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Tracing King Solomon's Gold To Lands of the Ancient Incas

A controversial explorer claims that pre-Europeans sailed to the Americas.

And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon.

And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon..

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I Kings 9:27,28

Some call him a maverick. Others, a visionary. Others, the last of the romantic adventurers.

Tanned, sinewy, blue eyes blazing under bushy eyebrows, American explorer Gene Savoy looks the part of all three.

Former journalist and self-taught anthropologist, his accomplishments uncovering major ruins in the dense wilderness of the Peruvian rain forest are many. Among them: Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Inca; Gran Pajaten, regarded as one of the most important pre-Columbian ruins; and Gran Vilaya, a complex of more than 20,000 stone buildings buried deep in the jungle.

Three decades later he is exploring a new wilderness: the vast, blue Pacific Ocean. He and a crew of six men arrived in Kona, Hawaii, in late January, having sailed 6,000 miles in six weeks from Callao, Peru, in the Feathered Serpent III, a replica of an ancient vessel.

"We have found the route that we believe the Incas must have used to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands," Mr. Savoy announced at a press conference held at the Kona Surf Hotel last month. "It's a natural," he said. "It's the river of the seas."

Because Hawaii serves as the gateway to the Pacific, Savoy says the ocean crossing provides significant evidence supporting the possibility that ancient ships traveled widely across the globe, exchanging ideas and trading goods. It is the first leg of a seven-year expedition destined for shores the of China.

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Like his earlier discoveries in the jungle, this most recent adventure elicits deep sighs from a scientific community looking for more than a "proven possibility."

"I'm accustomed to controversy," Savoy says. "But I think we have enough scientific proof to verify our findings."

Savoy's explorations are serious. The expedition is endorsed by the Peruvian National Institute of Culture and by the prestigious Explorers Club in New York.

The trip to Hawaii was the Feathered Serpent III's maiden voyage.

While hundreds of naval officers and cadets in crisp, white uniforms stood at attention, and a band played the Peruvian national anthem, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori christened the 68-foot ship on Dec. 17, last year.

Vessel built from many cultures

Designed from etchings found on Inca pottery, the vessel draws on other ancient cultures as well. From the Polynesians, the double-hulled catamaran. From Egypt, the heavy sail cloth. From China, the rigging. Exotic dragon heads poised at bow and stern add another six feet to the ship's dimensions.

Two years in the making at a cost of $500,000, the ship quickly proved herself seaworthy. From Callao - a port in Lima - a warm current swept the dragon boat northwestward.

Dolphins frolicked beside the ship, squeaking in greeting, diving between the hulls. The men squeaked their sneakers on the hull in reply.

"The ancients used the dolphins to navigate," says navigator Gary Buchanan. "I felt reassured we were on the correct route."

Birds also escorted the expedition the entire way. When they landed on board, the men fed them. Whales, the size of the ship, surfaced often. At night, sea water washed across the deck, sparkling like millions of miniature lights.

In the morning, flying fish flopped on the netting stretched between the hulls. Cleaned, dipped in corn meal, and fried in olive oil over a propane stove, they provided the crew with their only fresh food. Crackers, tins of tuna, rice, and potatoes were staples.

With three cabins for seven men, quarters were tight. Each man had his own bunk area. Water seeped everywhere. Nothing dried.

Navigation charts, a sextant, calculator, and global positioning system verified the ship's position; like sailors of old, they followed the stars.

At sunset, the constellation Orion appeared on the horizon, then guided the vessel until dawn.

A radio kept them in touch with civilization. The Peruvian Navy closely monitored their progress.

Two weeks at sea, a voice over the radio warned of hurricane winds battering the Galapagos Islands. They tried unsuccessfully to outrun the storm.

Seventeen days at sea, 50-knot winds began to pummel the craft.

"The wind shrieked through the shrouds like a banshee," recalls Savoy. Shrouds snapped like twigs. Masts swayed dangerously. Intricately strapped to the hulls, they threatened to destroy the ship.

Forty-foot waves picked the ship up and tossed it down. It was midnight. "We couldn't see anything," recalls Mr. Buchanan.

With the ship listing at 45-degree angles, Buchanan and communications officer Roger Weld climbed aloft. The masts swayed like giant pendulums. Using extra chain from the anchor, the men managed to secure them. Then, swinging on booms, the men lowered the sails.

Sloshing across the netting stretched between the hulls in the pitch black night, water everywhere, Buchanan ruined a lantern and lost a treasured watch. Bilge pumps belched water out of the cabins, expelling five gallons a minute.

Were the ship to capsize, they had a plan for survival. "We were each saying our own prayers," says Buchanan.

