The Las Balsas expedition: A crewman reminisces

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the landfall of the Las Balsas rafts in Ballina after their crossing of the Pacific Ocean from South America. Gabriel Salas, one of the crewmen, tells how the expedition came about, and how he was part of an earlier single-raft crossing of the Pacific Ocean. He also laments the lack of recognition for the remaining raft …

Back in 1970, when I had just finished my geology studies at the Universidad de Chile, I decided to hitch-hike with a friend across South America. We visited the north of Chile, the north of Argentina, crossed into Bolivia and then visited Perú and Ecuador.

We reached the city of Guayaquil in March, with the intention of travelling by ship to the Galápagos Islands, as these islands helped so much to shape Darwin’s thinking.

In the wharfs of Guayaquil one day we met three men – a Spaniard, a Frenchman and a Canadian.

They were tying a few balsa-wood logs together with the intention of crossing the Pacific Ocean from South America to Australia in a raft.

They wanted to double the distance covered some 25 years earlier by Thor Heyerdahl’s famous raft, the Kon-Tiki.

My friend, another friend we had met a few weeks earlier on the road and I decided to help these three people whilst we were waiting for our Galápagos ship.

Weeks later, when the ship arrived, I was invited to join the expedition.

As a result, my two friends continued their trip to the Galápagos and I stayed in Guayaquil.

A few weeks later, our sea voyage to Australia in La Balsa began.

La Balsa was the name of the raft. Six months later we made it to Mooloolabah in the Queensland coast. I stayed in Australia for a month and then returned to Chile.

Two-and-a-half years later I was invited again to do a second expedition by raft to Australia, but this time in three rafts (Las Balsas) with a crew of 12.

I decided to join this second expedition. A few months later I found myself at sea again.

One of the rafts forming part of this second expedition – the Aztlán – can be seen now in Ballina, where we arrived 192 days later on 21st November 1973.

The raft has been kept in Ballina for 35 years.

However, although our two expeditions were immensely popular during the seventies, very few people know where the Aztlán can still be seen now.

The first expedition La Balsa:

In November 1970, a raft carrying four people arrived in Mooloolaba, Queensland, after completing a six months crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

The name of the raft was La Balsa (meaning The Raft in Spanish).

Its port of departure had been Guayaquil in Ecuador, South America. It was the first primitive raft made with natural materials that had crossed the Pacific Ocean in modern times.

It is true that in 1947 Thor Heyerdahl in his Kon-Tiki raft had sailed from South America to the first islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago.

But this was half-way across the Pacific. For this reason, the main objective of the La Balsa expedition was to again test a primitive raft and see if it could sail much further and even make it to Australia.

Like the Kon-Tiki, La Balsa had been designed in agreement with the drawings and descriptions made of similar rafts seen by Spanish sailors far away from the coasts of South America during the 16th century.

Thus La Balsa was constructed without using iron, brass, steel or any other modern material. Only balsa wood and hemp ropes made its structure. A square sail made out of canvas, supported by two hardwood masts, was added to this structure.

The designs of the Kon-Tiki and La Balsa rafts did not include a rudder, which was an invention not known in pre-Columbian South America.

The Kon-Tiki had used an oar for steering.

Instead of an oar, we used ‘guaras’, or moving keel-boards, also made out of hardwood, and inserted in between the balsa wood logs.

These guaras – still used in Ecuador – helped us to significantly improve La Balsa’s capability of sailing across the wind and not just ‘drift’ like the Kon-Tiki but choose her path between favourable winds and currents.

She was also relatively small, light and fast.

As she was made of carefully selected female balsa tree trunks, she had excellent buoyancy. La Balsa did not lose much of her navigability after spending 186 days at sea.

La Balsa became very popular in Australia. At the time, she saw much more of this country than we the crew ever did.

A few weeks after her arrival, she was mounted on a truck and sent to be displayed in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Hundreds of thousands of people saw her.

