Darwin, Barnacles, and Organ Envy

Published on February 11th, 2016

Apparently feeling the effects of 10 years of bottom paint testing, Practical Sailor editor Darrell Nicholson riffs on Charles Darwin, barnacle sex, and organ envy in this report…

While gathering data for this month’s bottom paint report, my research, as often happens, took a strange turn. There clearly is something about the whiff of solvents and fungicides that stirs my neural cells into a minestrone soup. I became obsessed with fouling organisms, those small, crusty invertebrates that arrive uninvited, latch on to our boat’s hull and call it their home.

The oceanic equivalent of implacable in-laws, they addled me to no end. Do they ever stop eating? Do they ever sleep? Why won’t they leave my boat alone? Their unrelenting click, click, clicks on the hull kept me up at night. An obsession bordering on madness set in. My only comfort was that barnacles on the brain can have interesting side effects, like an idea that changes our view of the world.

For seven years, long before his famous voyages aboard HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin immersed himself in the study of barnacles, and with each passing year, he became more and more confounded. Rebecca Stott describes Darwin’s almost single-minded obsession with the barnacle in her compelling book “Darwin and the Barnacle.”

To a sailor, it’s no wonder why a nineteenth-century scientist would dedicate himself to the study of something so small and seemingly insignificant. Even today, in the age of slippery, high-speed ships, the tiny creatures induce fuel-guzzling drag that peels away shipping profits. During Darwin’s time, more than swift passages were at stake. How many ships were lost at sea for want of an extra knot? – Full report

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