Sailboat uses plastic bottles for buoyancy
San Francisco, Feb 28 Thirty one year old British environmentalist and adventurer David de Rothschild has finally unveiled his unique sailing craft, ‘Plastiki’, in California; the boat that is constructed out of more than 12,000 recycled plastic bottles and an aluminum irrigation pipe for a mast. De Rothschild will sail the unusual vessel from California to Sydney, a distance of around10, 000 miles. “The journey is a testament to innovation, a symbol of solutions”, David says. It is also meant to highlight the devastation that plastic and other pollution causes in the seas: a million birds and a hundred thousand marine mammals are killed each year because of this.
The Plastiki was built from sustainable design technology: The sail is made from recycled cloth, and solar panels, wind turbines and bicycle generators testify to the ingenuity of the engineers behind the project. Inspired obviously by the Kon-Tiki expedition, David and his crew spent almost four years in pursuit of what he calls a ‘jog across the Pacific’: the boat can only sail downwind, so speed is restricted to a sedate six knots at best. Nonetheless, skipper Jo Royle, co-skipper David Thomson, and Josian and Olav Heyerdahl, the grandchildren of the legendary Thor Heyerdahl of the Kon-Tiki expedition, are excited about the voyage. David and his crew will drink water recycled from urine and consume hydroponic vegetables on the three months at sea.
The exact route is not planned, but the Plastiki will sail from San Francisco down the coast, when she will catch the equatorial currents and winds that will take her to the Line Islands and then towards Tuwalu in the Pacific. From there the vessel will sail to Sydney, Australia.
It will not be all play, though. The crew will be collecting environmental data around the Pacific Islands, including sea level rises in an area that many believe is at the forefront of the war against climate change, and where some islands are in danger of disappearing. The voyage will also keep a close watch on marine debris in the Pacific and plot the movement and sighting of marine life.
David says that Plastiki has learnt from "biomimicry," - looking at nature. He compares the boat to a pomegranate. “It's compact and tough, but when you cut it open and get to the seeds, they're soft and fragile. On Plastiki, the seeds are the bottles. Individually, they're fairly soft and fragile, but packed together they become buoyant, strong, and stable. That's where the inspiration for the makeup of the hull came from”.
David and his engineers use of up to 12,000 of these ‘buoyancy chambers’ was just one step in innovation. Another one: what holds everything together is not industrial (and carcinogenic) glue, but bio glue made of sugar and cashew nut waste. The boat is also completely networked; David collaborated with HP and Inmarsat to ensure excellent technology on board. He is particularly excited about this. “We will blog and tweet and update and broadcast and stream from out there in the middle of the Pacific. This will be one well-tracked voyage!” he says.
David is passionate about the ocean, calling it “the most important environment in our natural world, and yet it's the most disrespected in so many ways”. He says that he wants to use the expedition to highlight the need for more marine parks and better marine protection, and an ocean “that's protected, looked after and properly managed’.
“I want to pull people out of their landlocked imaginations and showcase to them this amazing, not-endless, not-endlessly-resource-filled environment that is driving our planet and essential to it. Without the oceans, humanity can't live on this planet. How do we create a network that allows accountability for the exploitation of our oceans”?