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May 19, 2021

Tribute to Gabriel Salas, navigator of Las Balsas

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Ballina has lost one of it’s treasures with the recent passing of Gabriel Salas, navigator of the Las Balsas raft, who passed away on Saturday October 31 in Madrid.

Gabriel was one of only two people to have ever crossed the Pacific Ocean twice on a raft. Once on the first expedition in 1970 and then again on the Las Balsas voyage in 1973. Each ocean crossing took approximately six months.

To quote Gabriel, ‘the best time in my life was spent at sea aboard this raft’.

Gabriel has been living in a small town in Spain called Pitres for the last five years or so. I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks traveling with him and stayed 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 he 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.

His passing will be commemorated with a small memorial service on Thursday November 12, 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.

Here is a bit of info about the service today.

We have a short video presentation that will be played in the museum, we have some tributes from some of the other raftsmen, a song that they used to sing while aboard the raft and a memorial card with people’s comments that will be sent to his daughter, Marina Salas, who lives in Canberra and couldn’t make it up. She’s very touched by what we have organised.

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.

Ballina Shire Cr Jeff Johnson


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