west across the Atlantic Ocean for sixty-eight days, before finally landing in Eleuthera on the Bahamas. By the time the Jolly Boat made landfall, only two of the seven survivors of the attack were still alive.
This story had captured Smith’s imagination since a young age and it would be a main driver for him to embark on the An-tiki expedition.
Smith had been interested in crossing the Atlantic by raft as far back as 1952, when he devised a plan to begin somewhere in the Canary Islands and to rely on fresh fish as his source of food. “I was a student then and I ran out of money,” he told the Telegraph. “But the idea has always niggled me.”
A Recruitment Newspaper Ad
To make the adventure happening Smith went looking for ‘shipmates’ that were keen to join him. He mostly needed someone with sailing experience that could become the captain of the raft. In a stroke of genius Smith put an ad in the Telegraph in 2006, which simply read:
“Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.”
To his own surprise he got a whole lot of replies and from his applications, Smith recruited Robin Batchelor, a professional balloonist just like Smith himself, to help design and build the raft, David Hildred, a yacht master and civil engineer, and two experienced seamen Andy Bainbridge and John Russell.
With a crew in tow they could start building the raft….
An-tiki: The Garden Shed Raft
The raft’s superstructure consisted of a small hut – really just a garden shed – within which the crew shared two bunks, while the hull was fashioned from plastic water pipes – in similar fashion to PlasTiki the plastic bottle boat – which carried either supplies for ballast (five of them contained their fresh drinking water) or air for buoyancy.
It took them seven weeks to build the raft on location in the Canary Islands (Spain).
A 40-foot telegraph pole served as the raft’s mast and in its final form the An-tiki measured 40 ft (12 m) by 18 ft (5 m) and its garden shed 20 ft (6 m) by 7 ft (2 m).
The facilities were all extremely basic and it was equipped with a gas stove for cooking, some solar panels, a wind generator and a foot pump which would serve to power their electronic devices, as the crew used computers and digital cameras to communicate with the outside world and document their journey.
Setting sail towards Eleuthera on the Bahamas
On 30 January 2011 the inexperienced crew set sail – after having postponed their original date with a month due to bad weather conditions – with the intention of sailing the An-tiki to Eleuthera on the Bahamas. This was the beach that the jollyboat lifeboat had landed on in 1940 after having been adrift for 68 days at sea. Smith and his crew wanted to emulate that experience and they planned to reach Eleuthera in about 70 days.
The jovial crew also wanted to raise awareness about the environment and aimed to raise money for the British nonprofit group WaterAid, which provides potable water to impoverished communities.
Once on open sea the raft’s two rudders broke on the third day and on three occasions it was blown back towards the east; fresh food ran out after three weeks. In spite of that the An-tiki managed to complete 2,763 miles in 66 days when they found themselves – as storms had pushed them 700 miles off course – next to the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Smith’s fellow crew members decided they could not spare the extra month – which they had wasted postponing their departure – it would take to reach the Bahamas so the team ended their voyage in St Maarten
There, the raft Antiki was buoyed, lifted onto land and cleaned of the ecological mayhem collected underneath and with Smith still very determined to reach the Bahamas with his An-tiki.
St. Maarten to Eleuthera
A little over a year later Smith was ready to make voyage number two, covering the stretch between St Maarten and Eleuthera.
Smith then recruited another crew to join him on the final leg of the voyage to Eleuthera – Alison Porteous (partner of a ballooning colleague) came for the filming, Bruno Sellmer (an old friend from Brazil with whom Smith once steam-boated down the Araguaia) became the journey’s photographer, Nigel Gallaher (Smith’s 62-year-old godson) and Leigh Rooney. They departed St. Maarten on 6 April 2012 and 24 days later were washed up on the island of Eleuthera in a storm.
And it is there that Smith’s remarkable journey ended!