Fluttering Hands

The other day our daughter Miray, with her 4 month old baby strapped to her back, was running a chain hoist for me to lower the COLUMBIA III’s mast onto a herring skiff below. Grandson Theo, 4 years old now, was holding the huge skiff in place with a pike pole braced on the rocky sea floor. And me? Well, catching said 25′ long, heavy steel mast.

So where is the cool shot capturing this multi-generational moment of wooden boat/family business bonding? Oh! No photo. The tide was dropping quickly and I forgot to think, ‘blog‘. The mental image will have to do.

In the past few weeks, the COLUMBIA III travelled to the ship yard where she (and I) lived on the hard for a few weeks, before returning home again. As soon as she was tied to the dock, the crew jumped into action; sanding, washing, painting, and then detailing the ship. Now, the COLUMBIA III is finally starting to come together, giving me a chance to update you all on the busy pre-season activities in full swing here in Diamond Bay.


Humour me here; let’s pretend the COLUMBIA III is hovering fully out of the water for all to see, from the top of the mast to the base of the keel.

Imagine the ship slowly turning.

We see port, stern, starboard, and bow. We listen closely. We hear a fluttering sound; a sound almost of bird wings pushing air. It is the sound of the fluttering of hands. Hands fluttering as they touch every single surface of the COLUMBIA III with sand paper, rollers, paintbrushes, all with a maintaining touch. There are hands darting with masking tape along the water line, tightening the giant nut that holds on the propeller, removing every door knob, every life ring bracket and downspout and wire bundle for painting. Hands that sand; sand everything you see. Hands that then replace wires and door knobs and life ring brackets. If you walk up to the ship at a dock, imagine all those hands at work, going over every single square inch of exterior surface above and below the water. Can you hear the sound of fluttering hands that inspect, repair, replace, and upgrade?


Above, our youngest daughter, Farlyn, adds her hands to the detailing of the ship.

Here are some glimpses into our preparations for the fast-approaching season during late March and all of April. If you listen closely, perhaps you’ll hear the fluttering of hands.

Out of the boat shed the COLUMBIA III comes for a 3 hour journey to Campbell River for the ship’s annual haul-out. She looks pretty good considering that is last year’s paint. The sanding and painting for this year will begin when the COLUMBIA III returns home after her time in the Ocean Pacific ship yard.

ciii outof shed mar 16

Once we made it to Campbell River, the COLUMBIA III is lifted clear of the water in preparation for her annual inspection and 4 year Transport Canada mechanical inspection.


She is placed in her new home on the hard in the Ocean Pacific ship yard in Campbell River.


Whilst Steve attended to the copper painting, boot-top, and draft marks, The shipyard crew pulled the rudder and propeller off and withdrew the main drive shaft for our Transport Canada 4 year underwater inspection.


Although the main shaft seemed in acceptable condition, I decided that nothing but the best was good enough for the COLUMBIA III, so we had a new custom-made stainless steel drive shaft made and installed with a new cutlass bearing for good measure. Here, the new cutlass bearing is being installed.


The new shaft being manufactured.



To allow for the shaft to be made, I ended up living ‘on the hard’ for 2 weeks.  A good chance to catch up on little projects around the ship. A dry COLUMBIA III and set of stairs acted as my home away from home.


Until the new shaft was ready to be installed!


The wheel is tightened and a sigh of relief is released as the ship is pieced back together with strong new components.


Little details are tended to; the stuffing box collar is cleaned up by the machinist.


Transport Canada needs to see our two anchor “rodes” every 4 years to ensure our guests can sleep well at night.


And a mere $20,000 and 2 weeks later, she slips back into the water, 60 years young and stronger than ever.

CIII shipyard 16

The COLUMBIA III arrives safely home to her boat shed, ready for everyone’s least favourite job to begin.


“Let the sanding begin!”


Can you hear the fluttering?


We use a wide variety of power sanders, but all the bright work is done by hand, mostly with excitement, as Steve happily demonstrates.


Steve pauses his fluttering hands for a quick thumbs up.


After a good wash, the refinishing begins.





















of the…




got painted…






By who? Meet the painting crew!


