Category Archives: Winter Maintenance

Winter 18/19 . . . a few, wee projects on the go . . .

Ok, This is supposed to be the maintenance blog of the COLUMBIA III. I have been collecting a few photos over the winter and dropping them in this post for later assembly into a coherent, cogent, witty and illuminating wooden boat testimonial . . .

But now it is March and I am in the shipyard working on the underwater component of our maintenance schedule and as I start to assemble this blog I review the photos and edit the duds and the repeats and try to build a story . .  but I am exhausted. A few days in the shipyard, chasing welders and getting the hull ready for anti-fouling has left me weary. Today was a big day. I was out sanding the water-line boot-top and gumwood from 7-9 am and then the welders showed up to create a new stainless steel bow iron. That was almost 7 hours with the welders without a stop. I tried to suggest a coffee but they didn’t bite. “Just get us a glass of water . . .”

So here is a look back on the winter’s projects and I weary just reviewing the first steps we made last fall. There is nothing more “classic wooden ship” then digging into a potential Pandora’s Box when a fool (read “Ross”) decides to make some aspect of the ship a little bit more ship-shape.

The tale starts like this . . .

Last fall, my good friend, Mark, came for a visit and tied to my dock for a few days.

Ross, is there anything I can help you with?”
“No, no. There’s nothing really.”

“Well, If I don’t have anything to do then I am going to leave tomorrow . . ”

“Ahhh, It depends on what you mean by “helping”, Mark. If you mean putting in long hours of dirty grinding and sanding and wearing respirators and hearing protection then you can help. If you mean keeping your town clothes unsullied, then you will want to move to a quieter bay for tomorrow night.”

So Mark said he wanted to work . . . and here he is bringing a paint float into place for me.

I started the winter with a process of triage.

#1. The bow iron has been bugging me for years. It was rusty and perilously thin. Paint would no longer stay on it and I recoated it several times a summer to hide the ugly rusty bare metal.  So this was the winter to do something about it. I wanted to take a look in behind the metal early enough in the winter that I could allocate time for major repairs if I found anything scary lurking behind the plates.

So with Mark holding the paint float steady I beavered away with a cutting disc to remove the old bow iron. . . actually about 10 cutting discs . . .

I couldn’t cut off the metal below the water-line, but I could take off enough to see the gumwood bow stem was still in good shape. Sigh. Nightmare #2,334 averted. (You might gather that I am prone to 2am restless sleeps imagining the WORST outcomes . . .) But I didn’t need to replace the bow stem and I would budget extra time in the spring shipyard to get the metal replaced.

So . . . #2. “Mark, let’s now cut off the rusty, deck staining anchor roller off the front deck and see what we find . . .

Extra covering to protect our fine ship . . .

And it came as no surprise that some of the Douglas Fir decking that had been hidden for 60 years was rotten. We had never had a deck leak but I guess the metal plate was acting as a sealant.

With this new information, I decided to remove the anchor winch to see what was under IT! (It is handy having a steel framed shed over head for a lifting point!)

I used a second come-along to pull the winch over the boat shed walkway.

It was winter, daylight was short and I worked nights as well . . .

I used a tiger torch, scrapers and a heavy duty sander to expose the rest of the fore deck.

I almost melted my phone trying to capture this selfie!

And if we were going to redo the front deck, the forward hatch coaming had to come off too. Here I used a circular saw to whittle it down . . .


“Gee, the forc’sle just got really dirty and drafty!”

#3. Well, we didn’t seem to have enough joy in our ship-maintenance life so we thought we might look for more fun in our transom . . .  I have always been noticing that we had a hard time keeping the varnish on the transom looking perfect. It tended to get cloudy too quickly and we had been stripping the whole transom to bare wood every two years trying to keep it looking acceptable. Something was wrong and I wanted to find out.

As the stern was made of two layers of 3/4″ mahogany planks we thought we would remove the outer layer and see what was going on . . . This is were Luke jumps in with glee and I have to look away and kinda peek over my shoulder to see what he is doing. . . . POOR COLUMBIA III !!

