Recyclers plan to build 'viking' ship

Juneau groups create boat from plastic bottles to bring attention to ocean trash

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2007

Armed with discarded fishing rods, nets and about 5,000 thousand plastic drink bottles, community members today begin construction of a 20-foot flat-bottom "Viking" boat to be rowed from Douglas Island to Juneau on July 4.

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Never fear. They're leaving swords behind. Organizers are more concerned with seaworthiness and navigation; not to mention recycling.

"It'll float, there's no doubt about that," said David Moe, president of Sons of Norway, an organization that pays tribute to Norwegian culture and has helped organize the project along with Juneau conservation groups Friends of Recycling and Turning the Tides.

The boat is expected to carry five to six people as part of the Independence Day festivities. Later, it will be on display at Twin Lakes.

Eventually, the six-foot wide vessel will make its way back to the recycling center as a reminder to people about the effects plastics have on the nation's oceans and rivers.

"The thing about plastic is it doesn't biodegrade. It doesn't disappear like paper does," Moe said.

Steering construction is Marcus Eriksen, director of research and education at the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He visited Juneau in mid-May to talk with residents and lawmakers about the dangers of plastics.

Researchers at the Southern California foundation say plastics have an increasingly bad impact on marine life.

The production of plastics in the United States has doubled from 60 billion pounds in 1992 to 120 billion pounds in 2007, and just 5 percent of the total is recycled.

The remainder either goes to landfills, is made into durable goods such as car bumpers or ends up somewhere in the environment.

Eriksen has constructed bottle boats before, including one made from 800 bottles that sailed from Santa Barbara to San Diego in 2006.

Moe said it was his idea to build a Viking ship - simultaneously fulfilling a plan that the Sons of Norway have harbored for the past few years.

The entire boat will be made of some form of plastic, Moe said.

How to help

• What: Volunteers are needed to help build a plastic Viking ship.

• When: Today at 5 p.m. and from 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

• Where: 2001 Hughes Road in Fritz Cove.

• What to bring: A dish to share, a plate and utensils.

• For more information: Call Hildegard Regele at 789-3250.

The empty and capped plastic bottles will be latched together by fish net and plastic rope, forming the body of the boat.

Moe said Eriksen has asked them to collect old fishing poles, which can be easily bent into the shape of a dragon's head for the prow. A plastic square sail is being stitched together for the mainmast.

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As of Friday, more than 4,000 bottles already had been collected by volunteers from the organizations, as well as Juneau-Douglas High School and the University of Alaska Southeast.

The response from the community has been overwhelming, said Hildegard Regele, who is in charge of organizing the project for Turning the Tides.

"I think if you count everybody who has contributed, it would go into the hundreds," she said.

Volunteer Beth Peluso said she was surprised at the number of bottles they have been able to gather in just one month - particularly given their requirements.

For example, items such as milk jugs and laundry detergent-type bottles won't work because the caps don't screw. The best are two-liter soda bottles, but they have been hard to come by, Peluso said.

"Apparently there are not a lot of two-liter soda drinkers in Juneau," she said.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at

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