Barnacle Wars

Barnacle Wars

In the battle against fouling, could this system be the nautical version of a Jedi lightsaber?

By Capt. Ken Kreisler — April 2004


 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Barnacle Wars
• Part 2: Barnacle Wars
• Cathelco Installation

 Related Resources
• Maintenance Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• National Marine Suppliers

Countless creatures large and small live in the complex soup that is the marine environment, most going about their existence virtually unnoticed by terrestrial, top-of-the-food-chainers. Others make their presence known in the most disturbing and annoying ways. Ever get whiplashed by a Portuguese man-of-war? Or attacked by a herd of sea lice?

There is one creature, however, that affects boaters to no end. It is that most bothersome of pests belonging to the phylum Arthropoda, of the class Crustecea, of the subclass Cirripedia, more commonly known around the docks as balanus glandula, the acorn barnacle.

Barnacles came to man’s attention as early as 1678, when Sir Robert Moray, a founder of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, proposed that they were the eggs of barnacle geese. In his examinations he wrote that he “found little shells, having within them little birds perfectly shaped.” In fact, one urban legend from the Middle Ages proposed that if they fell from pilings, barnacles would hatch into goslings.

But we know better. There are some 36 species of barnacles, and when it comes time for a haul-out, it can look like the entire lineup has adhered to our boat’s hull bottom and running gear. Indeed, the little buggers are quite the holders-on. During one of their more insidious stages of development—their equivalent of the teen years—the barnacles float in the tidal zone and frequently use a sticky substance to grab on to a piece of your boat’s bottom. This stuff has a holding power akin to that of 3M’s famous 5200 adhesive, and once anchored, the barnacle quickly grows a shell and takes up permanent residence. How quickly? It forms the first of its six shells within just ten hours.

While you can protect your vessel with the latest antifouling products, some barnacles still manage to take hold, occasionally on the hull and running gear and more often in raw-water passages that cannot be painted, including your sea strainers. These portals provide an excellent breeding ground, and as barnacles are prolific procreators, before you know it, with a couple of randy bugs running rampant in your raw-water cooling loop, your heat exchangers have become starved for cool water and the temperature of key components has suddenly crept into the danger zone.

So how does one battle balanus glandula in these interior spaces? Cathelco has a solution. It’s a U.K.-based company whose products include marine pipework antifouling and corrosion-suppression systems for ships and yachts. According to the company, its Nano System (for boats 20 to 70 feet in length) and Micro System (for yachts 70 feet and larger) protect against barnacle and mussel growth in raw-water systems.

Next page > Part 2: In its 30 years of operation, Cathelco claims to have installed more than 7,500 systems. > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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