And we found the problem. At some point in the restoration of the COLUMBIA III during the 1990’s, the stern was replaced, but the shipwrights erroneously constructed the two layers of mahogany without any ship’s felt or sealant between the layers. Water was therefore getting in and being trapped between the layers. Despite being above the water line, the boards in both layers were soaking wet. It was no wonder that we had trouble getting the varnish to stick . . . So, in for a penny in for a pound,   Luke and I removed the galvanized swim grid and got serious!

Wow! The lazarette just got so much more ventilation!!

I think Luke gets just a little too happy taking my boat apart  . . . I guess it does help him finance his winter!

So now we had our winter’s work laid out for us. Luke took on the reconstruction of the front deck and the transom and I went back to my usual invisible maintenance chores. I tend to do the more menial tasks and Luke takes on the jobs that require his fancy wood and metal working skills. As the weather stayed a chilly -3-7 degrees C, Luke alternated between the front of the boat and the transom. If something was gluing, he might take some time on the bow. If it was really cold, he’d retreat to his shop to prepare his materials or work on the new deck box.

So whilst Luke proceeded on the projects with clear objectives that he can budget his time around, i chip away on the smaller, fiddlier details.

#4 thru to 386 . . . We have always had difficulty with a pair of fresh water tanks under our #4 stateroom bunks. They would often air-lock, not fill completely or seem to not drain completely. A better venting system was on the long term “to-do” list.  Then last summer a very high pressure marina fresh water hose was used that split one of the two tanks . . . I managed a temporary patch for the last month of the season but the tanks needed replacing.

Here are two new tanks with new fittings installed on the dock. I carried them down and installed them under the bunk in stateroom #4. While I was in there, i added a new 3/4″ vent line magically snaked through the engine room and the salon and out the side of the deckhouse.

I didn’t like how the tanks where held in place so I used  “the-old-scraps-of-wood-and-glue-gun” technique for making some patterns and found some nice clear yellow cedar for a support system . ..

and the leather sofa, yes, yes the most comfortable place IN THE WORLD to have a morning coffee, was showing signs of wear and it seemed perilously thin. It would seem like a simple matter but it took a long time to find an upholstery expert up to the task of repairs.  Then all I had to do was shrink wrap a 110% water proof packaging and drive the 5 hours to Victoria from Sonora Island to drop it off.

and the ship’s emergency radio battery bank needed replacement and an ancillary 120VAC charger upgraded . . .

and two new maple cutting boards made for the galley as per chef’s request . . .

and install a new transmission pressure gauge in the wheelhouse in an unused spot on the panel . . .

and add back lighting for all the gauges . . .

and . . . .get the swim grid to Campbell River and borrow a flat deck truck and a helper from  the shipyard and get it to a sand blaster to clean it and then get it to the freight company north of town and ship it to Vancouver and get it re galvanized and get it shipped back to Campbell River and borrow the flat deck truck again and move it back to the boat launching ramp in Campbell River and bring it back to Sonora Island by skiff . . .      

Meanwhile, Luke kept working . . . We decided it would be best if he dissembled the front deck planks so he could make patterns if required as the pieces came off.

Here, the new clear fir starts to go back on. The deterioration of the decking thankfully did not transfer into the deck beams. The “bad” was removed and the solid deck beams were ready to receive new planks. As we still have left over 3 1/2″ silicone bronze #14 screws left over from refastening the hull, we used these to secure the deck planks.   

OH!!! These shots really warm my heart! Look at that BEAUTIFUL new wood that will be securely holding my anchor winch next summer!!! Gawd!!! Luke does nice work! . . . I’d stop by the front deck and gasp, “Luke! I love you!!”   I hope he’s used to having a weird father-in-law by now . . .

and a new clear yellow cedar deck hatch made in his shop and now bolted down.

When it came time to caulk the decks my Skipper and Mentor for the last 47 years, Dennis, came to demonstrate the fine art of cotton and oakum  . . .  Grandson Theo listened in too.

Although the two projects proceeded simultaneously, I have kept the photos in two separate threads here to keep you sleepy readers from blacking out in boredom . . .

Here the first inner layer mahogany plank is getting installed . . .

and for your sake, I haven’t included a photo of each plank as it went on but this process happened over about a 30 day period.

The last board is jacked into place with small hydraulic jacks.

and teak covering boards over the ends.

