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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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Documentary maker Max Jourdan’s fabulous diary from the environmental craft Plastiki continues:

Early April. Dawn watch

Waking up for the 4am watch, feeling like the ship’s cat has peed in your mouth. You stumble around head bowed under a red glow looking for damp clothes in the cramped space. In the cabin you pass half-undressed members of the other watch. “Morning.” “Good night.”

Emerging into the strange night you venture to the deck’s edge and grab hold of a mast stay, flexing cold-metal with every movement of the ship. You fumble with layers and zips as you lean over the edge for a piss. Jo said, “Most sailors lost at sea are found with their tackle out.”You sit at the helm and steer the course: 150 degrees. “The Pacific covers an area larger than that of all of the Earth’s masses combined,” you read, and contemplate the curving horizon with rising emotion. There’s a full moon: mesmerising, huge, white, round – and dead ahead.

The hours flash by. You hand over the helm and stand up. Looking at the boat’s wake, you realise dawn is approaching. The ocean is iridescent purple, and lines of orange and blue edge the sky. The entire sky is humming, as light from the sun arcs through the atmosphere. Overwhelmed, you just want to scream, but the rest of the crew is asleep.

6 April. How to kill a tuna fish

1.4 billion hooks are deployed annually on long lines. Some of these can be as long as 75 miles, allowing a fishing vessel to gather 50 tons of fish in one haul. We are trawling one fluorescent, feathered, garish lure on the end of a line and rod. I’m the first to get to the rod after we become aware of the whine of reel. The rod is bent in half and it feels like I’m dragging an oil drum in the boat’s wake. “Make sure the line doesn’t snap,” someone advises. But I am confident in the gear. The lady at the Sausalito tackle store told me we needed 50 lbs test line. “There’s some big fish out there,” she had warned.

“Maybe we need something tougher, then,” I said.

“Let me tell you something…” she replied and paused.”Anything bigger you don’t want to be pulling up on your boat.”

I am inching monofilament back on to the reel. “I hope we haven’t caught a shark,” I think aloud. Finally it surfaces by the boat. Flashing silver and blue and yellow. “That’s the biggest tuna I’ve ever caught,” mumbles Olav who previously spent two-and-a-half months floating across the Pacific on a replica of the Kon-Tiki. “Must weigh nearly 25 kilos.”

The tuna flaps around the deck, spraying blood everywhere. Olav hits it with the bat and I plunge a knife into the back of its head to reach his spine. We don’t measure it, just start butchering it on deck. The flesh convulses powerfully in our hands and Olav and I look at each other. Conveniently the rest of the crew seem to have disappeared. We cut the whole fish up into steaks passing them through to the galley.

8 April. Notes from the ‘Plastiki’ tramp

23.3 degrees of latitude. Sounds exotic; so why is it so cold? Jo told me, “By day five you’ll be in a pair of shorts and T shirt.” I’ve woken up on deck wrapped in a wet, grey, wool blanket; the kind the Salvation Army hands out to homeless people in winter. Did I remember to brush my teeth last night? Mouth all dry. Hair stiff like salty rope. Glasses frosted with spray.

Trousers are torn and disintegrating. Maybe dragging them by a rope in the boat’s wake for a few hours and drying them in the sun was a mistake. But it’s better than wearing the smell of tuna blood. I’d like to see myself as a hobo riding the ‘Plastiki Pacific Slow Boat to Somewhere’; but really I’m the official ‘Plastiki’ tramp. Crawl through to my hutch. The cabin smells like six teenage, grubby, campers are living here. Five men. One woman. Poor Jo.

15 April. The middle of nowhere

I’m not out here on some jolly, organic, culinary cruise across the Pacific. I’ve got a job to do. So when Jo pops her head out of the cabin and looks out at the ocean and grey dawn with a ‘this-is-not-just-another-day-at-the-office’ expression I pick up the camera. Turn on, press record, frame, focus, re-frame. Jo’s blue eyes crystallise on the LCD screen. I can sense the thoughts formulating on her lips. “What’s up, Jo?” “We’re more than 1,000 miles from any landfall,” she says. Jo looks profoundly happy. “What does that mean, Jo?” “It means it would take someone quite a while to rescue us. It means we’re alone.” The announcement is electric.

This is precisely why I took this assignment on, I think. In my peripheral vision, I can sense some members of the crew don’t share our mutual delight.

19 April. Let them eat cake

24 days at sea and maybe 20 more to go before landfall on Christmas Island. There are some pressing concerns; water is being consumed too fast, toilet paper is running out, the furling system starboard side is broken and the foresail ripped. Running out of bread is a serious problem. Just look what happened to Marie Antoinette. I’m not saying this as a Frenchman, but because bread is part of the ritual of our daily lives; it provides sustenance, pleasure and even bonds people.

An ocean-crossing is all about being self-sufficient, from mending sails and water pumps to baking bread. Unfortunately, we’ve got only a solar oven (delusional dream of some wacky hippy baker). The wrapping and instructions displayed a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey. It’s so hot out here you could fry eggs on the plastic deck, but I still haven’t got the temperature above 120C. “What bread can we bake with no oven and a miniature grill?” I ask Jo. We run through the naans, flatbreads, galettes, rotis and chapatis of our desires. Olav suggests the chunky Norwegian black rye bread of his youth. In the end we opt for pita.


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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