- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) | You’ve heard of a ship in a bottle. How about a ship made of plastic bottles? That would be the Plastiki, designed to sail the Pacific on an 11,000-mile voyage highlighting the dangers of living in a throwaway world.

“Waste is fundamentally a design flaw. We wanted to design a vessel that would epitomize waste being used as a resource,” expedition leader David de Rothschild said.

The boat is named in honor of the 1947 Kon-Tiki raft sailed across the Pacific by explorer Thor Heyerdahl, an ocean adventure that inspired Mr. de Rothschild. There’s a bit more of a tie-in: One of the Plastiki team members is Josian Heyerdahl, the explorer’s granddaughter.

An environmental scientist who works on business sustainability issues, Miss Heyerdahl, 25, became part of the project after reading about it and introducing herself to Mr. de Rothschild.

She’s enthusiastic about the idea of using adventure to engage people’s attention in rethinking trash.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand how the story of the Kon-Tiki and other adventure stories have really inspired people to take on tasks that they thought were somewhat impossible or inspired them to do something that they really believed in,” she said.

Plans are for skipper Jo Royle and Mr. de Rothschild to sail the whole way from California to Australia, while other crew members will rotate. Miss Heyerdahl plans to join the boat for the last leg of the journey as the Plastiki heads toward Sydney Harbor.

Turning thousands of reclaimed 2-liter bottles into a sailing vessel isn’t a simple task. The launch date, which had been scheduled earlier this year, had to be pushed back to late this year because of the challenges of working with a new material.

The Plastiki is planned as a 60-foot catamaran with the hulls made of a rigid plastic structure forming compartments in which about 10,000 empty bottles are stacked to make it float.

Project manager Matthew Grey said the hulls are partially completed and the next step is bonding the elements of the boat together. Just how much longer it will take to complete the catamaran is uncertain, he said, because “we are dealing on a daily basis with so many unknowns.”

The crew will be housed in a geodesic dome, topped by solar panels, and will have such creature comforts as bunks, solar shower and compost toilet. The boat is fully recyclable, part of the mission to find ways to reuse plastics.

“What we have to do is realign our understanding of the material,” said Mr. de Rothschild, a descendant of the well-known British banking family, who founded Adventure Ecology, which stages expeditions to raise awareness of environmental issues.

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