I am particularly happy with the results. We changed the construction method and screwed the first layer of planks to the vertical frames, but the second layer was COMPLETELY bedded with Sika Flex sealant and secured with screws from the inside of the vessel. This eliminated dozens and dozens of exterior screw heads that would have  required to be counter sunk and plugged. All the tiny plugs were a big source of water incursion in the transom before we started.

and of course, I gave the renewed swim grid two coats of epoxy primer to better protect it . . .

and drilled and tapped holes for holding on the new rubber bumper . . .  Now that was sticker shock! . .  20 feet of rubber . . . everything else was renewed, I may as well replace the rubber while I’m at it .  .    It was $60 per foot!

The final fairing and sanding commenced . . .

. . . adjustments to the swim grid pads . . .

One coat of varnish and we re hung the swim grid . . . This took about 4 hours for the two of us.


WOW! That looks spectacular, Luke!!

And the shipyard date was fast approaching and Luke was working long, long days to get the ship ready to leave her protective shed.

Yes, that is a lot of masking tape to ensure the sealant stayed where Luke wanted it.

Cotton, oakum and then sealant . . .  getting close!

Mixed in with all this, Luke welded up an new deck plate for the #2 anchor rode. I shipped it to Vancouver and it was also galvanized. I had the roller sand blasted and italso made the trip to the galvanizer in Vancouver. Here I am epoxy coating the pieces in a spare bedroom. My shop was too cold . . .


And Luke created new gumwood bedding blocks for the anchor winch with new stainless bolts

Yay!!! The new deck plate that started this whole restoration was finally back in place. Now, what is not wonderful about this!!!

Complete with a new stainless steel bolt tapped by a machine shop for an inset grease nipple and grease channel .

The anchor winch swings aboard hours before the boat is due out of the shed. Luke’s timing on the two month long project is down to the wire! Here Luke’s dad is helping out . . . The other Grandpa.

Then the gate swings open. Push Theo!

Now, Pull Theo!

A temporary spare anchor for the trip to Campbell River. The main rode is still lying on my dock.

And I woke up with the COLUMBIA III sitting outside my window ready to head to the shipyard. Whew!, That was some winter of laying around doing nuthin!

Later that afternoon, I pulled away from my dock, headed for the shipyard and that adventure! 

I guess my company name is “Mothership Adventures!”

All these wonderful behind-the-scenes, wooden boat maintenance ADVENTURES!!!

Critical winter works commence . . . 2018/19

So the long and arduous summer season is now over. All the frivolities are dispensed with, (wine, gourmet food, wonderful new friends, amazing wildlife, spectacular paddling and chill’n on a gorgeous classic wooden heritage vessel . . . yes, yes, deeply arduous . . .)

ah, where was I?

Yes, yes. After the frivolities of summer have been survived, the COLUMBIA III is back in her shed and I am raring to go on critical winter maintenance projects that will maintain and enhance ship safety and integrity. Obviously, it’s important it dig right into the really big projects looming on the winter’s horizon to ensure the scope and scale of the up coming work is allocated appropriate time and resources.

Ok, ok, that’s getting a bit thick . . .

So my first super-critical project of the winter was to create a  better window wedge for the galley window. Strongly worded complaints were registered by the Food Services Department of Mothership Adventures and a remedy had to be found.  ie the galley window was hard to open and close because the window wedge was too small . . .

So. . . . a scrap of teak was used for a longer wedge with finger hole and tapered to allow the wedge to be placed tightly alongside the window frame and still have room for your finger! A simply amazing design. . . .

. . . and another high priority project to hone my skills before commencing critical ship’s maintenance . . .

Every sailor worth his salt needs to know how to repair his sails as well as sail the vessel. In the spirit of sailor craft, I took up my thread and needle for my granddaughter’s 3rd birthday gift.

Winter 17/18       Now what?    Really?     More?

You’d think I would simply run out of stuff to do on the old tub. Like, “COME ON! What could be left that needs fixing or changing???”. . .  Well, well, well. If you have to ask such a silly question you don’t understand the intricacies of a wooden boat affliction/addiction. Nor do you understand how much fun a wooden boat owner can have whilst interfacing with Transport Canada . . .  But more on that one, later.

