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Sailing for the planet - the adventures they seek

by Nancy Knudsen on 10 Mar 2009
The Plastiki - named in homage to the Kon-Tiki Plastiki Expedition
David de Rothschild, a sometime polar explorer and all-round adventurer, and one of the Rothschild banking family, is in good company as an environmentalist who makes his point dramatically with his latest sailing project.

With the help of a group of like-minded young men and women, he is constructing one of the most unusual sailing craft ever seen - a 60 ft catamaran called Plastiki made entirely of used plastic bottles. When it is finished, next month sometime, he plans to sail it across the Pacific.

Across the Pacific? Why? To draw attention to the necessity to green our planet. His plan is to turn the symbol of waste into an adventure, by building an all-plastic boat (only the masts are metal) and sailing it across the ocean to show what recycled material can do.

This unique and very green catamaran will be leaving San Francisco in April of 2009 and sailing to Australia, with stop overs in Hawaii, Tuvalu and Fiji on its way to Sydney. A trip estimated to take more than 100 days and 11,000 miles.

De Rothschild hopes his catamaran, now being built on a San Francisco pier, will boost recycling of plastic bottles, which he says are a symbol of global waste. Except for the masts, which are metal, everything on the 60-foot catamaran is made from recycled plastic.

“It’s all sail power,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The idea is to put no kind of pollution back into the atmosphere, or into our oceans for that matter, so everything on the boat will be composted. Everything will be recycled. Even the vessel is going to end up being recycled when we finish.”

Others who have crossed oceans hoping to draw attention to the world's environmental crisis are as interesting as they are diverse. Here are just a few samples:


First there was the Viking ship made from ice-cream sticks which sailed for England from the Netherlands

The 15-metre (50-foot) long ship, named after the Norse god Thor, was made from 15 million recycled ice-cream sticks glued together by U.S.-born Robert McDonald, his son and more than 5,000 children. Apart from the recycling message, he had a message particularly for children.

'If you can dream it you can do it ... I want to teach children that anything is possible,' McDonald said.

Badly injured as a child in a gas explosion that killed the rest of his family, he loaded his ship with cuddly toys destined for children in hospitals.

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Then there was Japanese master sailor and environmentalist Kenichi Horie set off on March 16 last year, on a first-of-a-kind trans-Pacific voyage powered only by waves.

The 69-year-old solo yachtsman and his boat made from recycled materials embarked on the 3800nm trip from Honolulu bound for Japan, expecting to arrive 'sometime in May'. Well it took longer than he thought, but on July 04, he did it, arriving at the port of Wakayama in the channel between Honshu and Shikoku Islands, just before midnight, thus becoming the first person in history to cross and ocean powered by wave power.

His 9.5m double-hull boat, made partly of recycled aluminium, named Suntory Mermaid II, was equipped with two special fins at the front that move like a dolphin's tail each time the boat rises or falls with the rhythm of the waves.

The theory said that that a vertical motion could drive the boat forward at a speed of three knots. In the event, he averaged 1.5 knots, not the fastest way to travel, but it could spell the dawning of yet another innovative green way of transiting oceans.

'Throughout history, mankind has used wind for power, but no one has appeared to be serious about wave power,' Mr Horie said late last year.

'I think I'm a lucky boy as this wave power system has remained virtually untouched.'

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Then there is Mike Horn, whose goal to raise awareness on climate change and encourage 'a new generation to take an active role in the preservation of their planet' is taking him to both the Arctic and the Antarctic on a specially designed sailing ship, the Pangaea.

The expedition commenced on October 9 last year, with the ship sailing from Punta Arenas in Chile to Antarctica. The route then moves through Australasia, China, Russia, the North Pole, Greenland, and North America, before finally arriving back in Punta Arenas.

Over 22,000 hours of design were pumped into making a ship that can navigate through tropics and rivers as easily as it can through polar regions, without resorting to solutions that were harmful to the environment. The resulting ship, christened Pangaea, is an amazingly versatile piece of work. The 35-meter two master vessel has 600 square meters of sailcloth and 35 meters of mast. It can hold 30 people, and has a 16-seat conference room.

While the sails will provide the impetus for most of the journey, they are inadequate for carving through sea ice. In order to navigate through polar terrain, the Pangaea is equipped with BlueTec engines, which provide comparatively low emissions.


The batteries of the boat are charged by a combination of solar and hydrogen fuelGM-Coskata-Alternative-Fuels cell power. Solar panels cover the surface of the cockpit, and provide the energy required for electrolysis, which separates water into its hydrogen and oxygen components. When the hydrogen is used as fuel, the only emission is water.

The lighting system on the boat uses LED bulbs to reduce voltage requirements. A secondary, dimmed light system is also in place, to further reduce power consumption.

The Pangaea has placed a large emphasis on recycling. The kitchen has separate compartments for different types of waste to make recycling simple and efficient, and the boat is equipped with large nets to collect bottles and bags from the water. Even the ship itself, which is made out of aluminium, will eventually be recycled – as recycling aluminium uses just 5% of the energy required to produce it.

Mike describes his goals with passion: “It is a treasure hunt to uncover the solutions I know are there. By working together with, ingenuity, drive and resourcefulness, the energies of our individual efforts can complement each other and create a collective momentum to inspire change. Together we can tap the world’s most powerful energy source – the younger generation.”

Will these adventurers make the difference that they are hoping for? That may be something to argue about, but there is one aspect that all would probably agree - they're having a great time in the process!

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