During the long days spent at home last spring, while we were all in lockdown, I may have seen a Ted-Talk or two, or several dozen. I decided to take advantage of some distance learning and find out more about the world of Mycology and Lichenology. For years, I had been seeing all sorts of puzzling growths on long forgotten vessels that owners were looking to resuscitate, wondering what they were, where they came from, and how they formed. I’ve seen plenty of ferns and grasses (even a small sapling or two) growing on boats, so it made sense that other things could ‘float in on the wind’ and get established. I’ve also come to realize, many other things may also float in on the poo raining down from various birds, but who’s to say? Sure, it's nerdy, but really knowing the difference between mildew and mold and lichen seemed prescient to me.
Obviously when any of these are present on a boat, yacht, or what have you, it’s there. ‘It’ has arrived and set up fungal shop. Another way to think of ‘it’ being there, is the term ‘it’s in the’. In the detailing world, the terms ‘it’s in the…canvas’, ‘it’s in the… paint’, or ‘it’s in the…teak’ are indicative of a fusion between a force of nature, and the varying material conditions present on a given vessel. In science, these materials become known as substrates. Lichen form on 'vapor and sunlight' as some eloquent scientists have put it-- a symbiotic community of fungi, algae and photosynthesizing cyanobacteria—this is what you see when you spy lichen, and they are surprisingly resilient and resistant to UV exposure, salty or even anaerobic environments. They’ve blasted these things in the lab with radiation, heavy metal—fuhgeddaboudit, it’s really not going anywhere. Scrape it off, sure. If ‘it’s in the’ honestly, it’s there. We can make it go away, for a while, but I guarantee you, it’s coming back-- as the conditions are prime. If it was left alone long enough to be there, in short, it’s probably time to think about replacing your canvas (if it bothers you).
Radiotrophic fungi have been not only found on it’s own in Chernobyl and on the International Space Station but they’ve also brought it on purpose, for science (by SpaceX) to do experimentation on. Molds and mildew mycelium are out there in space, all on their own, and rusts. They can suspend indefinitely and wait eons necessary to find the right conditions to begin growth again. Harsh environments are nothing to these fascinating fungi that can be found on space rocks of all sorts, which begs the question, where do they really come from. The mycology and lichenology of boat detailing is absolutely fascinating and has put me in touch with some of my scientist heroes, in pursuit of answers about marine fungi. There are astounding discoveries being made currently in the field of mycology and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of hydrocarbon loving fungi who prefer plastic substrates(!). The inert silica in fiberglass isn’t tasty for mycelium, but everything else is definitely on the fungal banquet table.
I take great comfort knowing that when humans stop making yachts (or anything really), fungi will recompose all our leftovers someday. Mycoremediation is a process we’re only just beginning to understand but it is fun watching it happen on boats, and funny to think about how we intervene to try and slow this process. Although lichen grows at, what feels like an astonishingly slow pace, it’s pretty fast, when you think about it in the context of natural forces.
I’ve wondered about these a couple instances in particular, for a long time. When I didn’t know what they were, I referred to them as ‘the orange lichen’ or ‘the black lichen’. Its been kind of my super star scientist heroes to talk layman science with me about this stuff. If you haven’t fallen asleep already, the orange lichen is Xanthoria parietina known as sunburst lichen, and it is a foliose, leafy lichen. I found this particular little patch, growing on a rehab boat by the Canadian border. You’ll see it anywhere along our coasts. Often, it’s on rocks clinging to the shoreline (or pretty much anywhere), but if you ignore a boat long enough (short enough depending on how you look at it), it will grow well on your canvas, yes even the Sunbrella kind (and yes, I have seen it on teak too, and gelcoat).
I’m probably mistaken, but I believe the black lichen on this particular hard top could be Verrucaria maura, also known as ‘sea tar’ lichen. It has been said these primarily grow on seaside rocks (as they actually aid in the digestion of limestone in particular and also in the formation of mosses), but I would argue they may also thrive on marine paint and perhaps even gelcoat, if left alone long enough. This type of lichen is part of training for oil spill cleanup crews, so they don’t go willy-nilly scrubbing shore rocks of that which is not in fact, oil, but can look strikingly like it.
