Barnacles… Are They Edible?

July 21, 2018 

    I’m sure they are.  

     I seem to recall hearing about two guys who worked at a boat yard eating the barnacles they power sprayed off the bottoms of boats.  Either they didn’t get paid shit for wages, or they had some pretty expensive habits, or a lot of child support to cover.  

     Even edible, barnacles must taste horrible.  I’ve never seen them on a menu or in a grocery store… and I’ve seen some pretty weird shit for sale.  So they must taste worse than the weirdest shit you actually can buy.

     The boat’s anti-fouling paint that they attach to can’t be healthy to ingest, either.

     Not confidence inspiring… I’ll pass.

     Too bad.  

     Because our tiny upside-down plot of barnacle farmland (or more accurately, farm-metal-plate) produced a bounty of ripe-for-harvest barnacles that would have filled dozens of five gallon buckets.  Enough to feed the anchorage and probably half the marina as well.

     Cleaning the underside of the hull in the Bahamas was a far different experience.  The water was amazingly clear, so I could see what I was doing and everything around me.  Oftentimes, the water we were anchored in was shallow enough I could stand on the bottom while cleaning the boat.  

     Furthermore, in the Bahamas, it was mostly a bit of stringy algae growth that was being scrubbed off with a plastic bristle brush.  Only the occasional barnacle had to be popped off.  Even when we cleaned the underside for the first time, and we had spent the past five months on the east coast, there was surprisingly little growth.

     Here in Charleston… way, way different.  The water turbidity here reminded me of Washington state, where we learned to dive; visibility ranging less than a yard near the surface and not more than six inches within a few feet down.

     I will admit, the Ashley River water temperature was well warmer than I expected.  Warmer even than the Bahamas (which ironically seemed colder than I expected).  I never found myself cold, even diving without a wetsuit.

     The current, on the other hand, was a serious challenge to deal with.  Gearing up, and getting into the water during a slack tide, really made little difference.  The fact that cleaning the entire underside took nearly nine hours, over one and a half days, meant that I was in the water for the full range of currents.

     Even though Kris was not going to get wet, this was definitely a two person job.

     We had rigged up two extra lines with snap-shackles, and clipped them to the D-rings on my BCD.  

     One was tied off to a deck cleat at the bow, that Kris would release before taking in or letting out more line, then re-secure to the cleat.  Basically, I hung from this line in the current under the boat.

     The second line was a signal line.  One tug meant let out more line… two tugs meant bring some line in… three tugs meant there was a problem.

     As I slowly worked my way along the underside of the hull, Kris paid out an appropriate amount of line, and then tied it back off again.  

     In addition to working around the lines, I had brushes and scrapers tied off to my BCD with strings that seemed to constantly dance around in the current, just in front of my mask.

     A handled suction cup we found on the boat, which seemed like a brilliant idea to stabilize oneself against the hull, turned out a complete failure.  Apparently the aluminum hull has too rough of a surface for the suction cup to make a good seal.  

     When it repeatedly detached from the hull at even the slightest pull, it was quickly discarded where, it too, spent the dive dangling around at the end of the string to which it was attached, continually getting in the way.

     Knowing the Maxprop zinc replacement would be the most difficult task, given the need to remove and replace the screws, as well as clean the area where the zinc would be mounted, I made sure that it was done first, while there was no current.

     PYI’s prop zinc fit like a glove.  Hopefully, the specially reinforced sleeves around the screw holes live up to their reputation, as I don’t fancy having to do this yet again further north.

     With the zinc screws tightened down as far as I dared, I returned to the surface and declared the Maxprop zinc issue now resolved for the foreseeable future… Kris cheered.

     The prop zinc weight now off our shoulders, we could turn our full attention to the barnacle harvest.  While replacing the zinc, I had gotten a much better look at the extent of the buildup.  

     It was pretty stunning.

     The entire underside was completely covered in a carpet of barnacles, at least an inch thick, including the prop, centerboard, and even up well into the centerboard well.

     In the beginning, it was possible to hover alongside the hull and scrape the barnacles off with a plastic putty knife.  Without any real current, thousands of liberated barnacles literally rained down on top of me as I scraped them off the hull just above me.  Visibility was already less than a foot, so the snow like effect of the barnacle storm was rather amusing.

     As the current picked up, things got a bit more interesting.  It became harder and harder to maintain  position while trying to scrape a specific area.  One hand holding the scraper, and one hand trying to hold on to some part of the hull, left no hands to hold either of the lines leading on deck to Kris.  Signaling Kris became more and more difficult, as did stabilizing myself on the line I was hanging from.

scrapingbarnacles3

     As the current continued to increase, the barnacles eventually began to cascade sideways as they were scraped off the hull.  

     Hovering upside down, underwater, in low visibility, with air bubbles (normally going up) and blankets of barnacles (normally going down) both streaming quickly past in a horizontal direction, proved to be quite disorienting.

     Ever so slowly, progress was made along most of the area around the prop and the underside.  Eventually, I was into the second tank of air, and an entire side was mostly scraped clean.  The time must have been approaching six hours when we called it quits for one day.

     The second tank was nearly empty as well, but the current had really become the insurmountable obstacle.  As the current approached maximum intensity, it became nearly impossible to stabilize myself while I was simultaneously fixed from one point on my BCD to a line, now with quite a lot of tension on it.

