This is the beginning of a long story and I promise not to keep it short. It’s a story that takes place in five different countries on three different continents. It all started in Guna Yala (geographically part of Panama), where Maria and I (Nike) decided to dedicate our spare time to fight for our vision of plastic free oceans and shorelines. Now let’s fast forward to nearly two years later.
Broken bones as a stepping stone to something precious
It’s November 2019 and I am stuck in my parents dining room. In a moment of foolishly believing that I was a kite surf pro after just three sessions, I had smashed my right heel bone into tiny bits and pieces. This fun incident happend during working on a friend’s charter Yacht in the extremely remote islands Los Roques (Venezuela).
There was no way I could deal with the aftermath of this accident by myself on my sailboat Karl that was currently parked in Ecuador. So I had to knock on my parents’ door asking for shelter and 24/7 care after my surgery in Hamburg (Germany). I had to stay in bed for three months. Was not allowed to move. You might be able to picture what that means for someone who is a vagabond at heart.
But as they say, you can’t keep a restless soul locked up for too long. I tried to follow doctor’s orders as well as I could…but we all know that there is always some discretion that allows you to push the limits a little bit.
Parents are simply the best.
“Mom, could you give me a lift to the hardware-store, please?”, I asked in the most innocent voice possible. I guess she knows me all too well, because she immediately raises an eyebrow, mentioning things like “no heavy lifting” and “don’t take on too much, you are still supposed to rest”. But being my lovely supportive mom, she did pull the car out of the garage and drove me to three different stores.
“What exactly is this about, Nike?” she asked curiously when we left the second store with some angle irons and a steel tube. Before she could think about changing her mind about driving me around, I type the address of a metal shop at the other end of our hometown Lüneburg into the navigation system. “Maria and I want to build the Precious Plastic Extruder. The machine I told you about that melts the plastic flakes produced by our shredder. You can make really awesome stuff with it” I explain to her in my most chipper voice. Hopefully, my excitement will keep her from asking too many questions on what exactly this undertaking will involve.
My precious IN MOCEAN project partner Maria is recycling away in Florida
The first step is accomplished. I was able to gather all the necessary material and some of the electronic parts are on their way in the mail. Now here’s the next hurdle: I don’t have a lathe. But that’s not my biggest challenge. The real problem is that I don’t have my metal working specialist at my side. Maria is currently in the Florida Keys (USA) on a stopover from her work on a research vessel back to her floating home Joana, which is moored next to my sailboat in Ecuador. She is staying with her mom and as usual, our whatsapp messages are pinging in non-stop. And of course, she is totally IN MOCEAN over there, too.
Maria is experimenting with using houshold items like small second hand ovens and sandwich makers to melt some plastic. We want to see what simple tools can be used by communities that don’t have the necessary infrastructure to run the Precious Plastic Shredder & Extruder combo. A pretty red and white clock, a christmas present for her mom, is one of the results.
“Okay, so when are you coming over to help me with this Extruder construction?”, I text her, followed by one of those winky smilies. “Ehm, I thought I was visiting for some pre x-mas fun and not for working on some metal…?”, Maria texts back. Luckily, I know that for this bad ass metal worker chic, cutting some steel totally falls under the category of pre x-mas fun.
The OpenLab concept: metal shops that open their doors to visitors
But before I tell you more about how I made Maria cut some metal in my parents’ basement during her short winter visit in Germany, let’s get back to that lathe problem. The majority of the parts of the Extruder are fairly straight forward to produce. For most of it, a grinder is sufficient. But for the piece that holds the extrusion drill bit, you need a lathe. And I don’t have one of those in my parents’ basement, unfortunately.
After some online research, I found a metal workshop that kindly opens its doors to visitors who are working on a project but don’t have the tools or skills to follow through. For a very small fee they let you use their machines . They will assist you patiently and share their precious knowledge with you or even give you a hand with whatever you need to get done.
By this time, I had swapped my wheelchair for some crutches and was able to hobble around and stand up more or less straight for at least half an hour before having to admit that I needed to sit down and rest. But still, there were limits to my mobility, even if I did not like it. The attempt to take a bus to the train station to catch a train to Hamburg (where the workspace is at) failed miserably when I was trying to walk down some sixty steps in the pouring rain with 15 kg of metal in my backpack.
We love it when our friends get IN MOCEAN with us
It was time for a little help from my friends. I called up Anna. She is one of those friends you can steal horses with. One of my favorite partners in crime when it comes to outdoor activities (that usually involve getting lost or at least slightly disorientated) or intense sport challenges like applying for an olympic distance triathlon out of the blue. A mother of two, refitting a house with her husband and working as a professional graphic designer (who designed our logo, by the way), she has a lot on her plate. Like a LOT.
“I am not really sure what you mean by plastic extruder and extrusion drill bit holder, but hey, it sounds like fun. When should I pick you up?” And those are the moments when a warm wave of love runs through your body and your heart is filled with joy. I am endlessly grateful for my dear friends who make room in their busy schedule to lend a hand.
Since Maria and I started this project, we have met and worked with so many awesome people who were inspired by the idea of recycling ocean plastic and kindly offered their support. It’s simply amazing how the spark of passion spreads and motivates people to fight for clean oceans.
Adding a female touch to the OpenLab metal work space
The metal working industry is mainly dominated by men. According to a (very) quick google search, there are about 20% of women working in the steel industry. Hence, it’s not too surprising that the metal work space had a slight masculine branding. We increased the female quota from zero to thirty when we walked through the huge heavy metal doors.
Everybody was very sweet and helpful, though, and we managed to cut our angle irons, tube and square pipe without hurting ourselves. The ever so stylish protective glasses did not only do their job but they also made us look as if we totally knew what we were doing. Wouldn’t you agree?
For the barrel holder bearing shaft (what a term!), we asked for some assistance. A very friendly and knowledgeable man helped us to manufacture it on the lathe. Man-o-man, I just love these metal shops and watching people make cool stuff on these even cooler machines. One day, I have to find someone who gives me a proper training session on how to work with a lathe. I will put it on my wish-list for Christmas.
Some metal cutting fun in exchange for hot spiced wine and German saussages
Now let’s get back to how Maria ended up in my parents’ basement during her vacation in Germany. I swear it was only an hour. Maybe two. Maximum two and a half! Grinders are like ferocious monsters to me. As much as I would love to be totally cool and confident about them, I am not. And since I had my metal side kick around, I simply had to take advantage of her skills. You would have done the same, wouldn’t you?
With the quick but controlled moves of an experienced metal worker, she cut out a hole into the extrusion pipe and did some adjustments here and there. I was tempted to ask her if we could weld it all together as well. But one has to be careful not to distroy the fine balance of work and play. So instead, I invited her for a hot spiced wine and a very traditional German sausage in a bun on our pretty local Christmas market. Maria’s radiant smile tells me it was the right choice.
Unfortunately, Maria could only stay for a week. But fate (or the Ecuadorian custom’s laws) made sure that we were reunited in Bahía Caraquez (Ecuador) sooner than we had thought. But since this is a blog post and not a book, I will leave that story and how our Precious Plastic Extruder got finished for another day.
Thanks for reading and stay IN MOCEAN with us!