84-year old set to cross Atlantic on a raft

84-year old British adventurer Anthony Smith has big plans for 2011. In January of next year, he and three other men, will attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean aboard a raft made out of plastic gas pipes. Setting out from the Canary islands, they’ll cover more than 2800 miles, in 60 days, finishing up in the Bahamas sometime in March. If successful, it’ll be the culmination of a dream that Smith has waited nearly 60 years to see realized.

The former RAF pilot has led quite a life of adventure. Back in 1963 he became the first Briton to cross the Alps in a hot air balloon and he has explored east Africa by balloon as well. He is also an accomplished filmmaker and the author of more than 30 books. The ocean crossing has been his goal for most of his life however, and five years ago he took a big step towards making it a reality when he took out an advertisement in the Telegraph, a popular paper in the U.K. That ad simply read: “Fancy rafting across the Atlantic? Famous traveller requires 3 crew. Must be OAP. Serious adventurers only.”

From that advertisement, Smith found his crew, and he’ll now be joined on the voyage by 57-year old yachtsman David Hildred, 61-year old hot air balloonist Robin Batchelor, and Andy Bainbridge, who at 56, is the young man of the group. Bainbridge is an experienced sailor and long time friend of Smith.

The raft is being built out of 13-yard sections of pipe that will have both ends sealed, trapping the air inside and making the craft buoyant. There will also be two small shelters, built from pig huts, that will provide the crew a respite from the elements, and a small fence will line the outside of the boat to prevent them from falling overboard. The simple boat has been dubbed the An-Tiki, a nod to Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, and will have an “elderly crossing” sign on the sail.

Smith and his team hope to take advantage of the strong trade winds that arrive in January so that they can avoid the Atlantic storm season and finish the voyage on schedule.

[Photo credit: Andre Crowley]