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The Mast Head: Slimes of All Sorts

Wed, 05/03/2023 - 16:59

Time is ticking towards Cerberus’s launch day, which means there is a lot to do before Nick the boat-mover shows up. This year, the heavy lift is to get the 43-year-old engine going again. At the very end of the 2022 season, it would not start, and, in the attempts to get one last cough out of it, I heard what sounded like the snap of a short circuit and it would turn no more.

What grows on the sides and bottoms of boats might be the slime that launched a thousand dissertations.

Like so many technical things, this ancient, 13-horsepower Volvo Penta is better when run. This is a bane of many sailboat owners, in that the point is to use the wind to move from place to place. Consequently, engines sit a lot of the time.

In fact, as I am learning, there is a kind of “bug” that thrives in still fuel — varieties of bacteria and fungus that grow where diesel and air or water meet. There is little to do once they get going other than to drain and fully clean inside the tank. Pure poetry: Some folks online recommend using a toilet brush to get at a tank’s internal baffles.

Slimes of all sorts love boats. When I took ownership of my Cape Dory sloop, there was disturbing jet-black goo in both water tanks. With the help of a Shop Vac, I got most of it, but even after a follow-up bleach solution, there is no way to know what remains. I don’t mention this to my guests, but advise them several times each outing not to drink from the tap. Welcome aboard!

What grows on the sides and bottoms of boats might be the slime that launched a thousand dissertations. One sort sets eagerly where the sun doesn’t shine, another latches on in the narrow zone splashed by waves just above the waterline. Who knows what we did in the days before power-washers — slathered on highly toxic paint as today we do sun screen, probably.

In the pantheon of vile glop, nothing tops the hellscape of a flock of seabirds that adopts the rigging as a roost. This happened to me in July; unknown dozens of common terns found Cerberus where it lay on its mooring in Three Mile Harbor, and over about a week left a thick coat of white guano on every surface.

If nothing else, terns are highly efficient fish-processing machines; what they can lay down in a single night can take days to remove. Once it dried into a hard, calciferous mass, the only thing I could find that cleared it away was Easy-Off oven cleaner. A lone dead tern in the cockpit had a swift and unceremonious sea burial.

Later in the summer, another jolly tern cabal carpet-bombed a power boat in Napeague Harbor that I was supposed to have been looking after. I caught that in time to mostly be able to use salt water and a mop to make it presentable.

It is often said that boating is a rich person’s sport. It is not entirely; one can do it on the cheap. Though when the persistent mysteries of nature unload upon them, one can see the value in hiring someone else to make them go away.

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