One of the tasks I set myself to on a regular basis is cleaning the bottom of our boat. JOD of course spends her days sitting in salt water and all manner of marine life likes to attach itself to her bottom. Left untreated, boat bottoms will soon start to ressemble that bottom of an aquarium. When we were at the Dinner Key mooring field, Cindy and I would marvel at the condition of the boats that had obviously been moored there for a long time. The level of sea growth on them reminded me of Davy Jones’ crew from Pirates of The Caribbean; they’d been at sea so long they were slowly becoming part of the marine life.
Small Barnacle Scraper
Fortunately, JOD is not nearly that bad off. Her recent coat of bottom paint, which is specifically formulated to slow down the rate at which the bottom fouls, is doing an admirable job keeping the marine growth at bay. However, sea critters still take up residence on JOD’s underbelly and, like the bears in the Charmin commercials, I like to keep my bottom clean.
While we were in US waters, I paid a professional to come out every 3 weeks and do this for us. The waters of the ICW are cold, dark and nutrient rich; visibility is only a few inches and bottom growth accumulates quickly. These folks come out with full wet suits and air compressors and use warm water circulating through their suits to ward off hypothermia. However, in the warmer, crystalline waters of the Caribbean, I take on this job myself, using nothing more than a mask, snorkel, fins and a weight belt.
Large Barnacle Scraper
One of the main sea pests I have to contend with is the venerable barnacle. These tiny arthropods start out life as free swimming cyprid larvae and must attach themselves to a surface to grow into the adult creatures that have been the bane of boaters since the dawn of sailing. They develop into adult crustaceans and then spend their lives passively feeding off plankton as the water flows by, all the while robbing your boat of precious knots by increasing drag.
I also have to battle soft green algae that grows like moss all along our bottom. This growth is much easier to clean but tends to cover a much wider area. Barnacles at least are small and grow onesy-twosy.
My arsenal for battling these critters consists of a small multi-edge scraper for tight or curved spots, a wide-bladed spatula for large flat areas, an assortment of bottle brushes for through-hull fittings, a large green scrubby and a soft microfiber cloth for the soft growth and a handle with suction cups to hold myself in place while I work. These tools are attached to short lengths of polypropylene line with a loop at the end that goes around my wrist; dropping any of them means a dive down to the seafloor.
The usual procedure is to pick my next spot to clean, stick the suction cup handle to the hull, hang on with my left hand while I work with my right to clean everything within reach, then move the handle to the next spot. Lather, rinse, repeat until the whole boat is done. I work with the current, letting it help move me along the hull. I try to time the job based on the day’s tides so that I’m fighting a minimum current but slack tide only lasts a few minutes. Even a ½ knot current will sweep me from bow to stern in 45 seconds.
I usually start out on JOD’s saildrives, picking off the barnacles from the housing and water intakeswith the small scraper and then work my way along the hulls, alternating between the large and small scrapper depending on the curvature of the surface. The keels and rudders are the most difficult since I have to dive well below the surface to get to these; the rest of the bottom I can clean at snorkel depth. I especially make sure to pick off any barnacles growing in the space between the tops of the rudders and the bottom of the hull. Buildup here would eventually jam our rudders, causing us to lose steering (a bad thing).
Once the barnacles have been cleared, I go back over the hulls with a soft cloth and the green scrubby, cleaning off the soft growth. As I said, it’s easier going but you basically have to scrub every square inch of the bottom so it’s still time consuming. I do all this twice because being a catamaran, JOD has two hulls.
It takes me about an hour and a half to do each hull and I usually break this job up over two days. I’m kicking almost constantly to keep myself in place, fighting both the current and my own buoyancy, and I’m pretty worn out after 90 minutes. (Speaking of constant kicking, I learned a difficult lesson about chaffing during the first couple of cleanings and now make sure to gird up my loins properly before I tackle this job…nuff said.) And even with the warm Caribbean waters and wearing a dive shirt, I’m usually chilled to the bone after that long in the water.
It’s really not a bad job and like most physical labors it brings with it a sense of satisfaction once the job is done.