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Mid-ocean dinner date saves rower

20 August 08 06:43 GMT

By Christine Jeavans
BBC News

A British woman rowing solo across the Pacific has managed to rendezvous mid-ocean with a raft made from plastic bottles, in an encounter which may have saved her life.

The two vessels were on separate trips to raise awareness of marine litter and conservation issues.

The two approached each other like "garden snails about to mate", according to experienced rower Roz Savage, who described how she had to turn around and "row hard" towards the Junk raft in order to meet.

Aboard the raft were Dr Marcus Eriksen, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and film-maker Joel Paschal.

The pair are sailing from Los Angeles to Hawaii in order to raise awareness of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" - the huge soup of plastic marine debris which is suspended in the waters of the North Pacific.

Their craft is made from a Cessna 310 aircraft fuselage seated on 15,000 plastic bottles contained in old fishing nets.

Even the sail is recycled and the communications equipment runs off solar panels and wind power.

Meanwhile Ms Savage, from London, is rowing her boat, the Brocade, the 7,270 miles from San Francisco to Australia to highlight marine conservation issues.

Alerted to each other's proximity by readers of their respective blogs and guided by friends and relatives back home, the two craft managed to meet 600 miles from Hawaii.

"It was fantastic to meet up with the two men on Junk," Ms Savage told BBC News.

"We are like-minded on the subject of pollution of the oceans and we had lots to talk about."

Water crisis

Ms Savage reckons the meeting, after 80 days at sea, may have even saved her life as the Brocade's two water makers had both packed up.

"I was desperately needing to meet up with somebody who could give me a re-supply of water, and no other vessel had been near enough.

"It was so good to have the water - the weather is so hot and humid now that they might quite literally have saved my life."

In return she gave the men dried foods from her supplies to supplement their diet which had been reduced to peanut butter and fish.

Joel Paschal harpooned a mahi mahi for dinner and the trio sat down to a companionable dinner party - albeit a "dry" one as neither vessel carries alcohol.

"It was extremely exciting to see another human being in the middle of the ocean," Dr Eriksen said by satellite phone.

"We were missing seeing another face, so that was wonderful.

"She needed water and we needed food - it was a feeling of reciprocal altruism that is very basic to human nature. This experience was one of the highlights of my life."

Dr Eriksen said the Junk raft had now entered the waters of the North Pacific gyre where ocean currents concentrate the plastic debris.

Estimates for the size of the "plastic soup" range from twice the size of Texas to the size of the USA plus India, and recent research by the Algalita Foundation suggests that it is growing.

"The most ubiquitous trash out here is plastic and the most common I would say are fragments of plastic bags and water bottles," Dr Eriksen said.

"You find bottle caps all over the place and micro-fragments of plastic film as well.

"We need to change our culture from one of a disposable culture to one of sustainability - it is the best thing we can do this century."

He added that plastic acts as a sponge for toxins in the marine environment, such as pesticides and PCBs, which can then enter the food chain when sea creatures eat the plastic particles.

When the Junk raft and the Brocade arrive in Hawaii, the three seafarers hope to meet once more and draw attention to plastic pollution in the ocean.

For Ms Savage, who rowed singlehanded across the Atlantic in 2005 to 2006, the island group marks the end of the first leg of her journey, in which she aims to become the first woman to row solo across the ocean.

The trip has two further legs - Hawaii to Tuvalu and Tuvalu to Cairns, northern Australia, which she is due to reach in 2010.

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