Aug 29, 2008

World - Raft of junk crosses pacific in 3 months

HONOLULU: Tanned, dirty and hungry, two men who spent three months crossing the Pacific on a raft made of plastic bottles to raise awareness of ocean debris finally stepped onto dry land.
“We made it,” hollered Marcus Eriksen to a crowd of about two dozen gathered at Ala Wai Harbour on Wednesday. “Where’s the food?”
Friends greeted Mr. Eriksen and fellow eco-mariner Joel Paschal with fresh food and beer to celebrate the end of their 4,200-km voyage on what they call the JUNK raft.
“We got used to eating fish and peanut butter,” said Mr. Eriksen, who celebrated his 41st birthday at sea.
The pair left Long Beach, California, on June 1. Their 9-metre vessel had a deck of salvaged sailboat masts, six pontoons filled with 15,000 plastic bottles and a cabin made from the fuselage of a Cessna airplane.
While at sea they realised they were only travelling 0.8 km an hour and it would take them much longer to reach Hawaii than the previously anticipated six weeks. “We had to go to half rations for awhile,” said Mr. Paschal, 32.
Without a backup plan, the two used a satellite phone to get in touch with Roz Savage, who was crossing the Pacific solo in a rowboat and happened to be in the same area at the time.
Ms. Savage, who was heading from San Francisco to Hawaii, was in dire need of water after both her potable water makers broke. When the three met up, Ms. Savage got onboard the raft, Mr. Paschal speared a mahimahi and the three dined together. Before parting, the men gave Ms. Savage a water maker and she gave them some of her extra food.
“We exchanged the necessities of life,” Mr. Eriksen said. “And that kept us going.”
Food was not the only problem the men encountered on their trip. The raft, which can only sail down wind, had a hard time leaving the Long Beach area. The raft encountered storms that tore it apart during the first two weeks. Some of the bottles that were supposed to help the raft stay afloat started to sink. The pair had to anchor the raft 160 km offshore and rebuild it, before setting sail.
The voyage was part of Algalita Marine Research Foundation’s project called, ‘JUNK.’ The third person of the group, who did not make the trip, was Anna Cummins, Mr. Eriksen’s fiancee. Ms. Cummins, however, took care of land support, blogs and fundraising. She said the goal of the trip was to creatively raise awareness about plastic debris and pollution in the ocean. Ironically, this was the same goal that Savage had in her trek across the Pacific.
The three want “single-use plastics” to be banned, saying they’re wasteful and usually end up in the ocean. “Recycling is one solution, but it’s just a small part of the puzzle,” Mr. Paschal said.
Each day the men posted online videos and blogs of their trip and kept in touch with Ms. Cummins. They spent two to three hours a day maintaining and repairing the raft.
The men said a variety of marine life gathered under the raft throughout the trip. One day they caught a fish after watching it grow for five weeks. They were going to eat it, but when they cut it open they found its stomach was full of plastic confetti.

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