RAFT REFLECTION: Gabriel Salas, one of the original crew of the 1973 Las Balsas raft expedition which landed in Ballina in 2013.
RAFT REFLECTION: Gabriel Salas, one of the original crew of the 1973 Las Balsas raft expedition which landed in Ballina in 2013. Graham Broadhead

Navigator of famed Las Balsas raft passes away

BALLINA has lost one of its treasures with the passing of Gabriel Salas.

Salas, the navigator of the famous Las Balsas raft, passed away on October 31 in a Madrid hospital from liver failure.

The Chilean scientist was one of only two people to have ever crossed the Pacific Ocean twice on a raft. Once, in 1970, and then again on the Las Balsas voyage in 1973. Each ocean crossing took about six months.

He said during an anniversary event: "The best time in my life was spent at sea aboard this raft."

Gabriel had been living in a small town in Spain, Pitres, for the last five years or so.

Ballina councillor Jeff Johnson, friend of the adventurer said: "I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks travelling with him and staying at his home in 2013. Gabriel was an amazing man, full of passion and adventure.

"He could recount stories from his times on the raft like it was yesterday and was happy to share them.

"Gabriel used to travel to Ballina every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Las Balsas arrival.

"I had the pleasure of getting to know him and becoming close friends during one of these visits about six years ago.

"He was passionate about the raft, which takes pride of place at Ballina's Naval and Maritime Museum, and was instrumental in championing the Las Balsas 40th Anniversary Celebrations in 2013, which laid the foundations for what is now Ballina's hugely successful Prawn Festival.

"Gabriel was a living legend and it was an honour to call him a friend."

The Las Balsas raft is a unique treasure that Ballina should be very proud of.

The expedition of 12 brave men is well-documented and a DVD is available at the museum.

Curator and manager of the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum, Ron Creber, said: "He was very dedicated to the raft and its restoration.

"When he arrived in Australia, he stayed. Pinochet had taken over Chile and he was a geology student who did not want to return."



His passing will be marked with a small memorial service tomorrow at 2pm in the park next to the Maritime Museum (near the water's edge). Some tea and coffee will be available at the museum after the ceremony.

There is also a Facebook page Friends of Las Balsas for more information about this incredible ocean voyage.

For any more information please call memorial organiser Cr Jeff Johnson on 0438 677 202.