October 7, 2012

Mildew in the forecast

WE’VE HAD THE MOST astonishingly good weather around here for the past couple of months, nothing but record-breaking stretches of cloudless skies and bright warm days. People can hardly believe this is the allegedly drizzly Pacific Northwest. It’s more like Southern California with the added bonus that it’s less crowded and less frenetic.

It can’t last forever, though. Sooner or later the rain will come, the grass will turn green again and the hibernating mildew (or, rather, the aestivating mildew) will get to work once more on our boats. They’re extraordinary little creatures, these mildew beasties. And they love dampness.

The tiny organisms we know as mildew or mold can eat almost anything anywhere, including your fiberglass boat. These voracious fungi will actually slowly consume the gel coat on the deck of a boat under the right conditions, leaving it pitted and weakened. Down below, in dark, damp, stagnant air, they will reproduce at an astonishing rate, wreaking havoc on furnishings, sails, plastic fittings, and bulkheads alike. Mildew can even etch the glass in binoculars.

About the only thing mildew can’t digest is metal. On anything else, it excretes enzymes that convert complex molecules into soluble compounds capable of passing through its cell walls.

Mildew prefers sub-tropical conditions, but is highly adaptable to colder climates and actually creates its own warmth as it grows, leaving behind that typical musty smell.

Direct sunshine, dry air, and chlorine bleach are the best defenses against mildew. Most commercial mildew removers contain sodium hypochlorite (household bleach). But the best long-term protection is good air circulation throughout the boat to keep ambient humidity low. That means plenty of Dorade boxes, louvered drop boards, and solar-powered vents to keep air passing through and out of the boat.

It also helps to open all locker doors and bilge hatches before you leave the boat for any amount of time, and prop up bunk mattresses so air can circulate underneath.

So get ready. Mildew is in the forecast, and it’s very hungry. Act fast as soon as you spot any, on deck or down below, and be ruthless. Mildew takes no prisoners.

Today’s Thought
In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.
— Charles A. Lindbergh

Mary has a cool, cool gown,
It’s almost slit to bits.
Who gives a damn for Mary’s lamb
When we can see her calf?

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about the weather. I've been thinking it felt like a California fall and I was starting to miss the rain, that is, until I saw the forecast for Friday.

Thought you might like a story on my website called That Summer Feeling:


Portland, Ore