January 29, 2009

Barnacles on my mind

I had meant to write something useful for sailors today. It seems a long time since I did that. I was thinking of doing a piece on how to heave to under sail, or why your magnetic compass often shows a different heading from your GPS. But I overthought and got ahead of myself. I got to thinking about barnacles and slime instead.

The authorities in charge of all living things in the water have banned the use of certain bottom paints for yachts because they are toxic to sea life. Probably the most effective of these anti-fouling paints was based on tin, and that is almost completely forbidden now unless you have an aluminum boat, which is allergic to the ubiquitous copper-based anti-fouling paint.

The latest news I hear is that the bottom-paint police are now considering banning copper paint, too. I don’t know of any viable alternative to copper paint for most of us — and by viable I mean compatibly priced and easy to apply — so it appears our underwater hulls are doomed to play host to great colonies of barnacles. Any hull roughened in that way creates a great deal of resistance to movement through water. Those barnacles will slow our boats drastically under sail, and send fuel bills skyrocketing under power.

Now, there is a point here that the bottom-paint police seem to have overlooked. These sea creatures they’re so concerned about are not helpless. They have a choice. They are not forced to attach themselves to my hull. Nobody tells them they have to live there. They have the whole sea to choose from, billions of welcoming rocks and sunny beaches, concrete seawalls, and lovely wooden piles; and if they have any of the sense of survival that Nature is supposed to have instilled in them, they will carefully avoid the comparatively tiny number of boat bottoms painted with copper paint. Those without that sense of survival (and there do seem to be some) surely deserve what they get, and their suicidal genes should not be passed on to future generations.

It is difficult to perceive what part is played in the great business of life on earth by barnacles, and their cousins, limpets, and their low-life relations, brown and green slime. I seem to remember a hymn about all things wise and wonderful, all creatures great and small, but the voice of experience tells me that not all creatures great and small are wise and wonderful. And that applies especially to the barnacles and slime that attempt to fasten their useless, loathsome, parasitic selves to my boat.

Let us not forget that Whoever or Whatever created barnacles also created copper, and nowhere in the good book does it say the twain shall never meet. Let Nature take its course, I say. Let copper keep my bottom clean. Let all wise and wonderful barnacles go and live somewhere else, and let Nature remove the dumb and unwonderful ones in her own way.

Today’s Thought
Nature is that lovely lady to whom we owe polio, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer. —Dr. Stanley N. Cohen, geneticist, Stanford.
(He forgot to mention barnacles. —JV)

“You in trouble with the IRS again?”
“Yeah, they disallowed my medical expenses.”
“What medical expenses?”
“Five hundred dollars for the tooth fairy.”

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