Saturday, October 6, 2012

My battle with the underworld

Cleaning house takes on new meanings on a boat. Especially when you’ve been away. Inside the mold monsters have been creeping, clinging, happy they’ve been left to grow and propagate in dark, damp corners. They even have the nerve to spread openly across ceilings and cupboard doors. Bastards. The cleaning is tedious but not difficult.
The outside however, the underbelly as it were, is a different story altogether. You get back, air out the boat, clean the mold, inhale the slightly clinical smell of soaps and sprays. You restock the deep fridge and you ease back into life. You try to ignore the dark, hidden secret of what hides, mossy and green, growing, encrusting your bottom below.
But then a day arrives where you have drank enough rum, abandoned the boat to shop, walk on the beach and generally avoid the task at hand, and you decide to dive in, literally, to brave the crusty forest below.
What the underbelly looks like when out of water
Sweating is the default state of being, and so it was the other day, I found myself drenched and ready for a swim. And on a whim I decided to take my trusty plastic scraper and attack the barnacles and seaweed that had taken hold of Shiloh.
Only I hadn’t imagined how intense the growth had been. On my third thrust across the hull, underwater, my red scraper crunched on something huge and hard. I tried again to free it but my scraper came up, shredded. The offending barnacle had taken a chunk out of plastic. It was as if the sea and her creatures were laughing, as I realised my only tool was rendered useless. And I vowed to get some stronger ammunition and revisit this battle.
And so, after a visit to the marine shops, and a sturdy, shining, angled metal paint scraper in hand, I resolved on another day, to escape the heat, slip into the sea, and fight my demons.
It started out well. I kicked the water and treaded with one hand, while scraping vigorously with the other. There is a primal satisfaction in the removal of each barnacle, with a determined push, the resistance replaced by a swoosh and the bastards crumble away and sink downward…
But Shiloh had been left in a very fertile environment. There was a hula skirt of long green grass at the water line, various fan shaped coralesque plants and generally a foul smelling brownish green forest that pooled around me as I went, temporarily enveloping me in a swamp at each interval, before floating down and leaving me in the blue blue sea again.
It was satisfying but yet more revolting than I remembered. All this organic matter, in my hair, my face, my body and suit. I soldiered on, up one hull and down it’s other side.
I noticed at the water line as I went, some small beige bits, which at first I took no notice of. Just scraped and swam, scraped and swam. Until I was done. And JW joined me in the water (at that convenient time – the work being done!). And we floated leisurely a bit behind the boat, me proud of my accomplishment for the afternoon, JW just happy to be out of the heat above.
But then I was itching, and to be honest, still a little queasy from the gunk I’d been in for the past hour or so. And the itching continued until I needed to jump out and rinse off. And as I climbed the ladder JW asked,
“What’s all over you?”
“What?!” I responded with rising panic… my fingers passing over what felt like brail on every surface of my skin. And when I tried to brush or roll this stuff off, it wasn’t budging.
I started the water and continued, daring now to look – only to discover I was covered in tiny, writhing, alive and kicking creatures. OMG!
“What is it?! What are they?!” I demanded from JW, but the hysteria in my voice sent JW into a fit of laughter. It’s sea lice or something… relax, just wash it all off.
And then I remembered the beige bits that I’d been scraping off the whole boat. It seemed they had migrated directly onto my body and that was too disgusting to accept. I threw my swim suit off, in broad daylight, with a myriad of boats around. There is no modesty in panic mode.
And that is when I discovered, the inside of my black suit top was literally heaving with motion as the tiny shrimp-like gools climbed each over the other, trying to survive. It was like something from a horror movie, and a second ago it had been nestled tightly under my bosom.
I scrubbed my body in a frantic dance, wasting far too much water, just trying to clean off and help cleanse my mind and wounded psyche.
I survived. I lived to tell the tale. And to discover this is one of the realities of scrubbing boat bottoms. Another one of the hurdles that boat life presents. Now I know why they call it anti-fouling. Foul it is...
In this case I vote JW as the official boat cleaner on the outside forever. I will be grateful and will make chocolate brownies as his reward. I will never ever complain about a cluster of mold again.

(The photo below is not me - even though I haven't shaved in a while, it hasn't gotten this bad - this is another sailor who was calm enough to take a photo of what HE looked like after cleaning his hull and was covered in these shrimpy hooligans. I, on the other hand, had to lie down for a good hour to avoid vomiting from my trauma and was nowhere near thinking of getting photo evidence for my blog!).


  1. I hear you!! I HATE those little buggers. I wear a full body swimsuit and gloves to protect against them, and the weenie jellyfish that only seem to attack me, and the stinging sea fan vegetation stuff we get here in Curacao, and I STILL jump out, strip down in full view of the anchorage and use way too much water getting rid of them.

    Last night I was on a friend's boat and mentioned that I'm trying to clean the bottom every month here, but it's a big job. They do it EVERY DAY, but apparently a bit every day makes it much easier. Oh, and they suggested getting a stainless steel tool for putting on plaster/spackle from a regular hardware store -- it's about a foot across and works much faster, apparently, than a regular scraper.

    I wish I could delegate this job to Pip, but he is more afraid of sea creatures than me, so it's up to me, sadly!

  2. That is disgusting, you poor thing I can only imagine how panicked you must have been. You BRAVE woman!
    I love that you calrified the pic is not you ... lol!