Meet the Adventurers of the Year: Voyager David de Rothschild


Each day we will feature one of the 2010 Adventures of the Year here on our blog. Get to know them all in our photo gallery, then vote for your favorite for the People’s Choice award—every day. You can even vote for a new favorite each day, if you can’t pick just one. Photograph by Court Mast

The Voyager

David de Rothschild journeyed across the Pacific in a 60-foot sailboat made of 12,500 plastic bottles.

Four years ago, David de Rothschild announced he would sail across the Pacific in a boat made entirely out of intact, recycled plastic bottles. He would call it Plastiki, after Thor Heyerdahl’s legendary balsa-wood raft, Kon-Tiki. The raft and the journey would call attention to the overwhelming amount of plastics clogging our seas. At 30, de Rothschild had already crossed Antarctica and led an expedition through the Ecuadorian Amazon. He was the youngest Briton ever to visit both North and South Poles, the heir to a European banking fortune, and a 2007 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. But his latest plan sounded slightly ludicrous and, after early models of the hull failed to hold together, increasingly dangerous.

He was going to set sail in winter 2008—cyclone season—then summer, 2009. Still the hull wouldn’t hold. An entirely new method of welding plastic was invented. Skepticism abounded. Reporters asked him if he was ever actually leaving. And if so, when? De Rothschild smiled and deflected the criticism with self-deprecation, pointing out that, even if they did get underway, even though he had been on plenty of expeditions before, he hadn’t any sea legs to speak of. “I get sick in the bathtub,” he told them.

Then, somehow, in the spring of 2010, Plastiki sailed from the California coast and into the Pacific. On July 26, 2010, after four months and roughly 9,500 miles, de Rothschild and his crew—including skippers Jo Royle and Dave Thomson, and Heyerdahl’s grandson, Olav—sailed into Sydney Harbor, their remarkable, sustainable, ecological-minded ocean crossing complete. —By Ryan Bradley

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