We’ll talk more later on the differences between an open or closed celled material (substrate), and how oxidation plays a huge role in how ‘open’ to fungal growth your boat may be. Take it from me, just like you, your boat has a mycobiome all it’s own, and although it now seems to live in nature, someday it will become nature, recomposed, thanks to fungi.
When we talk about washing boats, dirt and mildew tend to get a lot of attention, especially in the Pacific Northwest. But, one thing folks don’t talk much about is the need for some serious UV protection, especially for unhoused boats that spend their whole life out in the open. Just as with our own skin, the sun causes the vast majority of damage to your boat, or your boat’s ‘skin’-- which is a good way to think about the exterior of your boat.
Sure, you can get dirt on your skin, it just washes off. But there is a reason your dermatologist tells you to be sure to put lotion on after you shower (and then sunblock, of course). A conditioning protectant is essential to, not only save you from the ashy, chalky look, but also to create a barrier layer between you and the free radical, oxidative stressors inherent in environmental exposure. So, the moral of this story is, as odd as it may sound, after you’ve washed it, lotion your boat. We’ve found the best nautical cosmetics counters and have been conducting extensive boat beautification testing for decades. We can vouch for several great products.
Don’t worry, we’re not greedy, and won’t keep these secrets to ourselves; because we don’t believe in information hoarding at Deckhand Detailing, we’ll go ahead and list some the best products on the market for all those times, between buff and wax Spa Appointments (once the boat has been cleaned) where you’ll want to ‘sunblock’ your boat’s skin. Putting these ‘lotions’ on your boat every month or two will go a long way in fending off crows-feet, never mind the nautical folliculitis that happens when you don’t keep your boat’s skin clean and protected.
A wonderful, top-shelf product is 303 Marine UV Protectant. Its safe for use on several surfaces, but it works especially well for vinyl seating. Use it on your dinghy tubes, dash area, it really is a fantastic UV blocker and also repels dirt and dust. It’s spray on, wipe off application makes it especially quick and easy. Meguiar’s 59 Quick Wax is a real gem to use on your gel coat; again, the spray and wipe application makes this especially quick and easy, and you can use it everywhere. Using a product like Rain-X (StarBrite also makes a similar product) on your glass, also goes a long way to help prevent the formation of water spots and aids in repelling dirt and preventing mineral deposits caused by hard dock water. Plexus and IMAR Strataglass Protective Polish work very well on any type of isinglass or plastic windows.
I will keep one outstanding product line in this arena a secret, for now, but will tell you all about it soon, we promise. So, whenever you think or hear ‘don’t forget the sunblock’, remember to share that love with your boat too.
Q: Can I use Armorall on my vinyl seats?
A: Technically, yes, but there is a better product out there. Try 303 Aerospace Protectant. It sounds like something you might use to keep your rocketship shiny, but it’s actually intended for boats. It offers the same kind of UV protection as a product like Armorall, but it packs a bit more of a punch because I find that it lasts longer. It can be used on vinyl seats, the rubber pontoons of your tender, plastics and plastic windows, leather and the “dashboard” area of your helm station. My truck has a black Tonneau cover, which I spray with 303 once a year, and it is still a nice deep black with no fading.
On the bottle of 303 Aerospace Protectant, it says it can also be used on colored gel coat fiberglass. It may help protect your gel coat from harmful UV rays, but wax serves the same purpose and is a better choice than the 303, which is streaky and won’t cut through oxidation. Let’s say your boat hull is blue and has faded badly. If you spray the 303 on it, for about 30 seconds, it will look deep blue and brand new again, but as soon as the product dries, it will start to fade again. In this case, it’s best to use compound to remove the oxidation and then apply wax to protect from UV rays.