Blogs Never Sleep • Winter 2016/2017


   “Rust never sleeps,”  is saying around the coast if you own a ship of steel construction. If one owns a wooden vessel it is, “Rot never sleeps”. But now I have a new menace lurking in the dusky corners of my consciousness, creeping like a damp fog into each spare or leisurely moment I snatch from the jaws of my self-employment. If I ever relax for even just a moment the guilt wracked thought strikes me, “The blog! I haven’t written in the blog!”

A few days ago I transported a new generator home in the back of the skiff. It was balanced precariously as Tavish veered through the whirlpools crossing the mouth of the fearsome Hole In The Wall rapids . . . Now that was blogworthy! But I was hanging on too tightly to even think of my camera until much later. Actually, after wrestling the heavy and expensive load out of the skiff after 5 days of travel to Victoria and Vancouver for meetings, I finally collapsed into bed, pulled the covers over my head and was just drifting off to my well earned sleep . . . when the thought hit me like an icy gale, “The blog! I should have taken a picture for the blog”. And the corollary,

                                                           “The blog never sleeps!”

So here is my winter’s blog. It is malnourished and underfed. But heck, I do have a few excuses up my sleeve. It’s up to you, the Reader, to decide if my excuses hold water, so to speak.

Therefore I commence:

After a punishing winter last year of way, way, WAY too much work on the COLUMBIA III, and then a totally grueling summer on the  water with, well you know, great guests from around the world, and well, great food, and certainly great wildlife and great paddling and yes, hanging out on the coolest boat on the coast, (I know you can feel my pain) . . .

Well after such abject hardship I really thought I needed a holiday. I had this image of what I deserved and how much I deserved it, and it went something like this:

I was going to go home. I was going to park the COLUMBIA III in her shed and totally ignore her. I was going to leave my dusty, glue crusty coveralls down in the workshop and I was going to sip coffee, curl up with a stack of good books, and watch the world go by my seashore window . . . .  wow, that would have been so nice.

But our daughter, Farlyn, stopped by before I had my first sip of coffee. I was actually just making my first pot upon arrival back at Diamond Bay with the COLUMBIA III at the end of last season when she “popped by” to say “hi”, catch up on the news and drop the daughter-bomb:

“Hey dad, now that you’re finally home, and I know you don’t have much planned, I could sure use help finishing the spiral stair case Jody roughed in. You are such a good wood worker, Daddy Dearest”.

You know the routine, smiling daughter, ego-puffed dad . . . Just a few weeks of measuring, planing, gluing, sanding and installing later:

(Funny, where did that really nice, clear old growth boat lumber go?)

“And Daddy Dearest, we really don’t have any place to put our dishes” . . .

“Or our cups . . . “

Or our pots and utensils . . .      

To be fair, I offered to help Farlyn that first morning – the one before I had a chance to sit quietly and gaze wisely out the window. I’m just trying to use Farlyn as an excuse to have a break from the COLUMBIA III. Plus, what dad doesn’t want to hang out with his daughter in his workshop on either side of a roaring thickness planer??!

Then the COLUMBIA III was really calling me.

“Ross, I’m feeling neglected”.

But then granddaughter Maeve turned 1 and she really, really needed a wooden pull toy. And no, I have no idea, except it looks like a chipmunk head stuck on Ogo Pogo.

But you know family dynamics, just as I was getting ready, really ready to knuckle down to working in the COLUMBIA III,  Farlyn’s older sister dropped a few pretty clear hints to me that she had her nose seriously out of joint because I was helping Farlyn so much. Naturally, the only clear solution was to make something for Miray to get myself back in the good books of Mothership Adventures’ office manager.

Here is a new hat and mitt trunk for Miray and Luke’s entrance way.

Selfie in dusty, glue crusty coveralls in sub-zero temperatures making the corner posts for Miray’s trunk.

Fancy “slow close” pistons to keep wee grand children’s fingers safe.

“Gee, I seriously thought I had more clear boat lumber in my shop. Where is it disappearing? . . .”

But you know how it goes . . .

I seemed to be in the shop quite a bit so it was “only natural” that I give April a hand with a “few” new shelves for her sail boat:

I am a hack wood worker, but I seemed to be able to wow April, which was pretty fun.

35 years of making stuff in this 20’x36′ shop I built before Miray was born.

And a nice little fir table for April.

But despite my modest philanthropy, I did keep the COLUMBIA III projects inching forward. (Well, late at night after everyone else was asleep. Long hours, brutal conditions, heroic stamina. All the manly grit required for a Post Doc in Marine Voodoo).

Here is one little project I worked on this winter: I decided the ship would be safer if I was able to remotely shut down all electrical power. This might be a really good idea if there was an electrical fire in the engine room. To date, the Master would have to run into the potentially smokey engine room to manually shut-off the 4 battery switches. A much better and safer solution was to purchase and install 4 remote battery shut-off switches.

But, if one shuts off the power the ship will also get really, really dark as all the lights go out! Mmm . . .  Maybe it would be a good idea to have a relay sense this power-loss and automatically illuminate a string of emergency lights located at strategic locations like companionways, stairs and Muster station . . .  Gee, I wonder how Dr. M. Vodoo could arrange that?

