Knut Haugland: Boyhood Hero
Knut Haugland the last surviving member of the six-man crew that sailed on the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, and a leader of the Norwegian resistance who helped carry out one of the most daring acts of sabotage of World War II, died in Oslo on Dec. 25. He was 92. – The New York Times, 4.1.10
I was 9 or 10 years old when I first read Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his attempt to cross the Pacific from South America to the Polynesian islands on a hand-built balsa-wood raft. Heyerdahl wanted to test the practical possibility that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times.
The book enthralled me. I suspect Kon-Tiki held a special appeal for small boys, who are generally the most wildly romantic of creatures. But I think it was more than the adventure itself which made the book so satisfying. It was also the knowledge that one could, if minded to, build a raft and cross the Pacific without let or hindrance, leaving schoolmasters, parents and annoying relatives cursing and gnashing their teeth ineffectually in your wake.
I read the book many times over as a boy and though I haven’t read it in some 40 years, it’s stayed with me. Not just the story but the idea of escape: just you and some well chosen mates, a supply of good books and some fishing line and hooks.
Of course, the chances of emulating my boyhood heroes grow increasingly small with advancing decrepitude and Time’s winged goddamn chariot hurrying near, but at the back of my mind, there’s still a small boy’s voice saying: if it all becomes too much, you can just fuck off on a raft, free as a dolphin. That’s been Heyerdahl’s gift to me and so I mark with sadness the passing of the last surviving crew member of that epic voyage.
Hail and farewell, Knut Haugland. You provided the stuff that a lifetime’s dreams were made on.
(Heyerdahl’s Oscar-winning documentary film of the expedition can be seen in its entirety HERE.)