Afterwards, she was placed on a ship and sent to Spain, where her captain was born. By that time we, the crew, had all returned to our homes.

Second expedition Las Balsas:

The seaworthiness of La Balsa was a surprise to all of us.

After the 1970 expedition was completed, we knew that we could have continued travelling through the Torres Strait into the Indian Ocean and reached Africa, had we planned to do this.

Nevertheless, for a while, we thought about completing a circular trip intending to reach the first Polynesian islands and then turn south until catching the westerly winds to sail back to South America with the help of the southern winds and currents.

However, a few years later, we changed our plans and decided to fully cross the Pacific Ocean again, but this time in three rafts.

Why three rafts? Because if a fleet of three rafts could reach the other side of the Pacific and stay together, then larger numbers of rafts could have transported large amounts of people for long distances.

For example, 10 rafts could have reached anywhere in the Pacific. Or even 100 rafts, as mentioned in legends forged during South America’s pre-history.

In other words, if the navigability of rafts was so good that it was possible for them to sail fleets – as Columbus had done – then cultural interactions during the Pacific Ocean’s pre-history may not have been limited to occasional contacts.

Fleets of rafts could have transported whole ethnic groups carrying with them technology, arts, crafts, music, religion, writing, etc and thus have major impacts on the places where they arrived.

In sum, with Las Balsas we intended to show that fleets of rafts could have transported entire civilisations.

Thus, by the 21st of November of the year 1973, after covering some 9000 miles in a non-stop voyage which lasted longer than the La Balsa trip, we approached the coast of Australia in three rafts named the Guayaquil, the Mooloolaba and the Aztlán.

All were very similar to La Balsa. Although designed and equipped to sail independently, the three rafts had managed to stay within sight of each other during most of the trip.

However, just in front of Ballina we lost a raft.

So as to prevent the rafts from becoming destroyed by the surf whilst landing, we had accepted a tow by an Australian Navy ship just before reaching the coast.

Being under tow, we were suddenly struck by a storm.

As the waves and winds increased and the situation began to become dangerous, the Navy ship decided to abandon one of the rafts after taking its crew.

Thus we lost the Guayaquil five miles away from the Australian coast. The other two rafts, the Mooloolaba and the Aztlán, safely made it to Ballina.

Present Situation

A few years later, we lost the Mooloolaba and almost lost the Aztlán. The two rafts had been floating on the Richmond River for too long and the hemp ropes tying the logs began to rot.

With two other members of the Las Balsas crew still remaining in Australia and a large group of friends who wanted to help, we returned to Ballina with the intention of retying the two rafts with more durable ropes.

Unfortunately, it was too late for the Mooloolaba. Her logs had been separated and taken away by the tides and currents. Her masts and sail had disappeared. She had withstood the high seas but did not endure oblivion.

We were luckier with the Aztlán. We retied her logs just in time.

A few months later, Ballina Council gave her a place on dry land, and this provided her with a possibility of surviving.

A few years later, Council decided to build a small museum next to their Information Centre.

The museum hosted the Aztlán and included memorabilia dedicated to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who also had sighted Ballina at the end of his famous 1928 trans-Pacific flight.

We welcomed Council’s initiative and provided them with photos and a movie made during the expedition.

Now, 35 years later, the Aztlán still is in Ballina but forgotten.

Although Ballina Council did a wonderful job protecting and presenting the raft, only a few people in Australia know of her existence.

These days a few retired and very kind pensioners take care of the museum. Entrance is by voluntary donations.

In contrast, the museum in Oslo where the Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft is kept receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

They come from over 160 countries in the world. The entrance fees – of approximately $A13 per person – take care of the maintenance costs of the museum and also finance the activities of archaeological and anthropological research organisations operating all over the world. (The Museum’s site can be seen by typing Kon-Tiki Museum in Google).

Why does the Kon-Tiki Museum receive so many visitors and the Ballina Museum hardly any?