Long time family friend and conveniently living around the corner in the next bay over, Max Bakken joins the crew to prepare the ship for the season, where he will be working as chef on board a few trips this summer!


Our son Tavish is rarely without a smile whether he is guiding kayakers and teaching them about marine life during intertidal tours, or making the ship shine every spring.


Tavish’s twin sister, Farlyn is looking forward to captaining trips this summer, especially after all the elbow grease used to detail the ship.


Long-time kayak guide extraordinaire of the Mothership Adventures family, you probably know Steve from previous blogs/posts! Steve spent the winter as a kayak guide in Antarctica, visited New Zealand, and returned home to Sonora Island to get the COLUMBIA III ship shape!


When we start to get caught up on the main painting, it allows us to switch our attention to other details. Farlyn and I replaced the galley counter top which was showing signs of wear after all the thousands of meals made here.



I cut a hole under one of the bunks and trimmed it to accommodate a designated 1st Aid locker.


Steve was happy to get out of the shed and into the sun to sand and paint the aft mast that was removed for the duration of the construction phase.


While Tavish remains in the shed to upgrade the kayaking winch electrics.


Which we let him install in the sunshine on the dock.


I’m thanking all you guests in advance for noticing this new and noteworthy detail when you step aboard the ship. I custom ordered a stainless steel soap dish for the galley soap dispenser. Now even I had to swallow hard at the $330 price (ouch), but darn it looks good.


While I admire the shiny new hand washing station, Tavish strings new aft deck lights for the new roof (still smiling).


While Steve sorts and stows a season’s worth of wine (all smiles)!


After the paint dries, the reassembly continues. Max is tasked with replacing the lettering on top of fresh paint to spell out the ship’s name.


(photo by Max, documenting the process)


Luke replaces the aft counter top and installs a cool brass trim to protect it from all the cameras and kayak paddles that always seem to damage the wood work.



Luke made custom “rivets” to hold the half round brass in place.


As the old kayak racks were removed with the old roof, we designed new, more efficient pivoting racks. Tavish and I fabricated the parts, and Luke did the welding.


Tavish bolts the racks in place.


And finally, we carefully clean the decks of every tiny dripped paint fleck and glue blob, and mask off the areas for the non-skid coat.


The socks-only phase of ship maintenance.


Then the the crew coats the decks.


And do you remember Luke’s huge project this winter building a new roof for the aft deck?


Well, here is the nearly completed new aft deck cover. A huge THANK YOU to Luke!


Luke recently celebrated his birthday, and we let him off early on the eve of his birthday to go free diving with Tavish, who snapped these photos, just around the corner from the boat shed.


A birthday dive.


And finally, the crews are finished.

I enjoyed my first morning without crews in over 6 weeks, but the day was so beautiful, and the ship looked so grand that Tavish and April decided we just had to leave the dock for an evening photo shoot.

Here is a glimpse of the COLUMBIA III now, after 6 weeks of fluttering hands carefully going over every inch of the ship.



Fresh bright work, a new aft deck roof, and nearly ready for the 2016 season!


While Tavish was zipping around getting aerials of the ship, April was in the wheelhouse with me snapping some photos.



A beautiful evening for a cruise around the channel.





The scale of the coast dwarfs the ship from some angles.



Heading home to the bay at last light.




Back to the dock for final touches over the next few weeks.


Tavish tidying up the rooftop that evening.


Two thoughts:

  1. I am so lucky to work with my family.
  2. I have to prepare myself for the inevitable question, “What do you do with yourself in the winters, Ross?”


Wood to White

Or more appropriately titled:

“The work continues and we better hurry up because spring is coming!”

It might not seem like a very lofty personal mantra, but as the short winter days begin to gradually lengthen, and the signs of spring abound (blooming forsythia, eager daffodils by the trail to the shop, and robins returning en masse), my ‘raison d’être’ is “wood to white“.

Whilst I was (humbly) fooling around on numerous invisible tasks around the boat and the Mothership Adventures office, Luke (AKA Glamour Boy) was diligently proceeding with the master project for the winter. Once the basic structure for the aft deck roof was in place, the next step was to cover the beams in plywood.

Sounds easy, right?


