That our sea is full of plastic to Stefano Rossini (journalist), Matteo and Pietro Munaretto (radio TV technician and municipal police officer, respectively) just doesn’t go down well. In fact, for them it is really a… Plastic Sickness.
They had told us about their project “to raise awareness of the problem of disposable plastic and its dispersal in the sea,” called, precisely, Plastic Mal. “We thought we would treat this very important issue with a lot of irony and a crazy venture.”
To wit. “To build a catamaran of about six by three meters entirely out of recycled materials, mainly plastic bottles collected by pupils of some elementary schools in the Rimini area, who will receive an aluminum water bottle in return.” The intention was to sail the catamaran from Rimini to Venice over a 95-mile route. And they did it, in the summer of 2019.
They tell us about the venture by sharing their invaluable logbook with us.
The Plastic Sickness that makes you go crazy.
“Do we talk about the problem of disposable plastic in the sea by building a bottle boat? And maybe, we’ll go all the way to Venice.”
Yes, this is exactly how our idea of Plastic Sickness was born! Eight months of intense work, more than 3,000 plastic bottles collected, an indefinite amount of material gathered here and there, and…a sea of friends.
We met over a thousand elementary school children, and it was because of them (and their bottles) that our boat floated: three empty plastic bottles in exchange for a beautiful aluminum water bottle! We always managed to get a smile out of everyone, few believed it. A DJ and radio host, a journalist-writer, and a local police officer; it almost sounded like a joke.
But the dream of these three grown children came true, and on June 4, 2019, we sailed from Rimini to Venice on a boat made from 3,000 plastic bottles.
Construction and characteristics of “Plastic Sickness.”
Size: 6m x 3m,
Propulsion: sail, pedal-powered motor 6hp – Solar oven
Structure: hulls composed of wooden cages (recovered from pallets) filled with (fishing) nets filled with bottles.
Sail rig: Trident
Sails: waste awning material
Rudders: old construction planks
Day 1: Tuesday, June 4, 2019
At Rimini’s dock on Tuesday, June 4, a crowd of jubilant children, friends, relatives, onlookers and journalists accompanied the departure of Mal di plastica, the catamaran built from salvaged wood, recycled materials and 3,000 plastic bottles.
Some engine trouble has slowed the exit-we are forced to be towed out of the harbor, but then everything starts working fine again-at least for a while!
A technical note: although our catamaran was sail-powered, and equipped with a pedal-powered motor, in the dock, by law, we move with the motor, for safety issues.
Outside the pier, already far from the entrance lighthouse, we opened the sails and there we got our first nice surprise. On paper we expected a speed of a knot or so, but instead we were propelled to over three knots (that is, three miles per hour). For the first piece, we were escorted by the Coast Guard, police jet skis, some friends’ boats, and the Civil Defense, which brought up Paralympic athlete Mirco Acquarelli. Settled with his wheelchair under the tree, he sailed a few hours with us.
By sunset we were already in Milano Marittima, far beyond expectations, and we decided to continue sailing, starting sleeping shifts. At 2 a.m., off Ravenna’s industrial harbor, the engine starts acting up again and shuts down again and again. By the light of a flashlight Piero disassembles the outboard and cleans the carburetor. The engine a little restarts a little struggles, but finally, at seven o’clock, we manage to dock in Porto Garibaldi, Comacchio height.
Day 2: Wednesday, June 5
We were joined in Porto Garibaldi by actor Roberto Mercadini, who was intrigued by our project, and stayed with us all morning to make videos and tell the story and meaning of Mal di Plastica.
Arriving at the time to set sail, the engine finally abandons us. Nothing. It won’t turn on. We notify our team of supporters consisting of the Rimini Yacht Club, Marina di Rimini, and BlueSea, which sets out from Rimini and in a couple of hours brings us a member’s engine so we can continue sailing. Shall we set off? No. Because in the meantime the sea got big and the wind picked up. Conditions are not good for sailing. We await the evening. The forecast gives a window of good weather between 9 p.m. and the next morning. So around 8 p.m. we finally leave Porto Garibaldi, heading for Porto Barricata, at the mouth of the Po delle Tolle.
