Blistering Barnacles!

At Waterfront Charters we constantly expound enthusiastically on the life that inhabits our ocean; there is a magical world beneath the surface of our seas. Did you know that there are 33,100 recorded species of fish? That is more than the combination of all other vertebrate species; mammals, amphibians reptiles and birds. About half of that number inhabit the salt water regions of the planet, and among all fish by far the greatest number of the species – about 26,000 – are the teleosts, or so-called ‘modern fishes’. This doesn’t mean they live in condominiums and enjoy cocktail parties; it’s an indication of their evolution. Teleost comes from the Greek teleios, “complete” and osteon, “bone”, which basically sums up all the technical stuff we need to mention. If we start rabbiting on about moveable premaxilla and branchial arches this could turn into a scientific treatise. Suffice it to say that the commercially fished species of teleosts provide humans with millions of tons of food each year, and others are sought after as game fish. Our iconic snoek is a teleost, although it’s doubtful that they know that.

There are many, many other life forms in the sea, and sadly, some of these we are not so keen on. All ships run into a problem known as ‘biofouling’, or ‘biological fouling’, and this is the accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae, or animals on underwater surfaces. This has been a problem ever since early man paddled logs out onto the ocean. The first recorded complaint comes from the 1st century CE, when Plutarch, the Greek biographer and essayist, groused that “when weeds, ooze, and filth stick upon its sides, the stroke of the ship is more obtuse and weak; and the water, coming upon this clammy matter, doth not so easily part from it; and this is the reason why they usually caulk their ships.” This fouling happens incredibly quickly: within the first minute of placing a ship in water, the surface is covered with a film of organic polymers. Twenty four hours later a biofilm of bacteria has attached itself; after one week the local algae population have seen a good thing happening and set up home, and within two weeks the Big Guys have pitched up – the tunicates, molluscs and sessile Cnidarians (which, despite royal-sounding title, are just lazy jellyfish.) To sailors, basically it’s all just a layer of gunge and barnacles clogging things up. It did give rise to ‘keelhauling’, which was a rather barbaric punishment in the good old days; an errant crew member was thrown overboard and dragged beneath the ship with a rope; the unfortunate sailor getting an extremely painful first-hand experience of just how many barnacles could gather on a hull, and just how sharp their carapaces could be. Not many survived the experience.

“Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.

Why, as men do a-land: the great ones eat up the little ones.”

William Shakespeare; Pericles, Prince of Tyre

But these days, a few barnacles and jellyfish a problem? Yes. Governments and the shipping industry spend more than US$6 billion annually to prevent and control marine fouling. If that’s what they spend to prevent it, imagine what the losses would be if there was no control. Our vessels would all be wallowing around the oceans like huge sponges, sluggishly heaving their additional weight around. At least in one area we have progressed: treatments these days are a lot easier than in Plutarch’s day. A variety of anti-fouling processes are available which slow biofouling, and cleaning can be done underwater. Up until the end of the days of sail, the only way to clean a vessel was to careen it – haul it onto a beach and then heave it over to expose its hull. Not a simple operation at the best of times, and even the advent of drydocks still meant a great deal of hard scrubbing and washing of fouled hulls.

At Waterfront Charters we have no magic spells to prevent fouling. We are pragmatic about our oceans’ inhabitants; we love them all, so are happy to put up with the inconvenience of cleaning the squatters off our hulls. We have various tried and tested methods of doing this; either by putting the boats on the synchro lift and scrubbing, or – much more fun – donning scuba gear and dropping into a chilly harbour in situ and evicting the trespassers. Either way, we do it regularly: keeping our vessels shipshape and in perfect order is a way of life at Waterfront Charters. Safety, cleanliness and efficiency are all at the top of our priority list, and whilst the hulls of our boats may be out of sight, we know they are there, we know what’s happening and we keep them smooth and unencumbered for maximum efficiency.

Waterfront Charters: a smooth sailing experience is guaranteed, and when you join us on a cruise we’ll show you a host of teleosts too.