The 8′ sheets of plywood had to be scarf joined together, at which point we had an “epoxy guru” come to teach us how to encase the 8′ x 16′ plywood sections with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin. As the glue does not like the cold, we moved the process up into the workshop. The first night, it took us 4 hours to coat one side of the first panel.

With 9 panels to go, it seemed Glamour Boy and I were going to be spending a lot of time together.


Here, “Epoxy Guru” Josh attempts to impart his high standards upon our crew. No air bubbles or dry spots, no wrinkles, no lumps, no areas too flooded, super accurate measuring of the glue, mixing for precisely the right amount of time.

Gee, it was like Epoxy Boot-Camp.


Epoxy is not the nicest stuff; so it was a respirator and glove affair for sure.


After the first night, in an effort to speed up the process, we carried the table saw, thickness planer and stationary sander out of the shop so we could squeeze a second panel in. This allowed us to coat two panels a night (after a regular days work on the Columbia III).


Epoxy resin likes summer temperatures, so we kept the shop fire going 24 hours a day for 3 weeks trying to get the glue to set hard enough to allow us to sand it smooth. It worked out fine in the end, but we couldn’t rush the curing time.

Here, Tavish sands and trims a panel, the final step before it’s ready to install.


Step #436,545: The panels are finally ready to leave the shop.


Step #436,546: Panels go into the boat shed.


It was another big step to get the panels trimmed to the correct width (about 39″).


They were first glued into place, then trimmed to size.


It was then the panels began to resemble a roof!


Luke completes a few finishing touches to the laminated beam at the back.


He then sealed all the joints with fibreglass cloth. The entire vertical edge of the structure was covered in bi-axial fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin to ensure there was a totally waterproof membrane protecting the new roof structure.


This kind of work has lots of little side-steps. Luke custom manufactured 2 stainless steel downspouts that were embedded in the roof.



Normally this kind of rainwater drain would be a very likely source of rot on a wooden boat, which is why so much energy was expended to ensure this was very water-proof.


The next step was to transport the gorgeous clear yellow cedar accumulated for the project from the boat-shed to Luke’s big thickness planer next door via herring skiff. We then return the dimensioned lumber back to the boat shed. It’s only a short trip across the bay, but grandson, Theo, wasn’t going to miss out on “Hel-pin work on Coe-umbia Twee“.


Young Theo’s gold locks match the yellow cedar behind him.


Thin planks for laminating the curved fascia boards.


Next step? A WHOLE bunch of steaming, bending, and laminating to get the dressy “fascia boards” installed. There must be a better nautical wooden-boat, techie kinda term for these boards, but I don’t know what it is.


Bending to form a snug fit on the Columbia III.


Details of Luke’s work.




Meanwhile, life still continues elsewhere . . .

What I really mean is work continues elsewhere on the Columbia III.

Our dear friend, “Webmaster” and “Tech-God” Dave made his usual mid-winter trek to our remote island to tweak our Mothership Adventures computers, which are becoming quite the collection now (2 PC’s, 4 laptops and a crazy collection of wireless gizmos trying to keep everyone in our small bay “connected” through a satellite modem).

Here, Dave installs new satellite telephone software on the ship and gives all the systems a checkup.


Furthermore, these pesky little additions keep getting sanded and revarnished.



I did a “cameo” appearance on the roof project helping Luke out with the new teak hatch combing.


And Tavish removed (a little too enthusiastically, might I add) 4 of the salon windows for replacement.


I can guarantee you that the best way to slow down a project is for the glass manufacture to cut, temper, double-pane, seal, and ship 4 new custom shaped windows, sized to the wrong specifications.

I thought that was painful… until it happened twice.

If I have any hair left, it is now 100% grey.


Finally we got some sealed panes we could work with. Here, two are being pressed into place in a bedding of sealant.


After a couple of days curing time, the teak strips are carefully cut, fitted and the glued in place. I hope these last a long time, because tearing these frames apart is a lot of work.


Meanwhile, Luke doggedly continues to work; getting the final yellow cedar trim pieces in place. Screw holes plugged and lots more sanding to make everything smooth and classy enough for the Columbia III.


Beginning to look like a roof worthy of the mothership!



After 5 months (and bringing a new little girl into the world), Luke says he’s done… For now.