I believe the main problem is lack of publicity. The Ballina museum has not even a sign in the highway letting travellers know of its existence.

Even Dubbo City Council has done a better job of advertising the presence of the Zoo in its vicinity.

It is true that the Kon-Tiki was the first raft to plough the Pacific Ocean waves, but it sank half-way.

In contrast, the Aztlán is a raft that fully crossed the Pacific Ocean. She is the only survivor of the known fleet of rafts that sailed from South America to Australia.

Our story – the story of the people who sailed on her – is also a long story of survival and adaptation to the sea.

On the other hand, Ballina is not Oslo. But Ballina has grown immensely since the raft arrived 35 years ago and so has the tourist industry, not only in Ballina but also in nearby Byron Bay.

With a slight increase of publicity and some change of Council’s policies towards its Maritime Museum, wouldn’t the Aztlán help to augment the tourist industry in both towns? I think the answer is definitively “yes”.

I believe that the raft urgently needs to be realistically reappraised in its value.

Instead of being forgotten, the Aztlán could be seen by thousands of people; used as an educational material and, by becoming one of the important tourist attractions of Ballina and Byron Bay, generate additional income for local business and for the Museum itself.

I have not been in contact with Ballina Council for a long time but I understand its composition has significantly changed.

New ideas may be simmering and maybe there will be also a new future for the Aztlán and its Museum. Most of the work has been already done. It only remains to show it.

PICTURE: Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson, museum curator Ron Creber and Gabriel Salas.

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38 Responses to “The Las Balsas expedition: A crewman reminisces”

  1. Deborah Rose Says:

    Hello Gabriel, I have just stumbled across your website! I was one of the girls who lived in the house in Mosman, Sydney where some of the boys stayed briefly. Hard to believe all these years have passed, seems like yesterday. When next passing through Ballina I will definately call in to see the raft!
    Regards,
    Deborah

  2. Jim Leslie Says:

    Ah, bless you all for your dedication to the ‘balsas’.
    I am a writer who has completed a 670 page novel, ‘The Mal’lam Voyagers’ about the people who explored the Pacific Ocean, circa 1500 B.C., long before the Polynesians entered Oceania. In this story is a meeting between Amerindian voyagers and the ‘Mal’lam’ during which one side discovers the sweet potato and the other, the coconut and also the Mal’lam discover metal (copper) for the first time. My novel is being considered presently by an Australian publisher. I suspect you folks at the La Balsa museum are all familiar with the growing controversy about who was first into the Pacific. Verrry interesting!

    I would be very interested in establishing a dialog with some of the interested people down there. Since I am now working on Book Two of ‘ the Mal’lam Voyagers’ I am looking to exchange ideas with other interested parties as well as to learn more about your organizations progress and if I might be of some value in increasing awareness about the la balsa voyages. Most people here in the Mooloolaba area have never heard of them! Sincerely…………Jim Leslie

  3. Cristy Sulek Says:

    Hi Gabriel,
    I grew up in Ballina and remember as a child visiting the the museum and seeing the Aztlan on a school excursion. It is a memory that has always stayed with me, so much so that I recently told the story to my partner for reference in a university assignment. I am sure there are many others like myself. I dont know if the schools still take children to the museum, but it would be a shame if they didnt. It is certainly very inspirational to see the raft itself and hear the story of how it came to be in Ballina.
    Thank you for posting your memories of the voyage here!
    Regards,
    Cristy.

  4. Jeff Johnson Says:

    Hi Gabriel,

    It was great to meet you when you visited Ballina. You have some amazing stories about your adventures. Keep in touch,

    Kind regards

    Jeff Johnson

  5. Sue Haynes Says:

    Hi Gabriel,

    The neighbours have just been tripping around Queensland and NSW and mentioned La Balsa at Ballina. I vaguely thought they were referring to one of Thor Heyderdahl’s crafts, and couldn’t believe or understand that this La Balsa made it to Australia. I am 50, not incredibly ignorant, and have been hugely interested in many sea craft, and yet honestly I had never heard of this journey. It is very exciting, and pretty unbelievable that it is not being exploited to attract tourists. In fact, in all the promotional literature the neighbours brought back we could find no mention of the raft. I had to google it to find out more. The Council must be mad. If that council are not interested in promoting this phenomenal story, perhaps another council would like to house the raft and do its journey justice, not to mention bringing some cash into their community.


