Fancy rafting across the Atlantic?
Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP.
Serious adventurers only.
So read a help-wanted ad in The Daily Telegraph, the British newspaper, on Jan. 28, 2005.
The ad was no joke. The man who placed it, Anthony Smith, then 78, was a storied English explorer and author who had crossed the Alps by balloon and traversed Africa by motorcycle, among other things.
For his newest adventure, he was seeking O.A.P.’s — old-age pensioners in British parlance, retirees in American — to cross the wild Atlantic with him on little more than a pile of logs.
Mr. Smith, who died on July 7 at 88, made that voyage, but not before a strenuous campaign to raise money; a prolonged effort to build his strange, seaworthy craft; and a crippling accident that nearly cost him the use of his legs.
By the time he and his comrades finished their journey in 2011 — a 66-day odyssey in which they braved storms, were blown far off course and endured significant damage to their raft — Mr. Smith was 85.
They called their raft Antiki, partly in homage to Kon-Tiki, the raft on which the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailed the Pacific in 1947, partly in tribute to their own comparative antiquity. At journey’s end, the combined age of the Antiki’s crew was 259.
The crossing was not Mr. Smith’s last ocean adventure, nor even his most arduous. But it was undoubtedly his best known, minutely chronicled in the news media and through blog posts written midocean (theirs was an Internet-ready pile of logs) by Mr. Smith and his crew.
It was also a crowning achievement of a career so bold that in the 1960s Mr. Smith, feared lost on a balloon voyage over Africa, had the dubious privilege of reading his own obituary.
Mr. Smith undertook the Atlantic crossing, he often said, to honor the credo “Old men ought to be explorers,” from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”
“Am I supposed to potter about, pruning roses and admiring pretty girls, or should I do something to justify my existence?” he asked in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in 2011.
But he made the trip for another reason, equally compelling: to discharge a debt of honor that had tugged at him for more than half a century.
Anthony John Francis Smith was born on March 30, 1926, in Taplow, in Buckinghamshire, and reared there at Cliveden — Lord and Lady Astor’s estate — where his father was employed as the manager.
After serving as a pilot with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in the 1940s, the young Mr. Smith earned a degree in zoology from Oxford.
His adventures began in his student days, when he and several classmates traveled to Iran in the summer of 1950 in search of a fabled eyeless white fish, said to inhabit the qanats, ancient irrigation tunnels there.
They did not find it, but the trip gave Mr. Smith his first book, “Blind White Fish in Persia,” published in 1953.
His later books include “High Street Africa” (1961), which chronicles his five-month journey, much of it by motorcycle, from Cape Town to England; “Throw Out Two Hands” (1966), about crossing East Africa in a hydrogen balloon in 1962 (the balloon was thought to have exploded during the trip, and at least one British paper published Mr. Smith’s obituary); and “A Persian Quarter Century” (1979), in which Mr. Smith returned to Iran and discovered his storied fish — the blind cave loach, later named Nemacheilus smithi in his honor.
But the Atlantic always loomed. He had hungered to cross it under sail since he was a youth, when he read “Two Survived,” a 1941 history of men who had made the journey and barely lived to the tell the tale. The book, by Guy Pearce Jones, recounts the fate of the British merchant ship Anglo Saxon, sunk by an armed German ship in 1940.
Seven seamen survived, escaping into the Atlantic in an 18-foot wooden craft known as a jolly boat. During their 70 days at sea, five died. Finally, after almost 3,000 miles, the two survivors — Roy Widdicombe, 21, and Robert Tapscott, 19, both near death — made landfall at Eleuthera, in the Bahamas.
Mr. Smith had long wanted to reprise the voyage in tribute to his two courageous countrymen, but he was waylaid by his professional life: He was a science correspondent for The Telegraph and later presented science programs on British radio and television.
Then, at the dawn of the 21st century, just when conventional wisdom dictated he should settle down among the roses, Mr. Smith revived the idea.