But really, I took most of the winter off. I was far too busy writing letters to Transport Canada, upgrading ship’s procedures and making sure that Mothership Adventures has her ducks in a row with Parks permits, with land use permits and First Nations protocols and whale and bear and tourism associations. Really, we did nothing on the COLUMBIA III all winter. I completely ignored her.  What old wooden boat? I just parked her in the shed and I won’t peek at her until a couple of days before April 1st when the annual sand and paint-a-thon begins . . .

Oh. Oh. I forgot. There was one nagging little project that I guess I did do . . .

The wheel house is a dense collection of electrical equipment and there has been a steady progression of upgrades. It is inevitable that some wires remain in place but no longer serve a function. Each time I need to access the area behind my  main instrument panel I have cringed at the rat’s-nest of wires. The “action item” has been on my to-do list for years. Finally I dug into the “problem”.

I ended up cutting all the wire bundles to the electronic components and suspended the units from strings so I could access the cables. The main job was to identify each wire and trace its route. I then pulled and discarded any wire that was no longer serving a function.

And I sorted, removed, labeled and rationalized the wires behind the main engine panel in the wheel house.

New terminal boards to help make sense of the mess.

All back to normal now. More Dr. of Marine Voodoo.  If I do my job really well, no one will ever know!

Winter is the time to catch up on small discrepancies. Here I switched out a large, heavy duty 120amp 12VDC alternator that I had previously installed on the Gardner to charge the domestic battery bank. Sometime late in the 2017 season the alternator decided to produce only  80 amps,  a sign I am told, that 1/3 of the windings are not producing power due to a “failed diode”.  (I am not an electronics guy so a “failed diode” could be called a “failed woo-woo dinger”)  but I am smart enough to carry a spare alternator aboard. We finished the season on reduced output and I needed to switched out the beast. I also had a v-belt rubbing inappropriately and it had made a black dusty mess. So I tidied up and switched the v-belt shive to the backup alternator.

Here is the alternator bracket without the alternator.

Pulling the v-belt shive off . . .     

A good mechanic always knows it’s wise to appease the gods of safe shipping. And Murphy  seems to keep a close eye on me as well, so I donate a little blood to more projects than is good for my reputation. Some people give blood at the office, I do it in the engine room. Perhaps a Dr. of Marine Voodoo needs a refresher course on small wound care.

Here is the 80 pound beast replaced and back in its home. . .

And another project . . . at Diamond Bay we have two generators for back up power if our solar and micro hydro can’t supply our needs. One is 12KW for running welders, and the smaller one is 6.5KW. Here the very old and tired Lister is removed from the generator shed . . .

And the new genset gets slid into place. I up-graded to an automatic remote start model but this entailed a fair amount of new wiring including a new 300′ run of cable between the generator shed and the house . . . just another little piece to the Diamond Bay homestead puzzle.

This winter Luke continued to work away at completing their house. It really is getting close . . . but I cajoled him into doing one major project for me.

The COLUMBIA III gets pretty well scrutinized each spring when we hand-sand everything . . . so we had noticed two small spots on the port bulwarks where the paint repeatedly blistered. Upon a little poking around with my trusty Leatherman I found some rot. “This will never do!”
So Luke’s task was to “fix the bulwarks”. This is no small feat on a vessel as highly finished as the CIII. But Luke loves a challenge and rises to the occasion with alacrity.

He carefully supported the hand rail from above, removed a bunch of stanchions, carefully chiseled out the wooden plugs over the bolts and removed the teak caps without damaging them. He then removed the sections of the bulwarks where the paint blisters had been. One never knows if the rot will be localized or if it has metastasized in a creeping wave of destruction. But the COLUMBIA III has received years of high quality maintenance and it showed here yet again. The two small spots where the paint had blistered were exactly that, two small spots of rotten fir each about the size of an egg.

The “affected spots” (read rotten) where cut out and then the timbers removed such that the replacement timbers would be long enough and their joints staggered enough to be strong.


A good friend on Quadra Island operates a small saw mill. Several years ago he had some very nice yellow cedar cross his mill. I bought some and it has been drying since then “just in case.”

