Image: Kon-Tiki re-enactment
Martin Mejia  /  AP
Norwegian explorers wave to reporters as they leave their Peruvian port on Friday.
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updated 5/1/2006 3:04:12 PM ET 2006-05-01T19:04:12

A Norwegian team that includes Thor Heyerdahl's grandson is paddling across the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to repeat the famed adventurer's journey aboard the balsa raft Kon-Tiki.

"My personal motivation is to have a great adventure," 28-year-old Olav Heyerdahl told The Associated Press on Friday before he and five shipmates embarked for the trip across the Pacific on the balsa raft Tangaroa — named for the Polynesian god of the ocean.

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and his team sailed their primitive raft 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days to support Heyerdahl's theory that the South Sea Islands were settled by ancient mariners from South America.

Heyerdahl, who died in 2002 at age 87, documented his voyage in the best-selling book "Kon-Tiki" and in an Oscar-winning documentary film.

The new 56-foot vessel, built on a dry dock in Lima's port of Callao, is larger than the Kon-Tiki, with eight crossbeams lashed to 11 balsa logs from Ecuador and covered by a bamboo deck.

Atop a hardwood cabin, the crew fitted a thatched-reed roof made by Aymara Indians from Lake Titicaca.

The Kon-Tiki carried only the most basic equipment, even by 1947 standards. But the Tangaroa features abundant modern technology, including solar panels to generate electricity and satellite navigation and communications gear.

Olav Heyerdahl said the voyagers would update the expedition's Web page during the journey — an $800,000 venture backed by the Norwegian Environment Ministry, private businesses and his grandfather's hometown of Larvik, Norway.

The expedition had been set for last year, but was postponed after key sponsors diverted funds to help victims of the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami.

The team's leader, Torgeir Saeverud Higraff, said Tangaroa's large square sail is based on recent research that suggests ancient Peruvian mariners had much more advanced sails than the elder Heyerdahl could have imagined.

Unlike the Kon-Tiki, the Tangaroa will be able to navigate against the wind and could land on the island of Raroia two weeks earlier than Heyerdahl — whose raft foundered on a reef off the island, leaving him and his crew stranded for a week before their return to civilization.

"We have to admit that we are bringing a couple of lifeboats," Higraff added.

The crew — made up of four Norwegians, a Swede and a Peruvian — planned to fish for its food during the trip, but also carried U.S. Navy rations, just in case, he added.

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