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Mackay Boats

60ft Plastiki sets sail from San Francisco

by Erik Simonson on 22 Mar 2010
Plastiki departs from San Francisco .. .

The voyage of the Plastiki began in earnest yesterday as the 60’ man made plastic catamaran was towed unceremoniously out to sea of the San Francisco coast and released in calm condition and a gentle swell. The mission, the brain child of David de Rothschild , heir of the de Rothschild European banking dynasty began in 2006 and has seen its share of delays and setbacks, and a lack of cooperating wind is just a minor inconveniences.

The mission is model after the 1947 voyage of the Kon-tiki, lead by Thor Heyerdahl, who set sail on a manmade raft from Peru and landed in Tuamotu some 101 days later, proving to a skeptical scientific community that the populations of Polynesia could in fact, have originated from places other than Asia as previously thought. Plastiki’s message may not be as clear the 12,500 2 liter plastic beverage bottles used to provide flotation, however, anyone spending any time with the 6’4'

De Rothschild would find it hard to argue with his charismatic pitch for the environment:
'Were not being anti plastic' David states 'We need to prove additional uses for our plastics, we’re not being anti plastic, what we have to do is eliminate dumb uses of plastic. Thirty-eight billion plastic bottles went into landfill last year.'

David de Rothschild’s vision of recreating the way we think about our environment and how we build and or use, or more importantly re-use things is bound to hit home with sailors and non-sailors alike. David points out that the unsightliness of the Pacific Gyre and its harmful effects on marine environment goes far beyond just choking the fish, mammals and birds in it larger state, but the dioxins which then flow into the food chain as the material breaks down, eventually working its way back to humans, the source of its origins…David believe that the Sailing community, which employs the seas as it’s primarily source of recreation will become stewards and pass the message along to their land lubbering counterparts.

While the main media attention thus far focuses on the fact Plastiki employs recycled plastic PET beverage bottles for flotation, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. During the construction of the vessel, originally plywood was employed for the main structure, but it failed on a number of levels. The crewed then began toying with a srPET sandwich core formula and ended up developing panels strong enough to utilize throughout the construction. Not only can this self reinforced plastic be 100% recycled, it produces no off gassing and needs no resins. 400 degrees Fahrenheit air welders are used to fuse the material together, and it provides 75% of the strength of fiberglass at ½ the weight . The hull, cabin and tiller are all made from this material, and for fun, David had srPET skateboard made from the material, the world first, which performed flawlessly under strenuous on shore testing.

'Builders I have spoken with have told me that could add 20 years to their life,' David indicates. The lack of carcinogenic fumes and dust alone are worth taking a second look at the technology.

Additionally the Plastiki has sails made from 80% post consumer yarn, woven into a 5 layer cloth by Dimension Polyant. Dimension Polyant’s President John Gluek sees the future in offering a more eco-friendly line of cloths, which look, feel, and behave much like other products currently on the market, but weigh less on ones conscience.

The sail were stitched together by Pineapple Sails of Alameda. Kame Richards, the Main Pineappler, has been building sails for time eternal. 'The project has really gotten us rethinking on a number of levels, business wise and our own personal consumption.' When one considers the life span of the average sail might be in the realm of 3-5 years and then works its way to the landfill. If Sailors could take the used sails to a recycling yard, where it could regenerate into another life, all the better. 'Working with the material was a real pleasure' Kame relates' Just like other laminates, soft and pliable'

Another original concept for the Plastiki is the biospheric micro-farm which lives on the 5’ tall srPET cylinder on the main mast. This aqua farm relies on a 1' felt like mat to host the plants roots, while water is continually recycled , containing a nutrient mix. Up to 90 leafy green veggies can be grown, in the rotating cylinder which also has a rain catcher top to gather any precipitation provided by Mother Nature. For live-aboards and long distance cruisers, the space saving concept is worth a look.

With no internal combustion engine, the Plastiki will support its power needs via solar panels, wind turbines and an incumbent bike turning, human power into stored amperage, which will give the crew much desired exercise during the long 6 month voyage. The voyage will entail heading south along the coast of California, a right turn off Mexico the and trade wind down hill slog towards Sydney with stop at various islands in route.

Plastiki was made more for the message than the speed. With Groupama just setting a new around the world record of 48 days and change, comparisons stop at them being multi hulled and using wind power. Yes the 12,500, clear PET 2 liter bottles strapped to the hulls offer a visual reminder of the missions goal, would be rated somewhere in the vicinity of tree branch in efficiency. The dry ice placed in the bottles serves a singular purpose of pressurizing them to 35-60 psi as the dry ice subliminates, providing a more rigid vessel, and additional buoyancy. At 5 cents per, that will will ring up to a $625.00 redemption value one they reach Sydney…Could be one hell of a kegger party

Working with David on the voyage is skipper Jo Royle of Pindar fame, who joined the project 1 year and half ago, and has been instrumental in not only preparing the vessel to be as seaworthy as possible, but to keep things as green as possible, from food prep, energy production and storage, material used to human waste.

She even nixed the desalinator because of it power strain, so the crew will rely on stored water and built-in rain catchers to provide fresh h2o between stops. David Thompson is the co-skipper known best for efforts with the late Steve Fossett’s PlayStation and Open 60’ Hugo Boss.

National Geographic filmmaker Max Jourdan and Myoo Media’s Vern Moen will capture the adventure along the way, and to round things out, two Grandchildren of Thor Heyerdahl will be along for various legs, with Olav Heyerdahl scheduled for most, if not all of the voyage and Josie shooting for more tropical legs. Smart, that girl.

Plastiki’s ability to go to weather is almost nonexistent, with a whopping 90 degrees angle of attack; she’s counting on a downhill journey. Saturdays tow to the wind line yielded little but light air and flat seas. Riding mostly current, they were able to snag a crab pot in the darkness, slowing down their 2 knot smg considerably. No word on weather any crabs were rescued and given a hot bath at this point.

You can follow along with David’s tweets at

You can find out more about the voyage at

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