Barnacles and bio-fouling have been part of Nick and Wendy Benge’s lives for years as crew of M/Y Evviva. They plan to combat the encrusters and help others clean hulls through a new business venture, marketing the Waveblade.
“It is complicated technology,” Wendy (Buck) Benge said. “It’s like a vibrating toothbrush for your boat.”
The Benges are touting the multi-purpose tool as “the world’s first marine, hand-held power barnacle remover.” It weighs about four pounds, is submersible up to 15 feet and retails for $350, she said.
“It works by vibration, the frequency does the work,” she said. “You wrap your hand around the conical shape and hold it from behind the knuckle protector when removing barnacles.”
Nick Benge is first mate and co-captain on M/Y Evviva and Wendy Benge, former full-time crew, now acts as U.S. director of sales for Waveblade, as well as relief crew on the yacht.
The entrepreneurial couple met three years ago and will have been married a year in October. The family project began when Nick Benge’s father met the inventor of the technology and started investing in it about seven years ago.
With a degree in environmental geology, Benge has always been hands on. He remembers scraping barnacles as a kid with his mom. He knows it’s a time-consuming job and that’s just one reason he believes in their business.
“It can keep yachts from being hauled for cleaning and from having new bottom paint,” he said. “It’s non-toxic and vessels will save on fuel with clean hulls.”
It’s safe on all types of material: fiberglass, steel, wood, anything, he said by phone from their home in Port Angeles, Wash., where M/Y Evviva was built.
“It will sell really well once people hold it,” he said. “They don’t quite understand how it works until they see it. And then they say ‘wow.'”
“We’ve had divers test it and their body memory made them want to apply pressure, but it’s used completely differently,” Wendy Benge said. “It’s like when you’re sawing through wood; it works better with a light touch. You can hear and feel the movement, but you can’t see the blade move.”
“It’s a no-brainer of an idea,” said Capt. Matt Barnett. “Surprise, it makes sense.”
The former yachtie, now running commercial passenger vessels in Washington, has used the tool and said cleaning a hull takes a lot of physical energy, but not with this.
“With the vibration and flexible blade, you’re not exerting big muscles, so you don’t get so tired,” he said.
Floating buildings have some of the same issues yachts have, said Trip Rumberger, owner of Greenway Sound Marine Resort in the Broughton Islands in British Columbia, Canada. He used his Waveblade to clean the PVC pipes that keep his marina afloat.
“All of our buildings are in the water,” he said. “Our flotation tubes were covered in mussels and we needed to get that weight off the buildings. I did it [used the Waveblade] from our barge in the water and the buildings came up. They rose up out of the water.”
He stripped half-inch PVC pipe and saw no damage.
“Here, we don’t have barnacles; we have mussels and they get thick,” he said. “It worked like magic. That thing is cool.”
It makes a little bit of noise sort of like a food processor, but Rumberger said he just plugged it into the cigarette lighter and cleaned about 20 feet of pipe as fast as he could move.
The Waveblade has two blade options: stainless steel for underwater use and the more flexible black steel for dry use. The Benges are distributing about 3,000 units manufactured in China around the United States and by another distributor in the U.K.
“I am a business virgin,” Wendy Benge said of her inexperience in the retail market, “but I think it will become the standard for hull maintenance.”
Aside from benefiting the yachting community, the Benges would like to see Nick Benge’s 75-year-old father’s investment finally pay off so he can retire. As for themselves, they would like to be able to fulfill other goals outside of yachting.
They have a dream of helping poor communities be self-sufficient and have begun working on a plan to help impoverished people in Afghanistan use chickens as a way out of poverty.
“They’re simple, comforting and relaxing; no wonder everything eats them,” Wendy Benge said, as the brood, named after beheaded queens, scratch around the yard at their home.
“It would also be a blessing for all of us to be able to do more of the things we want to do in the future.”