The raft Kon-Tiki, which drifted across the Pacific from Peru to the Raroia Reef near Tahiti, may have been traveling a two-way highway. This is the theory of Dr. Thomas Davis of New Zealand, who believes that Polynesians made the roundtrip passage in great sailing canoes. If they stayed far enough south, they were helped by the prevailing winds and currents that cross that part of the Pacific from west to east. On the return trip, they were able to use the same winds and currents that favored the Kon-Tiki on its crossing near the equator. In fact, says Dr. Davis, who is part Polynesian himself, there are ancient legends that describe just such a round trip by Polynesian navigators 70 generations ago.
Last week, after an 85-day voyage, Dr. Davis' 45-ft. ketch Miru (which he named after the legendary mother of the Polynesian race) was lying in harbor at Callao, Peru. To illustrate his theory, he had sailed her 7,700 miles from New Zealand across the storm-lashed South Pacific. TIME, SEPTEMBER 15, 1952
Field Work. Born in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, Dr. Davis, 34, got his M.D. in New Zealand, where he specialized in tropical medicine. His hobby is Polynesian anthropology, so when he headed for Harvard for a post-graduate course in public health, he decided to combine the trip with some anthropological field work.
On May 31 the Miru sailed out of Wellington harbor. On board were Dr. Davis, his New Zealand wife Lydia, and his sons John, 10, and Timothy, 5. For crew they had Neil Arrow, an artist, and Bill Donovan, who is heading for Sweden to study ceramics. They also had two cats, but one jumped overboard and the other died of seasickness.
Sailing through the dead of winter, the Miru was battered by fierce storms, 4O-ft. waves and 75-m.p.h. winds. Water and weather carried away three sea anchors, washed a compass overboard, smashed the rigging, damaged the engine and soaked the cabins. Thinking of his family, Dr. Davis was tempted to turn back. But then he thought of his seafaring ancestors, who sailed these waters in canoes centuries ago. and decided to push on.
Empty Sea. After 17 days for repairs at Rapa Island, far to the north of her course, the Miru headed again for the Peruvian coast. The sea was utterly empty; in 68 days of sailing the voyagers saw not one ship or airplane. Food and water ran low. There were no fish to catch. Another storm blew the Miru north again. Then, 350 miles off the coast of South America, the sea turned ice-cold because of the rapid Peru Current which sweeps northward out of the Antarctic. By this time all the adults were getting one slim meal a day; Dr. Davis himself lost 25 Ibs. But the two small boys, not on rations, had gained weight, as small boys should.
Comb Land. The rest of the voyage to Callao was easy. As Dr. Davis neared the Peruvian coast, he recalled an old tale of the islands. A Polynesian expedition under Chief Maui Marumamao, says the legend, sailed east from Easter Island and came to "a land with ridges like a comb." The Peruvian coast is like that, with steep, barren ridges running down to the sea. There the Polynesians built a temple, but they did not stay long because they did not find what they needed: fertile land near the sea. This description also matches Peru, for most of the Peruvian coast is bone-dry desert.