Monday, December 24, 2012

Barnacle blues and sex

The tiny larva knows it's running out of energy, and its antennae are frantically twitching. It can't feed until it has found a home. A current starts to pull on it. The larva instinctively knows something is wrong, and desperately tries to swim against it. It's sucked into a black abyss, and then the current stops. Larva antennae feel something, and grab it. Cement glands immediately extrude a glue, and the larva is now securely attached by its head.  Now it feeds.

The one eye knows it's dark, but limbs reach out and snatch food. Secreting calcium carbonate, the larva bonds even more firmly to the unwilling host. The current starts again, but it can no longer budge the larva. It has built solid walls around it. The flowing water provides food, and it grows. Now secure, it creates offspring and sets them free to infest the new unwilling host.

The phone rings, and the Installer answers. "My air conditioner won't run, and there is a message on the display that says "HI PS". What is the problem?" "The message typically means there isn't good water flow passing through your air conditioning system."

"Is it peeing well over the side?"  "Hang on and I will take a look. "Yep it's peeing, but not very much. What now?" Is the strainer clean?" "Yes the strainer was cleaned yesterday, but it wasn't very dirty." "Okay rotate the through hull valve to closed." "I did it, but boy was it stiff." "Do you see the hose that goes from the valve to the strainer? Now see if its still flexible." "Boy its not very flexible at all, and I can here some cracking noise when I bend it, what now?"

What has happened here is the boat has come down with an insidious barnacle infection. The larva is only about 1/64th of an inch in size. If there are any in the water when your air conditioning system pump turns off, the larva will have an opportunity to spot weld itself to the nearest surface. 

This is most common in the hose between the through hull fitting and the strainer. The stiff through hull fitting can also be caused by barnacles growing in the valve. The larva is small enough that they often can find their way though the strainer, and sometimes survive passing through the pump impeller.

All you need is for one barnacle larva to attach itself to the wall of a hose, and the carnage begins. The barnacle when need be is hermaphroditic, meaning politely stated that it can use it's own, ahem... Mr Happy to fertilize its eggs.  But if there are other barnacles close by, it prefers to cross breed with them using a world record, drum roll here, eight times it's body length, again, ahem...  Mr Happy.

So can you stop the problem? The answer is not really, it's just something you have to live with. You should regularly exercise all through hull valves to knock off the horny little buggers. The day may come when you really need to use the valve, and if its clogged enough, it won't close, maybe to your severe detriment. You can try to ream clogged hoses out, but it's easier to replace them. And if this is a perennial problem, you may need to periodically flush the AC system with muriatic acid to eat the shells. This is not a typical DIY project, and best done by someone with right gear to do it. 

So since this discussion managed to degenerate into mild version of soft porn about massive appendages on a relative scale, I found a little video that shows a barnacle's, ahem... prodigious Mr Happy.

The photo of the barnacle larva is from Wikipedia by author Ottolarink5.

The photo of the hose was taken by Captain Ralph Robinson.

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