Documentary maker Max Jourdan’s fabulous diary from last year’s voyage of the environmental craft Plastiki, with excerpts from David de Rothschild and fellow crew members, sails on fearlessly and finally comes home:
Mid-June. Needlework (Max Jourdan)
4am again. Outside already. Average seas and drizzling rain running cold through briny hair. Chart littered with oceanic shelves, mounds and deep troughs named after French navigators. Just let me lie here on deck in the dark. No. I am awake, just resting a little. “Foresail’s ripping. Need to finish patching the other one before they’re all gone,” says Jo.
Inside. We sit opposite each other across the mess table. A roll of twine, bag of needles and strips of sailcloth. Eyes wide open and pupils dilated. We start to sew under the red glow of night lights. Pitching and rolling in our pod. Darkness all around. We could be in deep space or attending a Sunday patchwork class on LSD.
Patching is done. I take the helm. I could cycle across the Pacific faster than the Plastiki can sail. Maybe that’s why it’s taking me more than 2,000 miles of ocean crossing before deciding to try out the stationary bike bolted to the foredeck. We take turns on the bike. It’s a sit-down contraption that spans two cross beams. When you are in the saddle you are suspended over the big blue. I don’t know what this is doing to my fitness level, but the blind aggressive pace feels all wrong and out-of-place on this boat.
15 July. Storm force (Matthew Grey, expedition co-ordinator)
“It’s 3.51,” Graham sing songs in his most mumsy voice. “Urghh, thspp,” is all I can muster. He’s sent grabbing for the corner of the doorway, as a huge wave whumps against the boat. I went to ‘bed’ two hours and 45 minutes ago.
Wet means wet-weather wear and judging by the sound of the waves breaking across the deck, I’m gonna need it. Slipping into a wet pair of dungarees at 4am is no one’s idea of fun. The pants are like a halfway house: they ease you uncomfortably from warm sleeping bag to violent seas and driving rain. The last piece of the puzzle is the life-vest.
Welcome to winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
Last night we had a ‘blowout’ on our headsail and with 35 knots of wind tonight we can’t risk destroying the second and only spare. Instead we’re flying our utilitarian orange storm gib. A handkerchief-sized piece of fabric is strung up where our big billowing powerhouse once was. It’s designed for the worst; when all other options are exhausted and the wind is pummeling us at 50 knots we would point the boat away from the waves and tuck our tail between our legs with just this little sail to guide us.
16 July. Samoa to New Caledonia (David de Rothschild)
The temperature inside the cabin has just reached a distracting and uncomfortable 39C! The situation seems oddly perverse; on one hand I am surrounded by a horizon that holds all the promise of reprieve from the sweltering heat, yet on the other, the 15 knots of breeze means we don’t have the option of dropping sails in order to give way for some underwater activities. I am firmly trapped within the confines of a 20ft by 60ft floating plastic solar oven.
If only I’d had the prior insight to design some form of swimming platform; what was I thinking to miss that particular detail? But, then again, hindsight is a luxury of the now. Which makes me ponder the notion: would I even be here on this mission in the first place had Leo Hendrick Baekeland realised that by presenting the world with the first fully synthetic plastic, Bakerlite, back in 1909, he would be ushering in the modern era of plastics.
I wonder if at any point during his research and development he anticipated that the very durability he most likely worked tirelessly to engineer and perfect was in fact going to become an Achilles heel for all things organic and natural, invading and conquering almost every ecosystem worldwide in one way or another.
Hindsight or not, what’s crazy about the issues of these plastic fingerprints that are tragically tarnishing our natural environments is that it doesn’t have to be this way! If the development and build phase of the Plastiki taught me one thing, it was that innovation can come from the most unexpected places.
Late July. Epilogue (Max Jourdan)
Our arrival in Sydney on 26 July wasn’t what we had expected – we’d arrived in the Tasman Sea 10 days before, but much too late in the year, so the ‘Plastiki’ spent the last week of its voyage under tow. Which was a bit of an anticlimax. Was the expedition a success? David always said it’s not about the expedition, it’s about the message, and he certainly worked hard getting the message across, blogging, tweeting, working the press – he even went live on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ mid-voyage. And we certainly spent a huge amount on satellite communications. In essence, David was at the office for about 80 per cent of the voyage.
But the more communication we had with the outside world, the less unity there was among the crew. And it’s a pity that we weren’t able to visit the plastic ‘garbage patch’. So, for me personally, the voyage of the ‘Plastiki’ wasn’t quite the adventure it might have been.
But we were treated to a phenomenal reception in Sydney Harbour: helicopters, police craft, and a flotilla of little boats, not to mention a huge press reception. After that, the crew went their separate ways. And the ‘Plastiki’? If current plans come to fruition, she will sail on, sort of, travelling the world in a showcase as an oceanic exhibition piece. Her voyage is far from over.
Documentary maker and photographer Max Jourdan’s film of the voyage of the ‘Plastiki’ was transmitted on the National Geographic Channel on 22nd April, to celebrate Earth Day. ‘Plastiki: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans’ by David de Rothschild was published at the same time. Photograph courtesy of the Plastiki crew. A version of these blogs has appeared in The Independent. For more information on the expedition, go to the web-site http://www.theplastiki.com