The new wood starts to get bolted down in layers. Luke did a great job and we were lucky that he could reach the underside of all these timbers and bolt right through to the engine room and the accommodation areas. This is a bit magical as so much of the interior of the CIII is highly finished and these larger bolts are hidden.

A combination of lag bolts and thru bolts were used. The plugs were applied even between the layers of timbers.

We had done extensive repairs around this hawse-hole ring a few years back. It was a lot of work to literally rivet the two flanges together thru the timbers with 5/8″ bronze rod. We were loathe to do that again, so Luke squeaked the new timbers between the top edge of the hawse -hole rings.


The teak cap rail was over 20′ long in a single board in this section of the ship so rather than tear up sections of the bulwarks needlessly, Luke did some fine surgery and created a new scarf joint in the existing cap.

And here the original cap, still with its gloss finish, is bolted down and plugged.

The new scarf joint Luke cut in place.

And finally, after sanding all the old finish off and fairing up the caps, the first coat of protective finish goes on. This is imperative before the CIII comes out of the shed on its way to the ship yard.

But Luke wasn’t the only guy working. I had big manly projects too, although I did need Luke’s help.

25 years ago, the COLUMBIA III under went an extensive program to bring her into modern safety compliance. At that time two large CO2 cylinders were installed in the chapel head for an engine room fire suppression system. Since that time these cylinders have been inspected by many different Transport Canada inspectors and they have always been approved. Then in 2017 a mid-season spot inspection by Transport Canada decided that this arrangement was incorrect and no longer safe. CO2 cylinders should not be located in an accommodation area. Fine. We will fix this, but don’t act like I have been hiding these cylinders under a blanket for 25 years . . .

So let the fun begin. Luckily there was room in the engine room to relocate the cylinders out of the  accommodation area. This then required a “fire pull-station” outside the engine room for triggering the cylinders remotely.

This proved a simple and easily achieved project. All I had to do was create a spot in the engine room where one didn’t exist, relocate and up-grade a diesel fuel pump, move the main engine start battery box forward 4″, re-wire the starter circuit, create and weld a bracket to secure the large and heavy CO2 cylinders, clean the old tank storage area, create a new mahogany storage cabinet in the now vacant area, buy a pipe threading tool, create a “manual pull station” in the aft head and connect this pull station to the cylinders with a system of stainless steel pipe, wire and pulleys, make new placards and change the ship’s documentation to upgrade the SOP’s, emergency procedures and the employee safety training  documentation.

Easy- peezy!   (With maybe $5000 worth of parts and Luke and my time on top. . . )

Here is the engine room before the relocation began.

And here Luke is making a pattern for the welded aluminum bracket to hold the cylinders in their new home.

And I removed the battery box to alter it’s hold down structure and move the box 4″ forward. I decided to sand and paint the box while I had it in my shop.

As there is a remote fuel tank shut-off in that spot, Luke created a “shelf” for the two tanks to sit on. The new tank rack is now supported on the same steel stringer that supports the fuel tanks and is bolted to the fuel tanks themselves and to the deck head above.

I had to remove the old hand pump for topping up the generator and fireplace day tanks with an electric pump which was more compact. (See final entry of this post for a post-script on this pump!)

With the removal of the cylinders from the  chapel head, we have gained some valuable storage space. Unfortunately, it requires me to make new shelves and create a COLUMBIA III quality cabinet. More later on this one.

Here is part of pull-cable piping. There is actually a cable running inside that 3/8″ stainless steel piping and those brass thingys are corner pulleys. The one consolation is that the remote pull station heads are only $1000 each . . .

A bracket I made to support the pull-cable piping.

And the CO2 detector had to be relocated . . .

And if that wasn’t enough fun for one winter, I just couldn’t keep away for a skipper’s dream job; removing and replacing all the blackwater hoses, tanks and pumps from the ship. Despite flushing the system with fresh water, soap and bleach it was a smelly, icky job. Just the kind of job that a good skipper reserves for himself. It’s better to appear noble rather than be told to “take a long walk off a short pier . . .”

Here is two season’s of accumulation that has acreeted inside the black water discharge             pipe due to a chemical reaction between urine and salt water. Now that is PLUGGED! (This is      1 1/2″ diameter pipe).

