PLASTIKI makes Dallas Home!
David de Rothschild sailed Plastiki from San Francisco to Sydney in 2010. The catamaran is on a 12-day road trip to Dallas, where it will have a permanent home.
Story By Cheryl Hall firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: 23 March 2013 08:37 PM
Engineering and Humanity Week
The Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made of 12,500 2-liter plastic bottles, is making its way to Dallas. It will travel 2,500 miles of highway from San Francisco to Fair Park, a journey that’s nearly as daunting as its 8,000-mile Pacific Ocean voyage from San Francisco to Sydney that made maritime history in 2010.
When it arrives, the boat will be the star attraction of this year’s Engineering & Humanity Week, which is honoring its adventurous creator and skipper, David de Rothschild, a 34-year-old descendant of the famous banking family.
The boat is 26 feet wide, which requires police-escorted travel by night and a route that avoids mountains, desert and hairpin turns.
It may not be as large as a space shuttle, but it’s every bit as demanding in its travel plans.
“The first thing to learn about the Plastiki is she’s her own person,” de Rothschild said last week as he and his team cleaned up the 11-ton vessel and loaded it on to a flatbed truck to begin its 12-day journey.
“She has her own timetable. If you try to force an agenda on her, she’ll look at you and go, ‘No,’ and then give you hers,” he said.
De Rothschild will get this year’s Visionary Award at Engineering & Humanity Week, which is sponsored by Hunter and Stephanie Hunt, the Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity at SMU, the ROi Project and the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth.
“David came up with a new use for plastic bottles and a recyclable version of rigid plastic that was used for the boat’s skeleton framework,” Stephanie Hunt said.
“Marine glues tend to be really toxic and chemical-laden. He and his team developed a bonding agent made of cashews and sugar that held the Plastiki together across the Pacific. The mast is made out of reclaimed irrigation piping.”
De Rothschild proved that teamwork and determination can pull off audacious dreams, Hunt said.
Engineering & Humanity Week is April 6-12 on the SMU campus and at Fair Park. It will include lectures, panel discussions, a water distribution station similar to those in refugee camps and a student challenge to create innovative clean-water systems.
The Plastiki will be revealed on opening night, floating in the Esplanade Fountain across from the Centennial Building.
Sudanese hip-hop artist and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal will also receive the Humanitarian Award for his social justice and human rights efforts as part of Engineering & Humanity Week.
After Engineering & Humanity Week is over, the Plastiki will stick around Fair Park for Earth Day Dallas and then head to the plaza of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where it will spend the summer as the Hunts search for its permanent home.
“David is giving it to us to go with an urban innovation lab for youth that we’re looking to build in downtown,” Stephanie Hunt said.
This is the beginning of Plastiki’s recycled life.
Its first incarnation began in 2006, when de Rothschild asked himself whether he could build a boat out of 2-liter plastic bottles that could sail across the Pacific.
“Plastiki’s at the opposite end of the spectrum of boats being built for racing,” de Rothschild said. “The perception of sailing is that it’s clean and green because you’re just using the wind. The reality is, those racing vessels use materials that are noxious. When you use fiberglass or carbon fiber to make a rigid product and something goes wrong in construction, you actually have a hazardous material to dispose of.”
His team developed a rigid plastic material, Seretex, that is completely recyclable. “We’ve made a valueless throwaway into a highly valuable resource. It’s a game changer.”
The Hunts met de Rothschild through a mutual friend in 2009, just months before the Plastiki set sail for Australia.
“I was surprised about how realistic David was,” Hunt said. “He wasn’t talking about getting rid of plastics but finding new versions and better uses for it.”
She called de Rothschild in February to see whether he was interested in receiving the Visionary Award. She also asked whether there was a way to get the Plastiki here. De Rothschild, 26, the youngest Briton to reach both geographic poles, loved that challenge.
“It’s been quite an interesting month and a half trying to figure out logistically, ‘How do you get a boat made of 12,500 plastic bottles in one piece to Dallas over land?’” he said in a telephone interview.
“As I say that to you, I’m still in somewhat disbelief.”
Tricky trip ahead
Even after the Plastiki crosses three state lines, getting it through Dallas will be a hassle. And then there’s Fair Park. “Maneuvering her into position and craning her off into the fountain is a big engineering process in itself, which is kind of fun,” de Rothschild said.
“We’ll be documenting it as we go.”
De Rothschild has fielded a number of offers for Plastiki’s second life. Most recently, an Asian shipping family wanted to make Plastiki the centerpiece of a maritime exhibit.
But when he heard what the Hunts were planning to create in Dallas and saw their commitment to making it happen, he knew that would suit Plastiki’s mission.
“We’ve got incredible solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems; we just need to figure out how to work together as a team to activate those solutions,” he said. “We have the opportunity to ask, ‘What’s your Plastiki?’ and use her as a metaphor for unlocking human potential.”
But it’s all a bit of a mind-bender. I tell him I have visions of Noah’s Ark in the desert.
“Exactly,” he said.
So how much will it cost to get Plastiki to Dallas?
“I always say if you have to talk about money, you’re missing the magic,” he said.