Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft by Thor Heyerdahl.
Only a year or so after the end of WWII five Norwegians, a Swede and a Spanish-speaking parrot of irritable disposition put their sense of adventure ahead of their sense of safety, and set out on one of the most audacious expeditions of modern times.
Testing his theory that Polynesia was colonised from South America, Thor Heyerdahl and his team constructed a raft of balsa logs using a drawing made by the Conquistadors as their blueprint, travelling into the forests of the foothills of the Andes to collect their materials and floating them through river rapids to the coast.
All this in the days long before GPS and EPIRBs and GMDSS and NAVTEX and all the other acronym-named technology that trans-oceanic voyagers take for granted in the present day. Guided only by stars and ocean currents, and communicating only with a tinny amateur radio, they did something quite remarkable, and sailed off the map, across the edge of existence.
I first read this book as a 10-year-old, and unable to put it down, fell in love with it and the adventurous spirit and sense of danger it embodies. It inspired my love of travelling and exploration, and even influenced my choice to study Marine Biology at university.
The crew set out from Callao in Peru at the end of April 1947, catching the Humboldt Current out into the Pacific, and, 101 days later, grounded on a reef in the Tuamoto Archipelago, 3770nm (8000km) distant. This account of the voyage is thrilling; a ripping yarn written very much in the style of a boy’s-own-adventure, where Norse heroes meet sea creatures dreamt into existence by Jules Verne. Sharks and squid and some things that glow in the night follow the tiny raft through wind, rain and shine (and showers of flying fish).
Despite the immensity of their undertaking, Heyerdahl and the others set about their undertaking with a sense of ramshackle recklessness, under-prepared optimism and great humour.