The Ancient Mariners: An Aging Crew Makes an Age-Old Crossing

Captain Anthony Smith recently celebrated his 85th birthday while drifting on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And apparently there’s no place he’d rather be.

Smith and his crew­—Sailing Master David Hildred, 57, John Russell, 61, and Andrew Bainbridge, 56—are sailing a self-made, 39-foot raft from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. They left January 30th and are nearing Antigua.

Exactly when and where they’ll land they don’t know. “We don’t know which bit of land we’re going to, but there’s plenty of West Indies out there to choose from,” says Smith.”

The raft (seen right in a photo by Robin Batchelor) is called An-Tiki, a reference both to the famed Kon-Tiki voyage made by Thor Heyerdahl, and the crew’s advanced age. According to the An-Tiki website, one of the reasons for the crossing is to show “older persons are capable of undertaking …adventurous projects that are normally left to younger persons to fulfill.”

The trip also aims to heighten awareness of global water issues by raising funds for WaterAid, a UK non-profit. The An-Tiki crew are floating on salt water, says Smith, but they would like to remind people that freshwater is what keeps us alive.

Pool, Party

The trip has been quite comfortable so far, says Smith. “I liken it to being rather like a pool table on the top of a bouncy car… the whole vessel goes up and down and it’s been going up and down now for the last 6-7 weeks.”

For his birthday, crewmates treated Smith to breakfast in-bunk, relieved him of washing-up duty and even baked him a chocolate cake (photo at left by the crew). “I have never had such a terrific 85th birthday,” wrote Smith on the An-Tiki blog.

Listen to Anthony Smith speaking with Boyd Matson by satellite phone for an interview on “NG Weekend”.

“NG Weekend” is a radio program produced by author Ben Shaw, and presented Saturdays and Sundays nationwide on AM, FM, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

(Updated 4/2/2011)


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Benjamin Shaw produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Hear it on on XM/Sirius satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or get the show streamed to your iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, or Android OS phone with Stitcher Radio.