  6. [...] Gabriel Salas’ reminiscence of the Las Balsas [...]

  7. Jean-Claude Gassee Says:

    What a memory that 1970 expedition!
    I was a student at McGill university in Montreal and a ham radio operator who kept contact with the expedition until it got to Moolloolabah, for the wife of Marc Modena the frenchman abord; I was very impressed by the stories and the tenacity of the crew, the king of people who help our great planet been discovered.
    Saludos de canada

  8. Luis Anbal Says:

    Hola Gabriel: Bueno saber de ti en Ballina. No se donde andas, me encantaria que estemos en contacto, yo estoy en Sydney. No creo que ha pasado tanto tiempo, parece ntesolo ayer que nos vimos y tomamos un vino.
    Un abrazo a ti a tu Familia, si sabes donde esta el resto de amigos dejame saber, por mi lado todo bien los hijos ya formados y siempre con esperanzas. Te hacia en Chile con el Gato y los amigos, me alegra de que sigas aca.
    Creo que deberiamos reunirnos, en algun lugar de Australia, cuidate bastante, te cuento que hay la inquietud de traer a la Balsa al museo de Navegacion en Darling Harbour Sydney eso es si Ballina la deja salir, pero es una reliquia que debe de ser vista por mas gente. Un abrazo. Luis Anibal Guevara Las Balsas

  9. Ina Gooley(neePaulina Cant) Says:

    I was only14 years old when my school group from Ballina High went down to the river to watch you come in. I remember the sail looking like a fantastic piece of art. Its a great memory of mine,coming from a then tiny place then of Lennox Head to the north towards Byron Bay,Ive always loved stories from the southern hemisphere and our Pacific Ocean. My soon to be boyfriend(hubby)swam out with a friend to greet you after school was over and remembers your weathered beards and impression of the deck and space you lived in and the adventure.

  10. Ann Howard Says:

    Hi Gabriel, I am still living on D Island and knew you and pattie in the 1970s. I’m writing a book on the island, the history and some of the interesting people who have lived there. Can I have your permission to put in some of your account about La Balsa please? Ihave some photos of us salvaging pumpkins from the river after the flood! Also can you tell me the years that you came and left the island? Ann Howard

  11. Victoria Slavuski Says:

    For Gabriel Salas
    Hola Gabriel, por si estas en contacto con esta direccion, me encantaria que nos contactaramos. Soy Vicky, nos encontramos en Juan Fernandez con Dipy y viviamos en lo de Raul, ay, hace millones de años. Yo vivo en Viena, mi email es vslavuski@gmail.com. Un gra abrazo.

  12. Amanda Says:

    Hi,
    I totally agree that the museum could be promoted better. At the very least a sign is needed. I remember as a child seeing La Balsa come to visit in a Brisbane shopping centre, and the memory stayed with me. I recently read Thor Heyerdahl story of the Kon tiki and remembered La Balsa, and wondered whether there was some connection with Heyerdahls journeys, but could not find info on the internet about it. You need some websites to promote La Balsa too. By sheer coincidence I was holidaying at Ballina a few weeks ago, called into the info centre ( not knowing that one of the rafts was there!!!) and stayed at the Ballina beach resort and in their garden found a plaque recording the journey of La Balsa… mystery has now been solved. Still people here in Australia need to know of the significance of this and I for one, will write about it on my website as a small contribution. And the members of my bookclub also know about it. Let’s not forget the incredible feat of La Balsa and the fact that they sat for years without sinking, which is more than we can say about Thor’s Kon tiki… Good luck.

