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Naturally, any innovator worth his salt—Edison, Hughes—spends countless months slogging through trial and error, and when we checked in with de Rothschild at the lonely end of Pier 31 in San Francisco, his team was very much in mid-slog. He hasn’t made it easy on himself, given that, from the start, he’s insisted on boat designs that largely run counter to all good nautical sense. For example, he wants plastic water bottles featured prominently in the construction of the boat, which he has dubbed Plastiki in a hat tip to Kon-Tiki, the raft Thor Heyerdahl used in his famous 1947 Pacific crossing. "The path of least resistance would be to melt down all the bottles and mold a boat," he says. "But that would look like any other boat and sort of defeat the purpose." His team determined early on that a monohulled vessel could not effectively be constructed from plastic bottles, so Plastiki would have to be a much less robust kind of boat—specifically, a catamaran, with bunched bottles serving as pontoons.

The first designer de Rothschild hired, Michael Pawlin, famous for his nature-inspired concepts, determined that the bottles should be configured in the segmented style of a pomegranate, which would give the pontoons strength. He also designed a freshwater drinking system based on the characteristics of a rare insect that transforms fog into water, the Namibian fog-basking beetle. When de Rothschild brought Pawlin’s plans to Ron Holland, one of the world’s premier superyacht designers, Holland was baffled. "You have to design a boat to withstand any weather," he says. "They’ll probably be fine going down the coast to Los Angeles and then over to Hawaii. But once you’re in the western Pacific, you don’t know what the hell will happen."

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