"The men were very brave," says Savoy.

With the sails down, the tiller broken, for two days all they could do was lower the anchor and drift.

Finally, the wind subsided and the weather returned to normal. They made repairs, hoisted the sails, and began moving steadily toward Hawaii. At that point, Buchanan estimated they would arrive on Day 37.

Then 300 miles off the coast of Hilo on the island of Hawaii, something unusual occurred: Two huge whales surfaced dangerously close to the ship. Suddenly, they dove. And just as suddenly, the wind quit.

It was the lowest point in the journey, says Buchanan. For six days they just drifted. Frustrated, they tried to amuse themselves by remembering old movies.

The ocean "river" continued to move them towards their destination. One hundred miles off the coast of Hilo, again two whales surfaced, this time swimming directly toward the ship.

"I was really scared," says Buchanan.

Again the giant mammals dove just before smashing the craft. Ironically, the wind began to blow again. The 40th night at sea, the lights of Hilo beckoned dimly in the distance. The rising sun unveiled mountains lush in tropical vegetation, a gently curving bay, and people waiting on the dock.

"We had a great sense of accomplishment," Buchanan recalls.

But anthropologist David Wilson at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, remains skeptical. "What Savoy has proved is that he is an extremely good navigator and an outstanding sailor," he says by phone.

At Yale University in New Haven, Conn., anthropologist Richard Burger echos his sentiments. "I remain skeptical about the reasons for undertaking such voyages," he says by e-mail.

Other questions remain

Mr. Wilson and others objects to "diffusionist" theories - as anthropologists categorize Savoy and others - because they fail to answer the question of how civilizations became complex in the first place. Most anthropologists and historians agree that - while cultures do influence one another (acculturation) - ancient civilizations for the most part developed independently. Similarities happen simply because human beings are inherently similar.

But anthropologist Rick Feinberg at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio - whose expertise includes Polynesian sea voyagers - gives more credence to the possibility of voyagers between ancient Hawaii and the Americas.

"First, it has become clear to me that people can survive for remarkably long periods of time at sea on a remarkably flimsy craft, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there was a lot more travel through the Pacific in the so-called pre-contact period than what had been assumed by most scholars," he says by e-mail.

Savoy asks scholars to stretch their imagination even further: Picture fleets of Phoenician ships almost 3,000 years ago sailing across several oceans to load up with gold gathered in the Americas and then returning their treasure to Jerusalem to build King Solomon's temple - a three-year round trip.

For evidence, Savoy points to a carved figure, or glyph, found on the wall of a tomb high in the Andes. It matches one found in the Middle East, he says. In his view, it's more than a coincidence that the marking means "Ophir" - the land rich in gold referred to in the Bible. Its precise location, accessible by sea, has eluded Bible scholars for generations.

Savoy lists other examples of cultural similarities, gathered during his years in the jungles of the Amazon, that link the region with the Pacific rim and beyond. He is documenting them in a book.

He is writing and lecturing in Honolulu as he prepares for the next leg of the expedition - a voyage to Japan to begin in November or next March. One of his collaborators in Japan is Torao Mozai of Tokyo University.

Savoy's conviction that pre-European civilizations could have communicated across oceans with the primitive vessels at their disposal is not new.

The renowned explorer and ethnologist, Norwegian-born Thor Heyerdahl, captured the world's imagination in 1947 with a similar voyage from Peru to Polynesian in a balsa wood raft, the Kon-Tiki.

Savoy, however, says his voyage is different. "No one has ever done anything like this before," he says.

The voyage seeks to prove the Incas deliberately navigated to their destination, and returned. Following a diagonal angle of 310 degrees on the compass, the Feathered Serpent III's navigators used the southeast trade winds to move across the equator, and the northeast trade winds to arrive in Hilo. They recorded the angles of the stars.

"I believe with all my heart we've made a journey that can be replicated using the stars for navigation," says Savoy. Evidence is great that the Inca conqueror, Tupac Yupanqui, made the journey with an entire fleet of ships around AD 1460, he says. "We've inherited everything from our ancient ancestors," says Savoy. "This is an extension of our findings in the jungle."

The Feathered Serpent III, badly in need of repairs, is currently moored at the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor in Honolulu and open to the public.

Private donations to Savoy's foundation, the Andean Explorers Foundation & Ocean Sailing Club, pay for the expedition. The foundation boasts 1,000 members worldwide and a mailing list of 1,500. Sales from books, lectures, and film documentaries add to the coffers, and there are numerous donations of equipment and supplies, including a computer from IBM Corp.

"I'm not interested in notoriety," says Savoy. "Any kind of a find has to be verified. It takes times. It's good for competent people to be skeptical."

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