Crew abandons reed boat short of goal

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German botanist Dominique Görlitz left New York July 11 in a 39-foot reed boat, his goal to cross the Atlantic and prove his theory that ancient cultures made the voyage long before Columbus or the Vikings visited the New World. On Sept. 4, the voyage of Abora III came to an end.

German botanist Dominique Görlitz left New York July 11 in a 39-foot reed boat, his goal to cross the Atlantic and prove his theory that ancient cultures made the voyage long before Columbus or the Vikings visited the New World. On Sept. 4, the voyage of Abora III came to an end.

Görlitz, 41, and a crew of 10 ran into rough seas about 600 miles west of the Azores near Portugal, according to his blog (www.abora3.de ). Battling two storms, one reportedly lasting three days, Abora’s stern was smashed and its twin rudders damaged.

“I’m very proud of the crew, who have all done a marvelous job during our crisis,” writes Görlitz in his blog entry. “Although saddened by what happened to our proud-looking Abora III, I’m glad to confirm what I always believed: Reed boats are incredibly safe. Even after losing 25 percent of the ship, we are still floating safely.” A week later, however, after sailing more than 2,000 nautical miles toward Spain, the voyage was abandoned.

“Our trip has not been easy, and in the end a gale broke the makeshift rudder that we were forced to craft after an earlier storm stole my stern and damaged the original twin rudders,” says Görlitz in the blog. “The incident gave us an understanding of how ancient sailors could have coped with such dramatic challenges, but now, unable to craft a new rudder due to lack of spare parts, we have chosen to accept assistance from another ship.”

After dismantling the boat, Görlitz and his crew boarded an escort vessel that had been chartered to film the voyage. Although the Abora III was built according to ancient Egyptian-Sumeric methods with no engine, Görlitz had included modern navigation equipment for the safety of those on board.

Inspired by the expeditions of Thor Heyerdahl, Görlitz wanted to prove that prehistoric peoples practiced advanced navigation. Heyerdahl had shown that a westward Atlantic crossing was possible when he made the passage aboard the papyrus raft Ra II. Görlitz wanted to show that an eastward passage was possible.

To further test his theory, Görlitz took along bags of seeds to tow behind Abora III. Görlitz says traces of New World plants were found in the tomb of Ramses II in Egypt, and if the seeds taken on his voyage cannot germinate after nearly two months in salt water, it will be further evidence that they were brought back by early trans-Atlantic travelers.

Görlitz and his team had undertaken five previous voyages in reed boats, the longest a 1,189-nautical-mile passage on the Eastern Mediterranean in summer 2002. Abora III, named after a god of the Canary Islands, was specifically built for his latest project in New York City by Fermin Limachi, 38, whose father built similar boats for Heyerdahl.

The group arrived in the Azores Sept. 10, where Görlitz commended his crew for a job well done. “Observing the individuals grow together as a crew was a pleasant experience, and I am also proud to have been able to provide them with a lifelong experience,” he says.