  13. Robin Thepsiri Says:

    To Gabriel Salas,

    Have just read all this and I note a reply from Luis who I knew in the 70′s..
    I know the voyage well from his account and I visited the burnt raft at Newcastle with him. Please reply… Robin

  14. Flavio Kruger Says:

    Ola Gabriel, espero que esteja bem. Te conheci quando numa noite foste a Sydney no apartamento da Aninha e do brasileiro Maikol, lembras? Tive de retornar a Brasil pois estava ilegal. Ainda tens o sleeping bag roxo? Um grande abraco!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Chris Leyland Says:

    I remember when the museum was setup and I had the opportunity to experience this unique craft – and the tales of it’s voyage, with my young children, many years ago.

    I often pass through Ballina on regular trips to QLD. Nearly every time I do, I think of this little vessel … and wonder if it still remains.

    It is a discrace that it is all but forgotten, but it does sound like it may have a second chance somewhere down the track. I hope it does.

    So many of “mans” adventures are forgotton or dismissed, yet the local footy results are talked about for years ! It is a pity that there is not a website with details of the trip as there is much to learn and consider from this adventure.

    The fact that I recently did a QLD trip, inspired me to dig further into the La Balsa adventure again – and even learned further ( possibly forgotten) details of this remarkable feat.

    For those who have not seen it, do a stop, revive, survive detour, when passing through Ballina next time. The Bypass is nearly finished, so it may not be so easy in the future. Can someone post details of exactly where it is? All I remember is that it is on the Ballina side of the river.

  16. PATRICIA ROCCA Says:

    well, how pleased i am to see this website….can you please keep me informed of any happening…

    you do have to go all the way down to River Road to find the Museum…it is on the far left hand side of the township…

  17. Geoff Says:

    I came across the Guayaquil after leaving Mooloolaba on my yacht for the Sydney to Hobart race. The raft was sitting low with schools of Queen fish swimming around, we boarded and took in the incredible feeling, just a touch of your experience. It must have been scary at times. The only memento we acquired was the Headless Eagle which guided us down to Hobart in a very rough Syd to Hobart race where half the yachts pulled out.
    I found this site in researching the Labalsas because I am about to put the Eagle on Ebay as it has been used as a hat rack. I didn’t realise how forgotten your amazing trip had become and as the others have felt, how could such an amazing expedition dwindle away.

    Thanks for a great memory, Geoff

  18. c. linklater Says:

    A few years ago I was blown away to find that magnificent raft so close to where I live on the north coast. As I am a teacher who was studying explorers with my class, I organised an outing for my class 6 to see the raft. I did the same with another group of children and this Friday I am about to take my newest Class 6 group to see it. We are so lucky to have this rare resource so close and available to us.

  19. Bernie P Says:

    I looked up this site after accidently coming accross the book La Balsa by Vital Alsa, written about the first trip in 1970. A great read and I admit not remembering anything about the remarkable voyage from the time. One of the greatest voyages of recent history. This site has kindled my interest further and I will be visiting the Ballina Museum in the future.

  20. Sharni Says:

    Hello Gabriel
    I remember your fantastic La Balsa adventure. Forever an explorer, the last I heard from you was when you were going to head to the Amazon River on another fantastic adventure. Someone needs to make a doco or movie about the La Balsa and your exciting accomplishment!
    Best wishes for many more exciting adventures!
    Sharni Lloyd

  21. barry Says:

    Hi Sharni,
    There was a film made of the Las Balsas expedition, and it makes for great viewing. If ever you visit the Naval and Maritime Museum in Ballina, inquire about it — they might have a DVD copy of it.