     Even adding six more pounds of lead to my weight belt, I found that, as the current eventually peaked, there reached a point where I couldn’t even get down anymore.  I was being kept in place by the line Kris held, with a wake passing around me as though I was being towed behind a boat, but I simply couldn’t descend.  

     Without a line to pull myself down with, it was a losing battle.

     The rest would have to wait.

     The following day, it took a third tank.  But, eventually Exit’s entire underside, including the through hulls and centerboard well were completely barnacle-free.

    During our previous stop in Charleston, we had never gotten off the boat… too bad in the sense that it’s a bit of a shame to be somewhere and not see any of it; but good in the sense that we got out of Charleston last time a mere forty eight hours before the cyclone bomb hit, which left our good friends who didn’t make it out in time with icicles on their lifelines and frozen hatches.

     Now, with both the prop zinc issue resolved and the barnacle epidemic contained, we finally had some time to go ashore.

     The neighborhood we wandered through, just outside the University, in the historic district of Charleston, contained some incredible architecture.  Civil War era mansions and estates, most in beautifully maintained condition with many converted to apartments and businesses, lined the roads.  

     Sprawling, gnarled trees over a century old, as well as mature and well-groomed *******and ******, exploding with the color of freshly bloomed flowers; carefully tended yards and gardens; imposingly thick natural stone walls and steel gates with decades of lichen and ivy growth; front doors that lead into open-air side porches; elaborate horse and carriage entrances at some of the mansions; intricate decorative wood and stonework; actual gas lanterns attached to the brick walls of some of the buildings.

     All elements that contributed to a real sense of authenticity in the neighborhood.  Not a contrived attempt to market something.  Rather, a conscious effort to preserve something.     

     One exploration ashore was ill-timed, as we were the recipients of a lengthy barrage of afternoon Charleston rain.  The only shelter we could find was a leaky trolly stop which we hid inside of, drinking a tasty beverage from the one liter Hydroflask container, which I had concocted before setting out.

    On the upside, as the rains temporarily tapered off, we sought refuge in a nearby bar/restaurant called Sticky Fingers.  It turned out to serve some of the best BBQ ribs and pulled pork I have ever tasted.  Nothin’ like ice cold beer, fried pickles, and BBQ when you’re in South Carolina.  Oh ya… and a Bloody Mary complete with a pork rib garnish… holy shit!

     Charleston also provided us another one of those rare moments of interaction with a really kind person.  While we were checking out at the Harris Teeter grocery store, a man approached us and asked us if we needed a ride.

     Both surprised and caught a bit off-guard, we were unsure what to say, and stumbled for a response.

     He said, You’re boat people, right?

     We laughed and confirmed that yes, we were in fact, boat people.

     He said he meant no offense, but thought we might want a ride back to our boat, which he’d be happy to do.

     Again, we laughed and confirmed that yes, we’d love a ride back to the boat.

     As we pushed the noisy steel cart down the outside ramp, full of probably about eight bags of groceries and two cases of drinks (way too much to have carried back, we had figured an Uber was going to be our only option), I turned to Kris and said with a laugh… Wow!  We’ve finally made it.  Someone picked us out of a crowd as the boat people!

     It was as genuine a compliment as I could have asked for.

     As Andy (I believe that was his name), drove us more than a couple of miles back to the marina our dinghy was tied up at, I had to ask him what gave us away?

     He replied that he was a very perceptive person; but the combination of having our own bags and backpacks, the flip flops, and the tans were the giveaways for him.

     He had owned a boat, was working towards retirement in the next ten to twenty years, and had married his wife with the declaration that he was buying a boat again once he retired.

     Andy recommended some tours, as well as a few things to do and places to go, dropped us off at the marina, and, after helping to unload the groceries to the dock, headed off.

     Exchanges like those can make the uniqueness of a cruiser’s situation really stand out.  So often we have to depend entirely on ourselves to accomplish things.  When, on that rare occasion an exceptionally kind individual offers to go far and beyond conventional hospitality, it makes the moment even more poignant. 

     We also met Stephen, aboard his Alden 40 Challenge, who we had anchored next to.  For days we couldn’t figure out why his dinghy just sat on his deck.  A bit of a recluse, Stephen had motored down after buying the boat in Maine (he said he hadn’t put up the sails since the sea trial), and had been anchored at that spot for the past three months.  He hadn’t taken the outboard off the transom rail since he’d arrived, and was currently using his dinghy on deck as a bath tub.  

     One day, we gave him a ride across the channel in our dinghy to get water at the marina mega-dock.  We had brought our two five gallon and two six gallon jerry cans.  Stephen, a resourceful guy, proceeded to pull ten empty, half gallon jugs of cheap whiskey from his duffle bag and started filling them at the spigot.

     When one of the marina dock hands walked by, he wasn’t sure what to think; so he just kept walking.

     During one ride to the dock, Stephen asked me what I thought of Trump?

     I said… I think he’s a fucking idiot.

     Stephen replied, “Oh.… I’m an avid Trump supporter.  I hope that means we can still be friends.”

     Hmmmm… not what I expected.

     But we now had everything in place… zinc sorted… hull clean… fuel tank full… water tanks full… provisions and beverages restocked… 

     From Charleston, if the weather held, we would be shooting for Rhode Island, over seven hundred miles away. For at least six days, we would be between fifty and eighty miles offshore.  The weather window looked as good as we could hope for.  An entire week with no low fronts forecasted along the east coast.

      Another go big or go home moment….

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