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The Junk Raft had embarked from Long Beach, California, with a crew of two, its sendoff broadcast on local television.“That’s the competitiveness of these green groups and adventurers,” de Rothschild said bitterly.“Because we’re competing for corporate sponsors, they nudge in front of you.” He was discovering an unsavory truth about environmental activism—the kind that depends on sponsors and publicity to achieve its aims.Inspired, in part, by Thor Heyerdahl’s Pacific crossing in 1947, on a raft called the Kon-Tiki, de Rothschild called his project Plastiki.As a teen-ager, de Rothschild, who is six feet four, was a top-ranked horse jumper on Britain’s Junior Eventing team, and he is an experienced bungee jumper and kite skier.Rose, an Australian in his fifties who had been hired as the boat’s builder, replied that he and his workers were having a “bugger of a time” trying to prevent the bottles from shifting under the nylon fishing net.Any movement, he said, could compromise the boat’s shape.(At his home, near London, he uses compact fluorescent light bulbs, buys his electricity from a green supplier, and maintains a colony of earthworms to consume his organic waste.Still, he commutes regularly between Europe and the United States, a habit that he acknowledges is less than ideal for an environmental activist.

Algalita’s boat, the Junk Raft, consisted of little more than fishing-net pontoons full of unpressurized bottles supporting a platform that held a discarded Cessna fuselage and a sail.

morning last June, David de Rothschild, a thirty-year-old heir to the European banking fortune, arrived on his bicycle at Pier 31, a vast, hangarlike building that juts from the Embarcadero into San Francisco Bay, in the city’s North Beach district.

De Rothschild, who has a beard and shoulder-length brown hair, was wearing a flower-patterned shirt, low-slung corduroys, a belt with a skull-and-crossbones buckle, and flip-flops.

A highlight of the trip, which de Rothschild hopes will begin in July and, if all goes well, end four months later, will be a visit to a huge region of floating plastic trash and particles, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch.

De Rothschild will collect water samples to study and, using a satellite phone, post photographs and video clips on the Web site of Adventure Ecology, an environmental organization that he founded.

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