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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

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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:

Late April. The Doldrums (Max Jourdan)

‘L’enfer, c’est les autres’ (‘Hell is other people’) purports the existentialist slogan. Inching our way along the seventh parallel under a blistering sun, I would tend to agree. The edge of ‘The Doldrums’. The ‘Plastiki’ is spinning around like a top going nowhere fast, even backwards at times. Some mornings you wake up with your entire soul in a minor key. Feeling like you just want to line the crew up on deck, make them beg for mercy and pop them all in the head with the flare pistol. Wham. 35 days at sea in a Tupperware box, like rancid cheese. What do you expect?

30 April. Christmas Island (David de Rothschild)

We arrived on Christmas Island yesterday, very early in the morning. We got a tow in (after overshooting the island) from one of the local ferry-boat handlers, who managed to pull us into the very shallow lagoon; getting in and out of these atolls can present real challenges. On shore we received a welcoming ceremony from the local community; there was an amazing dance from some local school kids to welcome us.

The first thing I did on land was eat some chocolate and drink a soda. We ate some local fare – coconut cakes and some coconut water. While we’re here we’re going to be meeting local environmental and agricultural groups, and visiting a number of bird sanctuaries and wildlife projects that have been funded by the New Zealand government. We will also be replenishing the hydroponic garden, maybe with some bananas. Community spirit here seems amazing; people are always smiling and very welcoming.

4 May. Leaving Christmas Island (David de Rothschild)

It’s been almost a week since we reached Christmas Island. Although it’s hard to tell really – we’ve all switched on to ‘Island Time’. It has been a very full schedule, lots of school talks and meetings. The boat maintenance consumes a lot of our days. Matt and Graham have been fixing the rudders which got a little damaged as we were towed into the dock. David T has been working on repairing the sail with Jo. We’ve also now replenished our kitchen stocks with some new food for the next leg of the journey.

We’re getting close to hitting the high seas again. We’ll be welcoming some new crew and fresh minds on board.

9 June. On Samoa (Jo Royle, skipper)

Mr T and I have been extremely busy since we got here; we’re trying to prepare the boat for another long leg towards Sydney, where we expect to see the worst weather we’ve seen on the voyage. I’ve serviced all the electrical gear. We’ve still managed to survive off 100 per cent renewable energy since we left San Francisco, which is incredible because we have lots of “Digital Dave [de Rothschild]” and “Digital Graham [Hill]” using our computers and communications.

After a few weeks with another female crew member, I will be back to being the only girl, which I’m a bit apprehensive about, as it’s always good to have another girl to giggle with. But I can’t moan too much; the guys are great. There are six of us living in this tiny cabin and we’ve been at sea for 60 days. To be honest, the most annoying habit is probably the boys showing me their spotty bums; they have very spotty bums from sitting down all the time and I don’t need to see that!

Western Samoa is actually environmentally leaps and bounds ahead of some English towns; we’ve got to catch up, otherwise it’s a bit hypocritical for us to go around the Pacific spreading this message. They already use biodegradable BioBags, as plastic bags were banned in 2006.


Photograph of the boat’s navigation system courtesy of the Plastiki crew. For more information on the expedition and the message, go to the web-site http://www.theplastiki.com or by clicking

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When David de Rothschild sailed across the Pacific last year, the voyage became a model of the media-savvy eco-adventure. But what was life like aboard the ‘Plastiki’, inspired by Thor Heyerdahl’s trail-blazing expedition on the balsa wood raft ‘Kon-Tiki’, sixty-two years ago? On board the ‘Plastiki’, a 20ft by 60ft press office was strapped to 12,000 plastic bottles, as documentary maker and photographer Max Jourdan and his crew mates kept the ship’s blog.

Max’s film of the voyage of the ‘Plastiki’ will be transmitted on the National Geographic Channel on 22nd April to celebrate Earth Day. ‘Plastiki: An Adventure to Save Our Oceans’ by David de Rothschild will also be published at the same time, with an event at the Paragon Sports on Broadway in New York. Phoenix Ark Press are delighted to re-blog a version of an article that appeared in the Independent, and extracts from the diary will be blogged over the coming week.