The waves are more than a meter high, and the wind is sustained. A situation that puts a strain on our raft. But we expected it, at least for an hour or so. Instead, the predictions turn out to be wrong. The wind and sea continued big throughout the night, making navigation very difficult. We are forced to reduce the sail to maintain stability and attack the motor, but it often shuts down because of the big waves and the boat’s fallout. With great difficulty and a lot of effort, we arrive at Port Barricata at 3 a.m.
Day 3: Thursday, June 6
Sea conditions are still prohibitive, so we decide to change our plans and continue along the river. We have to take down the tree and go motor. The navigation on the Po is pleasant and allows us to rest after the night’s exertions and little sleep. The big river is placid and we meet no one. At Taglio di Po we dock and walk down with canisters for gasoline. A car pulls up alongside: “You are the ones from Plastic Sickness. I saw you on the news. Get in I’ll drive you.” Who would have thought. We are famous! We take advantage of the passage, chat with Giorgio – that’s the name of our savior! – And then we resume.
We begin by crossing the system of locks that connects the Po to the canals leading to the mouth of the Adige and then to that of the Brenta, until we reach the interior of the Venetian lagoon, below Chioggia. The landscapes are bucolic, the trees stretch out over the water, flowers and leaves float by spreading sweet scents, and the air is clean and fresh. Unfortunately, however, near the docks and in areas near shore where the current carries logs and debris, there is a lot of plastic.
After passing the last lock we cross the industrial area of Chioggia. We are flanked by a patrol boat from the Finance Guard and asked a few questions. Then he leaves. It is one o’clock when we arrive at the Chioggia Sailing Club, our host.
Day 4: Friday, June 7
The day begins with the arrival of Andrea, a boy from Chioggia who is part of an association that collects plastic in the lagoon and at sea. We board his speedboat, which travels at speeds that are now inconceivable to us-and perhaps even a bit above the permitted limits-and have a quick tour of the lagoon city, the beautiful and wild island of Ca’ Roman, and also a breakfast worthy of the name after days of frugality.
The city administration contacted us and asked us to moor the boat in Vigo Square, the city’s central plaza overlooking the sea, to tell them about our project and take a few ritual photos. So the day passes amid chatter, relationships, and new friendships, including Mario, a sprightly 85-year-old man stationed at the boat club, telling about his life, his love of the environment, and beautiful girls.
Day 5 Saturday, June 8
At dawn we cast off our moorings for the last time. Direction: the Serenissima. All along the way, along the island of Pellestrina and then Lido, there are many boats passing by us, waving and encouraging us. Same thing from the ground. At the mouths of Malamocco we have to stop to avoid passing too close to a large ship, the first of many we will encounter during navigation.
The last stretch we are even escorted by Local Police, Civil Defense and Port Authority.
“But are they escorting you or taking you away?” a gentleman laughingly asks us from a boat that quickly passes us.
The arrival in Venice is evocative. Seeing the bell tower of St. Mark’s coming out of the mist and silhouetted sharply, along with the silhouette of the city is exciting. This is the first time I have come to the city from the sea, unlike Piero and Matteo who are more experienced than me. And I must say that in this way the city takes on a whole other charm, another essence.
Welcoming us to the renowned Sailing Company are our friends from Rimini, with T-shirts and banners. Unfortunately, the docking is a bit deviant from our expectations, and apart from acquaintances, few people realize what is going on.
Fortunately, the TG3 Venice reporters come along and “give” us some visibility, and eventually we even find an alderman to shake hands. The label is safe.
The epilogue to the voyage was Sunday, with the last stage of sailing, to Cavallino Treporti, hauling, dismantling and returning to Rimini.
We finally made it. More adventurous than expected, even complicated, but beautiful. We were accompanied by the enthusiasm of those who followed us from home and for a few stretches of sailing, we got people talking about us and the problem of plastic in the sea. We are satisfied. We return home tanned and happy.
Matteo Munaretto, Piero Munaretto, Stefano Rossini
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