Published: October 2008ADVENTURE's Leading Edge
David De Rothschild

Voyage of the Plastiki

The perils of innovation on the high seas.

Text by Paul Kvinta
Photograph by Gregg Segal

Update: The Plastiki departure has been delayed until summer 2009. Until then, read updates from our Plastiki correspondent and see the workshop in a photo gallery >>

"There’s a risk in everything," says environmentalist David de Rothschild. "But, really, how hard can it be?"

Pretty damn hard, if you’re talking about sailing across the Pacific in a rudderless boat made of plastic bottles bound together with mesh—in the middle of cyclone season. De Rothschild is certainly many things—heir to one of the world’s great banking fortunes, intrepid polar explorer, children’s book author, celebrity tabloid target—but sailor isn’t one of them, a point he freely admits. "I get seasick in the bathtub."

But these are mere technicalities, it seems, and none too great to deter the 30-year-old Brit from pursuing arguably one of the most visionary (some might say ill-conceived) expeditions yet proposed. In March de Rothschild plans to sail from San Francisco to Sydney in a 60-foot vessel constructed entirely of recycled materials, mostly plastic water bottles. Why? First off, he wants to demonstrate the unlikely and amazing things people can achieve when they recycle their junk. Second, he wants to show them what happens when they don’t.

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