  22. Michael Fitzgibbons Says:

    A big hello to all in Ballina. I am trying to contact the people at the museum. I sent a.email to them a week ago explaining my wish to.send some of my things from our voyage. One item is my daily logbook. t might be of interest as it contains a chart of our progress, songs we sang and food receipes (food was very important-when you .ydo not have access to it as on land). I also have an idea I would like to discuss. I would be grateful to have the email address of a contact at the museum. michaelfitzgibbons@comcast.net

  23. barry Says:

    Hi Michael,
    We’ve contacted the people at the museum and they have received your email and are keen to contact you. They will be in touch soon.

  24. Wal Eyre. Says:

    I can recall one of the la balsa rafts being temperally mored in the Hunter river at the old
    timber wharfe Newcstle Harbour in the early ’70′s appearently after being towed in from sea as maybe was considered a navigational hazzard at that time. I can remember clamb-ring down to go aboard, and try to imagine conditions endured by these intrepid crewmen on such an epic voyage.
    The raft was eventually manouvered by tow into the Carrington Bason, Newcastle, where I
    managed to take some photos of her before it was eventually torched at her final mooring,
    such an inglorious demise for a special craft were my sentiments at that time.

  25. Francisco Bernal Says:

    Outstanding stories indeed!

    My name is Francisco Bernal I’m a film maker and I’m doing a documentary feature about the life and expeditions of Vital Alsar, the spaniard who was in command of those balsa expeditions Gabriel was involved in.

    We are planning to travel to Australia to interview eyewitnesses of those important events as well as to seek footage (film or video) of that time.

    Here’s my email please contact me francisco.bernal@rocketmail.com

    Gabriel and Anibal please contact me, we are planning to go to Australia somewhere between july and september 2012, Vital will come with us, he wants to visit the Aztlan.

    Saludos
    Paco Bernal

  26. Stewart Medcalf Says:

    Great story and a fantastic addition to Ballina for history buffs and tourism, it shows how the diaspora of different humanities and peoples moved around the world.

    But alas, it may soon be gone. The beaurocrats at Ballina Shire Council are looking to close this part of the Maritime Museum TO SAVE A BUCK whilst addressing a building and asbestos issue. The museum needs re-roofing and by getting rid of the Las Balsas exhibition the roof can be lowered and money saved.

    Ballina Shire has recently gone through local elections and this matter was not raised, therefore it is soley a beaurocratic proposal and not one from the people. It’s a bloody joke, this is a world class exhibition, huge bucks are spent promoting tourism and now one of the main exhibitions is for the chop … maybe a ‘pay cut’ for the stupidity of beaurocrats and their ‘consultants’ is called for.

    Chop a beaurocrat salary and save Las Balsas in Ballilna!

  27. Ina Gooley ( nee'Cant) Says:

    I hope La Balsa & La Balsas expeditions become more historically remembered. The 1973 exhibition left a great impression for me personally .It could be a movie like Mutiny on the Bounty . At my art class in mid 2012 I described it as”Art” and also “Performance Art” Thankfully the exhibition had soul and a true nature and never became like a ‘Big Brother” overly observed event. Yours Sincerely Paulina(INA)Gooley(nee’Cant)

  28. Ina Gooley ( nee'Cant) Says:

    If you’ve seen 2013s The Life of Pi you could imagine what La Balsas/La Balsa exPedition! marine experience would have been like.

  29. Eveline Cornell-Trapp Says:

    Came across the Las Balsas Expedition in Ballina April this year purely by chance. Fabulous n fascinating. I have spread the word. So many friends did not know
    about the Ballina museum let alone the exhibit n exhibition. A must see.

  30. Ron Bracken Says:

    Hi,
    I have just stumbled upon this website.
    I recall the day the rafts were towed across the Ballina bar.
    I was the project Manager for Pearson Bridge who were installing the Ballina sewerage Scheme. When the rafts were anchored off shore, the Immigration would not let the crew ashore until they were cleared.
    I was asked to supply a piece of our heavy machinery to enable the Raft to be pulled to the shallows, which we did gladly.
    I recall where the crew had a ritual and asked for a young lady to go aboard. Apparently it was a tradition. One of my machine operators had a young daughter and the crew accepted her to be apart of the tradition.
    Anyway, I remember it well. I also recall having many discussions in the Lobster Pot Hotel next to the Ballina Slipway.
    Good to see the raft being preserved.

