Radio Operators & Parrots

Captain Johan Petersen calling to Harbor Master in Kiel Canal to get directions for entry. Photo by Amy Franceschini, Futurefarmers.

Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan, Pan-Pan1


This is sailing vessel





My position is

Five One degrees, Eight Six Nine Seven Eight Zero minutes, North

Three degrees Zero Six Three One One Seven minutes, West


I have a crew member who is seriously ill, I require medical advice.



Captain, RS 10 Christiania

Reads aloud from Pg. 229 of Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl2

...At first the parrot was the bane of our radio operators. They might be sitting happily absorbed in the radio corner with their magic earphones on and perhaps in contact with a radio "ham" in Oklahoma. Then their earphones would suddenly go dead, and they could not get a sound however much they coaxed the wires and turned the knobs. The parrot had been busy and bitten off the wire of the aerial. This was especially tempting in the early days, when the wire was sent up with a little balloon. But one day the parrot became seriously ill. It sat in its cage and moped and touched no food for two days, while its droppings glittered with golden scraps of aerial. Then the radio operators repented of their angry words and the parrot of its misdeeds, and from that day Torstein and Knut were its chosen friends and the parrot would never sleep anywhere but in the radio corner. The parrot's mother tongue was Spanish when it first came on board; Bengt declared it took to talking Spanish with a Norwegian accent long before it began to imitate Torstein's favorite ejaculations in full-blooded Norwegian.

We enjoyed the parrot's humor and brilliant colors for two months, till a big wave came on board from astern while it was on its way down the stay from the masthead. When we discovered that the parrot had gone overboard, it was too late. We did not see it. And the Kon-Tiki could not be turned or stopped; if anything went overboard from the raft, we had no chance of turning back for it— numerous experiences had shown that.

The loss of the parrot had a depressing effect on our spirits the first evening; we knew that exactly the same thing would happen to ourselves if we fell overboard on a solitary night watch. We tightened up on all the safety regulations, brought into use new life lines for the night watch, and frightened one another out of believing that we were safe because things had gone well in the first two months. One careless step, one thoughtless movement, could send us where the green parrot had gone, even in broad daylight...

Radio operator, Marthe Van Dessel, at navigation table. Photo by Amy Franceschini, Futurefarmers.
Preparing radio antennae in Cuxhaven Harbor, Germany. Photo by Audrey Snyder, Futurefarmers.


In his "Open Letter to the UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim", Thor Heyderal explained his reasons:

"Today we burn our proud ship... to protest against inhuman elements in the world of 1978... Now we are forced to stop at the entrance to the Red Sea. Surrounded by military airplanes and warships from the world's most civilized and developed nations, we have been denied permission by friendly governments, for reasons of security, to land anywhere, but in the tiny, and still neutral, Republic of Djibouti. Elsewhere around us, brothers and neighbors are engaged in homicide with means made available to them by those who lead humanity on our joint road into the third millennium.

To the innocent masses in all industrialized countries, we direct our appeal. We must wake up to the insane reality of our time.... We are all irresponsible, unless we demand from the responsible decision makers that modern armaments must no longer be made available to people whose former battle axes and swords our ancestors condemned.

Our planet is bigger than the reed bundles that have carried us across the seas, and yet small enough to run the same risks unless those of us still alive open our eyes and minds to the desperate need of intelligent collaboration to save ourselves and our common civilization from what we are about to convert into a sinking ship."

Preparing radio antennae in Cuxhaven Harbor, Germany. Photo by Audrey Snyder, Futurefarmers.


Seed Journey is a seafaring voyage connected to a public art project in the former port of Bjørvika in Oslo, Norway. Seed Journey moves people, ideas and seeds through time and space. This voyage—its crew and cargo—are agents that link the commons as they relate to local networks and a more global complex of seed savers and stewards of the land, air and water. A rotating crew of artists, anthropologists, biologists, bakers, activists, sailors and farmers join the journey and share their findings at host institutions along the route from small harbors to large ports from barns to museums (contemporary art, natural history and maritime) to social centers.

1 — Three calls of pan-pan (pay attention now) are used in radiotelephone communications to signify that there is an urgency on board, but there is no immediate danger. This is referred to as a state of urgency.

2 — Thor Heyderal built the Tigris in Iraq in 1977 and sailed out the Persian Gulf via Karachi to Djibouti, where the boat was deliberately burned on 3rd April 1978 in protest against the war conditions in Africa. The goal of Tigris was to "shed light on the seaborne trade and cultural relations from ca. 3000 BC between Sumer in Mesopotamia and other cultural centers along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, besides the contemporary urban society in the Indus Valley in present-day Pakistan and with the ancient land Punt in northeastern Africa".

Posted 18 Oct 2016
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