Earthball floats into Charleston

Roger Drowne is running for president of the Earth, but for the last five months he's been living on a different sphere.

It's in the Ashley River, just south of City Marina: a 12-foot geodesic dome he calls an "Earthball."

"It's about creating a lifestyle that's free," he said Monday. "With this you're able to go from place to place."

Drowne, an artist and Air Force veteran who says he's been homeless a few times in his life, has been doing just that since leaving Wilmington in the Earthball. He traveled to Charleston via the Intracoastal Waterway, making about 2 mph, but says he eventually wants to get it out on the open sea.

On a calm day, ideally.

The idea for the floating dome came to him some time ago, and he had Charleston-based design engineer S. Monte Kase build it out of pressure-treated two-by-fours, plywood and fiberglass. Inside the ball, he says, you'll find all the modern conveniences - a stove, a refrigerator, a double bed ("but no honey to share it"), GPS, and a toilet.

Well, a bucket.

He says the Earthball is a natural for traveling the waterways - "balls are very buoyant" - and it affords him the chance to live "right in the middle of Mother Nature's habitat." He rode out the Friday rainstorm in the harbor, and stayed dry as can be. A narrow deck that circles the globe, like the rings of Saturn, keeps it upright.

Kase said he was happy to build the dome - which he describes as a basic, soccer ball design - because he was struck by Drowne's determination, and his vision.

"I'm really impressed," Kase said. "He doesn't give up on his ideas."

Drowne said now that his kids are grown and his grandkids are doing well, he wanted to strike out on his own, make his art, promote the idea of building Earthballs for everyone. "They're great for rich people and poor people," but are especially a good idea, he says, for the homeless - "Habitat for Humanity has gotten interested." And as he promotes the idea of Earthballs, he said, he's always running for president of the Earth. His top campaign platform, besides a dome in every lot, is "no more war."

Eventually, Drowne - who gets a kick out of the idea of a guy named "Drowne" living in a floating ball - intends to make it down to the Florida Keys. But there is no timetable. He will leave, he says, "when the spirit moves me."

And that's the whole idea of the Earthball.

"I love it," Drowne said. "It's very spontaneous. It's a different way to live on the planet."