A Surprise Gift from Samos

Tulips on a Windy Day

Last Monday I roped a salty seadog into helping me to slip Samos because it was six months since she’d been anti-fouled and time to check how this was bearing up. ‘It shouldn’t take more than two hours or so,’ I said, basing my assessment on remembered past experience.

There was a delay. For a couple of hours we sat on board, then sailed around in circles just outside the marina, trusting that the forecast gale force winds would not eventuate and actually, we were lucky with the morning. It was relatively calm, except for the little gust that pushed us lightly into the jetty as opposed to the cradle as we approached the slip. Yay for fenders. It makes a nothing out of something that could otherwise lighten your wallet.

We scrutinised her as she was slowly lifted on to the hard. She was looking good; very good. But then I saw an unassuming squishy little red thing stuck to her side.

‘What’s that?’ I asked a person more authoratitive than me.

‘I think an Ascidiacea,’ he said, squashing it with his finger. ‘You know, a sea squirt.’

Samos had acquired a pet, or, more to the point, the squirt had acquired Samos.

I recalled the yacht I’d seen washed up on Nutgrove Beach, bearded with seaweed, weighed down with mussels, oysters and plump polyps– a sorry sight in one way, an octopus’s garden exposed in another. It’s a rich and diverse community that eye out a yacht’s hull and from one little squirt whole ecosystems grow. We washed her down and thought we’d put her back in within a couple of minutes.

‘Maybe by 4,’ the men in the boatyard told us. ‘Or else tomorrow.’

Given our heavy hearts, a new strategy required (me) and a sense of impending doom (the seadog) I decided to stand her lunch and over coffee we considered the gathering winds.

‘I’m not too happy about those winds,’ she said.

‘We’ll be sheltered in the marina,’ I encouraged, well aware that not having sailed on Samos with me before, she had every reason to suspect the boat might get the better of me, smash us up against moored yachts, or rocks on the far side of the river, or that, once in the marina, we might crash about, unable to squeeze ourselves into the berth. This salty seadog has been witness to some mistakes I’ve made that no one, not even a landlubber who has never sniffed the sea breeze, should ever make.

Back at the marina we discovered that Samos’s descent back into the the salty brine was being impeccably timed for the arrival of the gale. We’d no sooner past the jetty than we were clobbered by its full force and my attempts to get the boat into reverse for our entry into the marina were thwarted not once but time over time as the gale messed with the bow. We gave up, and did some circles waiting for a lull, and when one came I was just quick enough to whip her into position. Within minutes we were trundling down the channel and securing her in her berth.

‘I can see you’ve got that bit down pat,’ said the seadog generously, given I had wasted her entire day. But after she had gone and I was tidying up the boat, I reflected on the winds that blew, the pirouettes we made, one or two contingency plans I’d mentioned and I sadly realised that it might be a long time until that most excellent seadog chose to come on board Samos again. I guess the lesson is that if you can’t control the winds be careful when you sail, but then again, in the Roaring Forties you’d never go sailing at all if you weren’t prepared to partner the wind and tango on the water.

I came home and opened my trusty guidebooks, keen to know a little more about Samos’s recently deceased pet. I discovered two Asciddiacea in my pocket guide, Cunevoi (pyura stolonifera), the sea squirt, green and somewhat shapeless IMHO and the Southern Sea Tulip (Pyura australis), both belonging to to the phylum Tunicata, so called because they wear an extra ‘tunic’ to protect their sac-like bodies. Going solely by the pictures, I figured that Samos had gifted us an unwanted sea tulip. Chai, from Perth, has a blog with some good pictures of this interesting creature and The Atlas of Living Australia is a fine authoratative source, but there really isn’t all that much literature given it was first described in 1834 by Quoy and Gaimard.  We’ve largely ignored it, but, yachties, it’s not ignoring us.


According to my more comprehensive guide, a sea tulip is actually an animal that enjoys a good wharf piling and is sanguine about turbidity – and you really would have to be tolerant of mucky water to thrive in a marina or harbour. The pyura are all sea squirts and you’d have seen them in rock pools or washed up after storms. Instead of legs or floating free like other ascidians, it has a single stalk and its body looks like a lumpy jelly because it has rows of raised tubercles. This compound ascidian is actually a colony of tiny individuals and it has spread itself far and wide through the subtidal fringe zones, from southern WA to Tasmania and up the eastern seaboard by releasing gametes into the water for fertilisaton and by hitching a ride on boats and ships. In their larvae stage they look like tadpoles.

Sea tulips are filter feeders, sucking in water through an inhaling siphon and exhaling through another siphon expressly for that purpose.  It’s a simple and elegant lifestyle.

Our tulip was gone before I could photograph it but as well as the pages listed above, a Google Image search will display a range of different sea tulips. It’s worth a look.

And it’s also worth noting that amateur identification can often be wrong.  Who knows – perhaps it was a doppelgänger and not a tulip at all.  I had reason to question my perception when I took a little walk.

3 thoughts on “A Surprise Gift from Samos

  1. Another good adventure. Thanks

    Just in passing, the sea squirts are our very distant relatives, the first of the backboned animals. The tadpole stage has a cord running down it – the beginning of our backbone.

  2. There is always something to say about having the ability to change a plan. Some do it by the book, some do it because they always do things the hard way, and others do it by experience. The salty seadog knows you better than most methinks.
    Some would call it an adventure on the water and others that one small creature can lead to a lifetime of open eyes to what it under the water.
    A great read, thank you

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