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Sailing the Atlantic Pipe Dream

7 April 2011

an-tiki raft made from GPS plastics pipes

The An-tiki crew of four have sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a raft made of GPS plastic pipes.

On 30th January, Anthony Smith, David Hildred, Andrew Bainbridge and John Russell had set up to fulfil the pipe dream of their lifetime to make a 3,000 mile voyage across the Atlantic in about 70 days. The 84-year-old captain Anthony, former Tomorrow's World presenter who made the first balloon crossing of the Alps, and his crew had departed from La Gomera in the Canary Islands towards St Martenn in the Bahamas, all on a raft made from PE pipes. 

Four large blue pipes, each approximately 39 feet long, formed the basis of the raft. These are 710mm diameter Excel (PE100) pipes, designed to operate at a pressure of 8 bar. Sealed at both ends, they acted as buoyancy chambers, whilst their thickness will ensure the raft’s ability to survive whatever it meets during the Atlantic voyage. The fourteen smaller 315mm cross pipes served as the support for the deck. Those positioned at either end of the raft are yellow gas pipes, sealed with air. The other seven blue pipes in the middle were filled with 2,000 litres of fresh water for the journey. Polyethylene was chosen due to its strength, resistance to cracking and low density (951kg/m3 compared with 1000 kg/m3 for water). The latter makes PE pipes very buoyant, so buoyant in fact, they will float even if full of water. 

GPS PE Pipe Systems technical team had assisted the rafters throughout the design process to ensure optimal PE product for this rather unusual application. One of the many interesting design solutions was to use electrofusion tapping tees fittings to fusion-weld stanchion supports onto the deck pipes. 

Trials of a smaller raft were made at Melbourne, Australia, which allowed refine finer detail. After this, pipes were extruded at the GPS factory in Huntingdon and all the equipment and materials for the raft were then assembled and loaded into a 40-foot container and then shipped to the Canary Islands in November.

The crew of four have a combined experience of some 258 years and all were eager to show that advanced years do not forbid adventures for those who embark on them. They also aimed to raise funds for WaterAid and help draw attention to the work they do in providing the world's poorest communities with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene education.

The An-tiki crew have completed their journey on 6 April, having arrived safely to St Marteen after their 2,763 miles journey. 

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