Late one night, he exclaims “She’s ready to paint!”



 The first paint goes on the project.

We had better hurry, with only 7 days left before the Columbia III comes out of the shed, when ready or not she heads to the shipyard for her annual underwater inspection.

We need all the bare wood protected from the weather that will surely be dishing out the rain and wind right on schedule for our voyage to town.

Here, Tavish is using a grey primer that is darker than the final finish will be.


Do you feel the satisfaction of a fresh coat of paint on finely sanded wood like we do?


And finally…

• (drum roll please) •

The crowning moment of our whole winter, exciting news flashed around the globe, we finally get to turn all that wood to white!

April came down from the cabin one evening to document this historic (though messy) event.


Father-son-team completing a spring ritual of wood-to-white painting.






The best thing about painting a roof is that it requires many horizontal inspections.


“Now, Tavish, make sure you don’t stand directly under your paint brush or you’ll end up with paint on your face.” Do as I say, not as I do.


The painting team: Tavish, myself, and Steve.


Portraits of the team.




Or for a more accurate group photo:


We wanted to demonstrate that we had paint coming out of our ears on this job!


Someone has to say ‘enough is enough’ after a long day.


Tavish completes the finishing touches.


A flashback to only a few weeks ago: Luke in all his glamorous glory next to his freshly sanded roof-in-progress.


To the roof now – freshly painted white.


With a freshly constructed and painted roof, we are one step closer to having the Columbia III ready for the 2016 season.

Next step, an adventure to the shipyard!

Til then,



Glamour Boy vs Marine Voodoo

So our son-in-law, Luke, gets all the glory.

He gets to take a chainsaw to the pristine woodwork of the Columbia III and then he gets to fix it with all his glamorous skill set. He gets to use gorgeous clear first growth fir and he uses ostentatiously showy fancy wood joinery to piece it all together. Nothing but the best for Luke ($5000 worth of glue alone so far) and everyone in the channel stops by to see how the progress is going. Accolades always follow, topped with the really grinding comments reminding me how lucky I am to have Luke on the team.

Well, really? I am tired of it all!

I have worked every day since the ship tied up in October, but does anyone ever ask me what I am working on? Oh no, no, no! I have the “Marine Voodoo” file.

What is in the “Marine Voodoo” file? Well, thanks for asking!

All the stuff that keeps the ship running smoothly or allows it to remain up to date in the highly regulated world. Most notably, it is all INVISIBLE! If I do my job really, really well, all the work vanishes and the average guest will simply look out at the leaping whales, the grizzling grizzly bears and the overpoweringly scenic scenery. But they will never know about the magic marine voodoo that keeps toilets pumping, water flowing, electronic gizmos interfacing, and government regulators sleeping soundly.

So for those of you fascinated by the Voodoo file, you will be intrigued to read about my heroic (though invisible) exploits.

A major commitment for me this winter was the installation of a water maker. In the already densely complex engine room I had to find space for a new system of pumps, filters, desalinator membranes and the the plumbing to get sea water to the system, waste-water over board and fresh water into the existing tankage. Certain existing systems had to be relocated to make room and then 12VDC and 120VAC power had to “magically” be provided for the desalinator. If all goes well and the machine performs as specified, guests won’t know the machine exists. The only difference will be silent acceptance where once there was chiding for those taking a lengthy shower. But to the Doctor of M.V., it’s $10,000 and a month of invisible work.


I know the next photo is boring. Being a Dr. of M.V. IS boring, but this picture means a lot to me. The new water maker required that I relocate the vent for the fresh water tanks and this discrete little vent (yet to be painted white) represents a passel of trips to the plumbing store, yards of new piping and yoga master contortions by the Dr. of M.V. to get it all hooked together in cramped quarters. All, so that no one will ever know or care. What a rich life I have!


And part of the freshwater system upgrade was the installation of an ultra-violet sterilization filter. Sounds easy, but the engine room on the Columbia III is pretty crowded already, so fitting this in took a certain magical touch.

Not all projects just work perfectly the first time. In this instance I neglected to put a critical o-ring in place. It was about 8pm when I opened the water value to test my workmanship. There was a SPECTACULAR spraying of water over my entire work bench, tools and supply shelves in the engine room.