A lot of bottle: Life on board the Plastiki by Max Jourdan

“Do you want to cross the Pacific on a boat made of plastic bottles?” I was asked a year-and-a-half ago. “Yes,” I replied, without hesitation. I figured it wasn’t a question that would come up again soon. The ‘Plastiki’ adventure began when David de Rothschild, the British adventurer and environmentalist, came across a United Nations report on the state of the world’s oceans, which pointed to the fact that our seas and their ecosystems are dying, suffocated by millions of tons of human waste, in particular, plastics. There was also the ‘discovery’ of huge gyres of plastic waste ‘the size of Texas’ trapped in oceanic vortices. Sailor and environmentalist Charles Moore had sailed through one of these Pacific ‘garbage patches’ in 1997 and brought back grim samples: a briny soup in which plastic nano-particles outnumbered plankton by a ratio of six to one.

Inspired by the famous ‘Kon-Tiki’ expedition, David decided to build a one-of-a-kind expedition vessel, incorporating that ubiquitous item of rubbish, the plastic bottle, and sail it across the Pacific to encourage the world to ‘beat waste’. He was keen to show that with more efficient design, and a smarter understanding of how we use materials, waste can be transformed into a valuable resource. The ‘Plastiki’ is the result of nearly four years of design, boat-building, hipster environmentalism and cutting-edge research into plastic polymers.

I started documenting the adventure for a National Geographic Channel film nearly two years ago, when the Plastiki was still just a bunch of wild sketches on a naval architect’s notepad and a pile of dirty recycled bottles in a San Francisco workshop. Work at the construction site was slow and disorganised. All of the plastic materials used to build the boat’s structure were untested and, to his credit, David insisted on a hull design that incorporated recycled plastic bottles in their original form. Whatever vessel was going to emerge from this zany endeavour would have to be strong enough to sustain months of battering and ultra-violet degradation under the punishing equatorial sun.

I went 100 miles out to sea for a weekend trial, with a crew I barely knew. Five men and one woman. Most of us hadn’t ever sailed before. David spent the entire time vomiting his guts out and we lost a few bottles from the hulls (which we retrieved); but skippers Jo Royle and Dave Thomson reckoned the ‘Plastiki’ was ready as she would ever be. The morning we set off in March last year, a hard-boiled sailor warned me I was mad to be taking part; the ‘Plastiki’ would never make it past the Golden Gate Bridge, let alone 8,398 miles across the Pacific.

Could we prove him wrong? One thing we did have to give up on was sailing to the infamous northern ‘garbage patch’; the ‘Plastiki’ couldn’t get us there. Despite its sci-fi appearance, the boat is more like a raft than a conventional sailing vessel. It can’t sail up wind, nor can it really battle against currents and weather systems. It can only go with the flow, in our case, from East to West following the Pacific currents and trade winds. The garbage gyre lies north of Hawaii and from our launch in San Francisco it was beyond our reach.

Cooped up for weeks on end in a sweaty plastic cabin the size of a tent or roasting under a fierce equatorial sun, I tended to forget what the mission was all about. Life boiled down to basics: sleeping, eating and helming around a 24-hour watch system or tending to nautical chores (and coping with the interminable noise of the ‘Plastiki’s’ 12,000 odd bottles dragging against the sea and the rest of the boat).

I was also distracted by my own self-centred emotional experience of life at sea and hypnotised by endlessly changing vistas of sky and ocean wilderness. But I wasn’t there to change the world; I was aboard to film a bunch of people trying to make it across the Pacific on a crazy plastic boat. And to blog and tweet just about every nautical mile of the way…

23 March. Leaving San Francisco (David de Rothschild, expedition leader)
So, we’ve made it, day two on board the ‘Plastiki’! Seems I got away with it on the first day but have started to feel sick again due to what seem to be massive swells surrounding the ‘Plastiki’, although the sun is out, which makes it really amazing to be out here. Spray seems to be hitting every part of the boat covering the decks, cabin and us with salt water.
We have a new crew member – a flying fish hanging out in the bottles. Olav [Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson] is trying desperately to prise it out for dinner. Max is talking to himself on the helm – which is entertaining the rest of us. Off to get a sleep before dinner, although with Olav cooking I might give it a miss; got a feeling it could be flying fish….


Photograph courtesy of the Plastiki crew. For more information on the expedition, go to the web-site http://www.theplastiki.com or by clicking

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