He chose to go by raft for a practical reason: A raft, he said, was more stable than a boat.
“You can sit on the deck in your bedroom slippers having a drink,” Mr. Smith told The Telegraph in 2005. “I thought it would be far more civilized.”
Out of similar pragmatism, he chose an older crew. “Older people are more cautious about themselves,” he said in a 2011 interview. “They’re not as stupid as young people.”
And so Mr. Smith placed his advertisement. More than 100 replies poured in from round the world, some touting qualifications not strictly suited to life at sea.
“Someone said he used to play the trombone,” Mr. Smith told The Telegraph in 2005. (That application was rejected.)
As the crew was being assembled, so was the raft. Measuring 20 feet by 40 feet, the Antiki was made of lashed-together plastic pipes, which lent it buoyancy and also held 2,000 liters of drinking water. Its superstructure was a small hut of corrugated steel, modeled on those used to house pigs.
In 2009, as he strove to finance his venture, Mr. Smith, in England, was hit by a van. The accident crushed his hip and left him with a metal plate in one leg; to the end of his life, he walked with two canes. But the compensation he received paid for the journey.
On Jan. 30, 2011, the Antiki set sail from the Canary Islands stocked with three dozen tins of baked beans, several bottles of single-malt whisky, pasta, bananas and “a colossal pumpkin,” as Mr. Smith described it in one of his weekly dispatches to The Telegraph.
Its navigational gear, a satellite phone and a computer were powered by a wind generator, solar panels and a foot pump. The raft had no motor; its single sail flew from a telephone pole.
Mr. Smith’s crew, though not as antique as he, was bereft of callow youth. The skipper, David Hildred, from the British Virgin Islands, was 57; the raft’s doctor, Andrew Bainbridge, from Canada, was 56; the fourth crewman, John Russell, an English lawyer, was 61.
The Antiki was a matchbox on the sea.
“There is an awful lot that could come our way — storm, unhelpful changes in wind, raft failure of any kind, whales of less gentle disposition,” Mr. Smith told The Telegraph in a midvoyage interview.
On the third day, two rudders broke, though the crew managed to jury-rig replacements. Three times, winds blew the Antiki hundreds of miles in the wrong direction; the raft’s average speed was 2.1 knots — about 2.4 miles per hour.
But there were abundant pleasures: schools of dolphins and whales of gentle disposition; bread freshly baked in the raft’s tiny oven, as was the cake for Mr. Smith’s 85th birthday, celebrated at sea; and the accord of the crewmen, strangers at the start.
“The word ‘mutiny’ was only spoken about two or three times a day,” Mr. Smith told The Associated Press. (His crew did maintain that in the 26 card games they played, Mr. Smith cheated on 27 occasions.)
On April 6, 2011, the Antiki made land at St. Maarten, in the Leeward Islands. Mr. Smith had hoped to land at Eleuthera as the sailors he honored had done, but the winds dictated otherwise.
In 2012, Mr. Smith completed the St. Maarten-to-Eleuthera leg aboard the Antiki with a new crew, a 700-mile journey that entailed high winds and savage seas.
Mr. Smith, a resident of Thame, in Oxfordshire, died of respiratory failure in an Oxford hospital, according to Robin Batchelor, a longtime friend.
His two marriages, to Barbara Newman and Margaret Ann Holloway, ended in divorce. Survivors include two sons, Adam and Quintin; three daughters, Vanessa, Laura and Isabelle; and a grandson.
Mr. Widdicombe, who survived the sinking of the Anglo Saxon, died in 1941; his shipmate Mr. Tapscott died in 1963. In the 1990s, Mr. Smith helped arrange to have their jolly boat, which had long lain in storage at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, repatriated to the Imperial War Museum in London.
Mr. Smith’s memoir of the Antiki’s voyage is scheduled to be issued by the British publisher Little, Brown Book Group in February.
Its title: “The Old Man & the Sea.”