You can see two plastic welded patches on one of the old blackwater tanks. I decided to replace them with custom welded stainless steel.

Number two tank getting ready to be removed. 

Up the stairs . . .

and out the door.


And about 6 weeks later, two new tanks . . . waiting for me to finish typing and get back to work!

Another tiny project . . .  the galley has a dry-erase board edged in stained and varnished mahogany. The old one was just too scratched and worn and needed to be replaced.

And installed in the galley . . .

And yet another small project . . . A gauge for telling how full my new blackwater tanks are. It will also read the diesel tanks as well.

The first big step of spring maintenance . . .

The ship comes out of the shed for the first time in 5 months in preparation for heading to the shipyard. It’s a big day and all the deckhands come out to help. Two skippers in training . . .

Maeve was helping alot too!     

The shed gate is closed again, ( this keeps the ends of the floating shed from flexing in and out in the waves) and the COLUMBIA III is ready to head to the shipyard.

After the COLUMBIA III was out of the shed, Theo (6) and Maeve (21/2) rowed home across the bay together. Its only about 150′ with mom on one dock and Farlyn and I on the other, but it was a classic coastal moment. These kids live, breathe and think boats and water. They will know more about the coast by the time they are 20 than I can absorb in my whole life. It’s rewarding to watch the process.

Farlyn and I head down to Campbell River, bound for the ship yard. Here we leave Diamond Bay and the boat shed on Sonora Island behind.

It was a wonderfully calm evening and SO!!! nice to feel the ship moving again. “This is what I work so hard for! This is it!”

Early the next morning we jumped off the C III and watched her get lifted. I never sleep well the night before the shipyard. I toss and turn, worrying black, 2am thoughts of straps breaking or nasty damage I didn’t anticipate. Of course, Ocean Pacific is so gentle with the COLUMBIA III, the crews always like to see her again. Smiles all round.
So I try to play the seasoned veteran but I’m still a jumble of nerves until she is safely sitting on the hard.

Here the boot-top black strip is getting redone. By-standers often remark how spotless the paint job looks and I feign complete shock, “Oh no! That is last year’s paint job. We will be hand sanding and repainting the whole boat in April. Then she will look pretty sharp!”

Here is a rare image and not something I want to see very often. The wheel house GPS chart plotter shows the CIII pulling into the lift bay and being driven onto the land! It even shows the track of the lift jockeying back and forth to fit us into the Ocean Pacific yard.

It’s always nice having Farlyn along. She emptied the chart table and sorted out all the bent paper clips and random accumulation of junk and presto! a chart table worthy of a blog shot!

Boot top touch up . . .

The shipyard crews needle gunned the rust off the swim grid and painted it.

Sure, I’m getting older every year, (like everyone else) but man oh man I am strong!

Five days later she gets an early morning lift. Done for another year I hope!

And back into the water. “Gently please! Gently!”

And now, the COLUMBIA III slips back into her shed. The crews show up in a week to strip her outside hardware and sand and paint in earnest.

I just spent the last few days sorting the paints and tidying the shed in preparation for the maintenance team!

By the end of the month she should be gleaming once again. That will be a separate blog if I remember to take pictures!

Oh, oh. An addendum. Silly me. I always start the spring maintenance on the 1st of April. .  . So this year is just the same, right? Nope! Nobody showed up. It is Easter Sunday. Oops! I don’t look at a calendar much on Sonora Island.  But Farlyn decided to work with me anyhow so we spent the day in the engine room. She changed oil, filters and impellers on our 2 gensets and replaced all the fresh water filters. Here she is changing the light bulb in the UV filter.

Whilst I had just so much fun trying out the new fuel transfer pump. It is only used once every 5 years if I need to top up the genset day tank . . . so I went cheap and bought the $350 model instead of the other pump which was $650 . . .  Whilst Farlyn was working on once side of the engine room I was spraying myself  and 25% of the engine room in diesel shooting out the SIDE OF THE BRAND NEW PUMP HOUSING! . . . I was also spraying colourful sailor language around the engine room as well. Poor Farlyn wasn’t blushing . . . she was laughing. No respect.

And very messy in my normally tidy engine room . . .