David de Rothschild: Captain Planet

The environmentalist heir on fish guts, drinking like a sailor, and how he keeps it clean.

Photograph courtesy of The Plastiki Crew

As part of an effort to raise awareness of the plastic that pollutes our oceans, British eco-adventurer David de Rothschild is currently sailing from San Francisco to Sydney on Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made of 12,500 recycled bottles. Details caught up with him via satellite phone to hear about his campaign, the indulgences he can't go without, and how his crew avoids B.O. on the open sea.

Details: Where are you right now?

David de Rothschild: We actually just crossed the equator yesterday. There's this tradition that if you are an "equator virgin" you are supposed to drink this really nasty concoction—with fish guts—when you pass it for the first time. I was on watch this morning, and I ended up getting covered in this homemade mixture of coconut husks, coffee, old food, and lemon juice. It was a pretty horrific smell.

Details: How big are your living quarters?

David de Rothschild: The entire vessel is a 60-foot-by-20-foot platform, but the actual cabin is quite small. There are six of us, with four bunks and two people constantly on watch outside. You have to learn how people act, because even the smallest things can become challenging when you're living in such confined spaces.

Details: What do you do for entertainment?

David de Rothschild: We are working almost round-the-clock, but when we have some downtime in the evenings we like to play cards together. We have a lot of thinkers on board, so it's nice to just absorb how enormous the open space is.

Details: Sounds like a good opportunity to enjoy some cocktails.

David de Rothschild: I actually made the decision to not drink anything on the trip, so I haven't had a drop of alcohol since the 20th of March. We've switched my body from a nightclub to a temple. [Laughs] I think everyone else occasionally has a glass of wine in the evening, but our real treat is chocolate. My dad is a chocoholic—he actually owns a chocolate business.

Details: That must be cool.

David de Rothschild: Yeah, it's called William Curley, and it's based in the U.K. So we have a big supply of chocolate on board that has basically allowed us to have a sugar rush every time we wake up.

Details: What else did you pack?

David de Rothschild: When you are in Antarctica, you are pulling your own weight, so you are very conscious of what you are carrying. But for this I just brought basic items and outdoor gear. I actually did some wash this morning.

Details: When you say wash, does that mean in a sink or the ocean?

David de Rothschild: In the ocean, and then the rainwater washes off the soap. We collect rainwater and drink it. Every single component on Plastiki has been really thought-out so we can minimize our impact. Everything on board is sustainable, even the soaps. Kiehl's is a partner. They designed this three-in-one wash that we can use for clothes, hair, and face.

Details: That probably comes in handy when people start to smell!

David de Rothschild: Yeah, kind of important. [Laughs] When it rains we all run out on the deck and get some soap and try to take a quick shower. It's always quite amusing to see a bunch of naked bodies on deck trying to get clean before the rain disappears!

Details: Are you feeling like your trip has been an effective way of getting out an environmental message?

David de Rothschild: The Plastiki campaign is very focused on storytelling, so we are telling a story of the ocean and how plastic is ending up in it and how this is an issue that can be solved. It's about inspiring people to say, "There is a big list of problems, but there is also a huge list of solutions out there." We need to start focusing more heavily on what we can do instead of what we haven't. We're using Plastiki as a metaphor for action and change and asking people, "What is your Plastiki?"

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