Lost on the Atlantic

52 minutes

This film, directed by Rudolph Herzog tells the intriguing story of a daring voyage. A crew of eight men and two women risk everything to prove that our ancestors knew much more than we give them credit for. It all began when Dominique Gorlitz, a German biologist and experimental archaeologist developed a deep desire to prove that the Stone Age man could have sailed a tiny reed boat round trip across the Atlantic.

And so it was that on July 11, 2007 Dominique and eleven professionals from varying backgrounds set out from New York harbor to test his theory. Among the crew are an extreme skier, an archaeologist, a sailing instructor, a biologist, and a diver. They set sail in a ten-meter boat called the Abora III. This was a reed vessel constructed in Bolivia without a single nail or screw. The design is based on Gorlitz’s interpretation of prehistoric rock carvings discovered in Europe and North Africa.

Back in the 1960s, a legendary explorer by the name of Thor Heyerdahl successfully crossed the Atlantic from West to East in a vessel similar to this one. But experts said it was impossible to sail back against the wind. According to Gorlitz, the rock carvings he studied suggest that the Stone Age man did just that.

If his theory can be proven it would mean that Prehistoric men from Europe could have colonized and traded with the Americas thousands of years before Columbus’ arrival. That would explain how comes when scientists examined the mummy of Rameses II in 1976 they found tobacco leaves, which can be found only in the Americas. About two decades, later high concentrations of nicotine were found in other mummies.

The voyage begins under favorable weather conditions, which remain for the first few days: a warm sun with a steady breeze. But all at once things start to go wrong as one by one the fourteen leeboards break. These were added to allow the craft to remain steady against the waves in bad weather, however they prove to be unable to resist the pressure of the Atlantic swell. As the reeds begin to absorb salt water, the vessel starts to sink into the ocean.

To make matters worse, sudden and unexpected Atlantic storms weaken and then tear off the boat’s stern. In spite of the crew’s efforts they eventually have to abandon ship about 600 miles off the Azores, near the African coast. Abora III sailed for a courageous 59 days and covered a distance of more than 900 nautical miles.

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  • June

    I wouldn’t have believed one could get seasick sitting at my computer! I have been seasick sitting on a moored boat in Vancouver with surrounding masts going up and down, up and down.

    I listened to a CBC proprogramme a while ago about people sailing solo around the world, One woman did it the difficult way round and they said at one point the closest she was to any person was on the space station.

    I very much appreciate all the documents I receive from Documentary Storm. I have probably learned more than anything I ever learned at school (which is going back to the Dark Ages – I’m 80).

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