Well, a little head scratching, some research, and homespun electrical schematics:

And then just gathering a “few” supplies (brass plate, remote battery switches, painted backing board, wire, circuit breakers, emergency lighting control relay etc) and just a little bit of work at the kitchen table (read: not cold boat shed)

. . . and it’s ready for installing on the boat.

Here it is, installed, wired, labeled and protected with a Lexan shield.

But the wheelhouse is a long ways from the engine room and I had to find space for a bunch more wires and a small control panel in my densely equipped wheelhouse. A second pipe was installed (and painted two colours) to bring in the new wires . . .

Which wire goes where?

And finally equipped with the 4 new remote battery switches.

Remember I still needed 6 new LED emergency lights installed throughout the ship. But the COLUMBIA III can’t just have fancy brass dome lights. No, no, no, the new lights have to match the existing lights, and they have nice shiny smooth and curvy varnished mahogany bases, of course . . .

Here is the Chapel stair case’s new and automatic emergency lighting.

And the aft companion way emergency lighting illuminating the evacuation plans and the exit stairs. The new lights look pretty simple unless you think of the 200 feet of wire I Houdini’d invisibly throughout the ship. (or is it Voodoo’d?)

At least the work in the shop was broken up by relaxing and fun (read hectic) trips to town with my shopping list of boat errands . . .

Working nights between daughter projects . . .

Here is another little “Ross Project” that is also a safety upgrade.

I had previously installed a propane shut-off switch in the galley to ensure the propane was electrically shut off at the main tank at all times unless the galley stove was in use. But I like things that shut-off when they get too hot as well. We have heat detectors to sound alarms if anything gets out of control, but wouldn’t it be better if the stove sensed the overheat condition and shut itself off?

Ok, you get the trend. Another schematic got sketched and more Google research for a suitable thermal switch . . .

I had to use a drop sheet to cover the big galley range to catch the stainless steel shavings from the modifications, have a placard made and install the new panel . . .

Now this is pretty cool, even for a Dr. M. Voodoo like me. If the galley range gets too warm it shuts off the propane before the alarm sensor has a chance to wake up!

And when I wasn’t in my shop or on the COLUMBIA III, I was attempting to keep the office “afloat”. I apologize if I was slow to reply to your email . . . .

And here is a HUGE fir log our licensed beach-combing daughter Farlyn found . . .  more boat lumber!

Oh ya, and I installed two new inverters in the engine room to replace the 20 year old units that I inherited with the ship. Of course these required a new brass plate to hold the digital control panels and a bunch of drilling, cutting, wiring, and zap strapping cable bundles.

By this time, Spring is now just around the corner and I am getting ready for the real work to begin on sanding and painting and varnishing the COLUMBIA III.

I thought it was time to make the shed more efficient. New storage shelves, tool bench and tool box area and 260  feet of Tech cable to have 120VAC outlets more accessible for the sanding tools around the ship.

But just when I started to despair with my work load, Tavish amazingly volunteered to strip, sand, paint, repaint, varnish and reassemble 3 staterooms. Really, he volunteered! A very, very dusty, smelly, tedious, finicky job. “Go Tav Go!”

With the COLUMBIA III, we try to keep her looking  really “top drawer”. But for this to be maintained, we need to repaint areas that don’t really look that bad. We never want someone to say, “Well, that needs repainting” We can’t have the ship look that bad. So we refinish things that don’t look like they need refinishing. Cool!

Tavish sanding the forward stateroom.

And painting . . .

And the ship gets pretty messy . . .

The staterooms have an immense amount of surface area and facets with all the exposed deck beams and trim detail. Tavish is certainly the guy for the job as he has very high standards.

Here April caught Tavish in a contemplative moment.

And as I was headed to Victoria for meetings anyhow, the liferaft joined me for its annual re-inspection.

And here is the new generator waiting to get installed. You know the one. The one that I didn’t take a photo of as we negotiated the whirlpools . . .

The old generator being uninstalled . . .  Not quite as simple as hitting the “Uninstall” button on my laptop.

The old and the new generator weigh 320 pounds each and it takes a lot sliding, come-alonging, winching and back-straining shuffling to get the old one out and the new one in.

And now a bunch of wires, hoses and stuff to get it up and running . . .

And just to add to the fun, Nick and Yas showed up to help Tavish de-hardware, sand and varnish the salon. Wow! Three people can sure dismantle my ship with alarming speed.

Lots of bits and pieces to sand and varnish.

But the varnish is going back on! It looks very, very shiny.


And I stayed out of the way in the engine room working on small projects: a new hour meter on the water maker . . .

An upgraded control panel for the diesel fired water heater:

Plus  the new panel installed:

All the while the salon got shinier and shinier!

Phew! That’s enough typing for one night. Enough already . . . .  But . . .

Hey! There are those same dusty crusty coveralls. I think I had them on most days this winter. (Not Christmas dinner). I think the fashion is catching on. Check out Tavish.

But never get me wrong. I love dusty crusty coveralls, my shop, my boat, my business, this coast

                                                                 and my family.


Next stop is the shipyard, and then, well then, we can start to really get down to the business of ship’s maintenance when the April 1st crews show up.

Someday I must sit at my window and read a book. That sounds so cozy.


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,