  31. chris brady Says:

    hello there as a kid I grew up in Ballina with my parents who owned a transport company along with my uncles. they and another operator had the task of transporting the rafts out of the river and to the holding area on dry land . there used to be a picture in the museum with one of my uncles beside the crane and there is a picture in dads shed of the raft on the back of his truck apparently I was in the cab when this was taken. definetly a big part of ballinas history this raft.

  32. Larry Flener Says:

    In November 1970, I was a 23 year old American sailor on a ship in the south pacific that is as forgotten and un heralded as La Balsa. The crew of La Balsa may remember my ship coming alongside, hoisting the four La Balsa crew members aboard and after providing them fresh provisions and an examination by our physician turning them loose to complete their journey. Long ago I lost the numerous photos I took of this glorious raft and the crew that served on her. I have recalled in vivid detail the look of the balsa vessel, the crew and even the toilet on the front that the crew was so careful to protect as we pulled them along side our ship. I have also told in detail the story of the La Balsa cats and parrots. Until now I had never been able to find anything documented about La Balsa’s travels. I am so glad to have found this site and the opportunity to salute the brave crew of La Balsa. I am also grateful that I actually stood in the company of these men and admired their glorious adventure.

  33. Larry Flener Says:

    I remember La Balsa vividly.

  34. hugo espinoza Says:

    Gabriel:
    Pocos dias atras arrende un DVD acerca de la expedition Kon -Tiki y me trajo a la memoria tu historia que conoci en Darwin. Anios aqtras un dia Domingo mostraron en la TV. la historia de la Balsa en que viajaste, en esa oportunidad recibi una llamada de Caroca dandome a conocer sobre esta pelicula. Tiempo ha pasado pero me alegro de encontrarte. Un saludo desde Darwin

    Hugo Espinoza


  35. Wonderful to see the 40th Anniversary celebrated with gusto. Had the honour of getting to know these great adventurers when they went on to Sydney after arriving in the north. One crew member even celebrated Christmas with our family. Strangely I have now lived in Ballina for nearly 30 years and do drop in to visit the raft from time to time. Good to see my cousin Deborah commenting on here too.

  36. Joanne Manela Says:

    I heard about your story on NPR radio whil driving from NJ to Fla in the States. What an adventure!

    I would love to know where the Men from the USA are now. I hear one of them lives in southern NJ and I am from the Princeton area.

    Has any of you written a book about the experience? I’d love to read it!

    Joanne Manela, New Jersey

  37. barry Says:

    Hi Joanne,
    There’s a very good DVD which tells the story of the Las Balsas expedition. If you contact the Ballina Maritime and Naval Museum, they could tell you how to get a copy:
    http://www.ballinamaritimemuseum.org.au/

  38. Christine Bethlehem Says:

    Hola Gabriel

    I heard on the BBC World Service Witness programme about a month ago, an interview with Vital , captain of La Balsa expedition where you were also on board the single raft that went from Ecuador to Australia. I had never ever heard of this amazing trip and was electrified! I immediately played it again and again on Iplayer to get more details and then searched Amazon for books about this. I found a second-hand copy of La Balsa written by Vital and. This book had been a library book in England. I read it from cover to cover and couldn’t bear to put it down.What a story! Each chapter has its astonishing challenges, with many terrible dangers as well as lots of laughs and fun. I have loved reading your story. Why isn’t this expedition and Las Balsas known about in UK? It is an incredible story of courage, fortitude and skill. I loved Minet too! Is Vital still alive? How can I write to him to tell him and to tell you that you are heroes of the sea and of the world. Que dios te bendiga! Bravo! From Christine

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