Inside Plastiki, electronics for the greater good?


That’s the hyper-green eco-adventure cat Plastiki posing for a press conference in San Francisco last Friday.  Sure, the project is somewhat mockable — they’ll be recycling urine as they cross the Pacific, for cripe’s sake — and there are even some who think that Mick Jagger’s daughter will join the already semi-glamorous crew.  But I’m sensing that this is the real deal, as did Kimball when he visited (and then Charlie pointed out that there’s a North Atlantic plastic patch too, damn it).  Wired’s detail on the innovative construction and a Treehugger interview with de Rothchild also helped hook me.  I’m planning to following this adventure and, as you’re about to see, that should be easy…

You see, representatives of Plastiki sponsors Jeppesen Marine and Inmarsat were at the press conference and they’ve shared some photos that I haven’t seen elsewhere.  In fact, this shot of the navigation area was taken just before a hail storm rolled in and ended the boat tours way early (well done, Ron Ballanti!).

Plastiki_helm_station_courtesy_Jeppesen_Marine.JPGSo, how do eco-adventurers with lots to say about the mess we’ve made, and the recyling we need to adopt, equip themselves for ocean voyaging?  Click for the bigger picture, and let’s go left to right.  At top is an OutBack FLEXnetDC system so the crew can monitor how well their solar, wind, and bicycle generators are keeping up with power demands.  Above the switch panel is a venerable Icom M-422 VHF and a much more rarely seen MOBi-lert system (oddly not listed at Mobilarm’s home site anymore).  Then there’s an Iridium 9555 sat phone tucked into a marine dock behind the HP laptop, which is just one of many tech items that HP donated.  The PC will be running MaxSea V12 software able to display the C-Map Max cartography Jeppesen donated (and maybe will switch up to Time Zero when the new MapMedia C-Maps are ready?).  The PC is no doubt interfaced to the Furuno GP-32 and probably also to the Comar CSB200 Class B AIS transponder mounted under the ‘chart’ table.
    That “SkyEye” thingy perplexed me for a bit.  I knew that Xaxero makes the SkyEye direct satellite weather system with the distinctive helical antenna sometimes seen on hardcore cruising boats, but it turns out they also market the Xtracker Solar, which is what’s sitting there waiting for installation somewhere on Plastiki with a good sky view.  And, finally, there’s the ACU and IP handset for the FB500 system donated by Inmarsat.  This is one well-connected boat (like Visions of Johanna), but I particularly like the shot below of the FB antenna mounted on a mast recycled from a utility pole.  Yes, that’s a rotating hydroponic garden mounted where some boats might have a mizzen boom. “Fair winds, following seas, and fast growing veggies?” 


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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

8 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Matters of scale: The FB500 on Plastiki, at “up to 432 Kbps”, is almost three times faster than the FB150 on VOJ:
    But the dual 2.4m VSAT domes MTN put on the world’s largest cruise ship are pumping more than “26.6 Mbps, including 10 Mbps for Internet, 3 Mbps for voice and corporate data, 9 Mbps for an ABC live TV broadcast, 2 Mbps for video streaming, 1.5 Mbps for cellular phone service and 1 Mbps for radio broadcasts and phones.”

  2. Ben, Farallon Electronics and Morgan Designs in Sausalito, CA designed and installed the electrical and electronics for the Plastiki. Plastiki docked out this morning at 0600 for their first offshore seatrial and are ~5 miles outside SF as I write this.
    Plastiki has a message we fully embrace. At its essence, plastic needs to be treated as we do other resources, such as aluminum – recycle recycle recycle. Plastic as a single use material will play a hand in killing our ecosystems if we continue as we have in the past.
    The systems on the boat were a challenge in that we didn’t have a big diesel/alternator to rely on for charging, it is all renewable energy: 1200 watts of solar, 2x wind generators, a tow generator and the pedal bike generator.
    Our principals for the design – keep it as simple as possible, with safety and crew accessible redundancy where practical. We also wanted to minimize losses in the DC system and bumped up the wire sizes in key spots.
    In keeping with the recycling theme, Morgan Designs donated the electrical panel which was removed from another boat during a refit.
    A lot of time was spent with HP choosing the right model computer with an emphasis on low power draw but not getting down to the Netbook level of machine where there would be a performance penalty.
    For interfacing serial devices with the PC, we have the venerable Edgeport/8 connected via a Hubport/DC. The Edgeport is full – Instruments, 2x GPS ports, AIS, VHF for DSC, Mobi for DSC, Iridium and the Outback. We may also add or reconfig to accommodate the serial line out of the bike gen.
    We also have the GPS data generated by the AIS switchable as a back-up GPS source for all systems down stream (VHF, MOB, PC).
    One fun fact, we installed the antennas inside under the house roof. The PET plastic material the boat is made of is transparent to RF, so the antennas are tucked away in a safe spot.
    We haven’t taken our final pictures of the install yet. Let me know if you would like to see more.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Eric! I missed the Edgeport and readers can find info here:
    Yes, please send more pictures and/or diagrams. I’m ben dot ellison at

  4. we were there for the launch, was cool to see it in the flesh. so its green-solar paneled-bicycled powered-goodness AND has a garden. we interviewed them about it and uploaded it here:
    its pretty amazing…

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Plastiki has been underway for 28 days now, and is almost 2,500 miles into the Pacific. For a while its Web site was even slower than a boat with exposed bottles as a hull surface, but it’s running well now, including videos sent via Inmarsat:

  6. Have you seen this Purple People Eater this thing is awesome

  7. Keely Thomas-Moore says:

    I actually think this is a pretty cool idea. Especially the hydroponic garden set up on the mast. Hopefully they will find a way to get the trip going again. How far were they planning on sailing? I hope not far, since it didn’t seem like they had any real communications equipment, at least to my untrained eye. I’ve heard great things about using an NJRC BUC ( ) as part of a communications system. It might be something they want to consider.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Gee, Keely, Plastiki made it 8,000 miles across the Pacific, and their site (first link in the entry) is still live. I forget what BUC stands for but I’m pretty sure there is one in the Inmarsat FleetBroadBand system they used.
    I too would like to know more about boat gardening. I have been on a few boats with plants and they always seem especially wonderful in that setting.

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