“Mmm, I think I’m done for today”.

I turned off the water, left the engine room work bench dripping and walked up to the house for a small scotch.

“Three steps forward, one step back.” There is always tomorrow.


Next on the list was the installation of a new state of the art Fire Detection system to meet modern passenger carrying regulations. It is easy to say, “Install 13 new smoke detectors”.  It is quite a different matter to magically sneak 250′ of wire through out every room of the ship and have the wires not sully the classic look of the completely finished interior wood working. And then I had to connect all this to the new brain box, and interface this new system to the existing general ship’s alarm panel.

Sitting on the wheel house driver’s seat, our guests are unaware that I spent quite a bit of time stringing detector wires in the compartment directly below.


No corner of the vessel seemed to escape the turmoil.


A new detector in the wheelhouse . . .


Bunks dismantled to facilitate stringing wires from the wheel house at the front of the ship to the very aft storage compartment called the lazarrette.


New detector in the main salon,


The new fire detection system brain box.


And the new annunciator panel.  After all that work I lit a piece of paper towel on fire and waved it below the new salon detector.

“Bells!” “Buzzers!” “Strobe lights!” “Annunciators!”, “Salon Fire!!”

. . . . Magic! And satisfying.


Another couple of small projects were the installation of a new satellite telephone, (they are like cellphones and require frequent upgrades),


And an upgraded third VHF marine radio.  These little projects in the wheel house always need a lot of new wires and connections to external antennas  that require a “tidy hand” to keep the wheel house looking professional.


Of course, Glamour Boy Luke has no compunction about asking for assistance with his higher priority project so I was pressed into service in the evenings helping to pre-coat the plywood for the aft-deck-head.


Dr. of M.V. selfie:


vs. Glamour Boy portrait:


Of course the ship needs to stay warm all winter. The small salon fire place runs 365 days a year. But, oh, oh! That requires a few trips a winter to Campbell River. Its about an hour each way by skiff to pick up a couple of barrels of stove oil, then I transfer them into barrels in the boat shed. Free coffee at the fuel dock to send me on my way.


Another project on the go. The existing domestic hot water heater decided to start leaking last summer… Yes; Luke was the one to devise an epoxy patch to make it through the summer. Heroic? Yes. Somewhat less glamorously, here I am dry assembling the new tank and its fittings in preparation for installation.


Pet-peeve list number 2,348.5. The main electrical panel is inspected in detail each year.  The power must be off for the inspection, so the operation occurs in the dark. So, I thought it would be professional to provide the wonderful inspector a 12VDC light to make his inspection more “Columbia III-ish“.


The galley stove is the Percheron work horse on the ship and the cook is the true unsung hero of the summer. A better, more level work surface was requested and I custom ordered in a new center grill for the big Wolf Stove.


Happy cook, happy ship.

When all the galley stove burners are in use cooking a meal, the large kettle had no “home”. Because ships galleys are never big enough the kettle was constantly in the way. Solution? Special order two stainless steel hooks and bolt them to the stove ventilation hood for a new kettle home.



More invisible magic: I always have a private pet-peeve list.

I made two nice mug racks about 10 years ago but then we upgraded to a set of mugs more “classic shippish”. The new mugs rattled in their slots. Here are two new racks I made, roughed in and awaiting finish sanding, staining and, well you know, 4 coats of varnish.


Speaking of magic, Dennis is the Master of Marine Voodoo and my “go-to” reference for anything and everything Marine. Here, my skipper of 44 years turns 81. Cake compliments of Fern.


The magic continues… A leaky main engine fire pump is getting replaced and all ancillary parts over hauled.


Four main salon windows were fogging up on sunny days. Voodoo: I made patterns and ordered in the custom cut, tempered and sealed thermo-pane windows. Now we need to destroy the existing teak window frames to remove the old panes, make new frames and, well, you guessed it, varnish! 5-8 coats of it, as these are an exterior surface which need the extra protection.


Ok, ok. Invisible marine magic isn’t glamourous. I know. I know! The next post will feature Luke’s exciting new developments in the aft roof reconstruction.

Let me know if anyone wants a post on my “Doctor of Office Voodoo” file. It’s super invisible.

Ross, Dr. MV