Category Archives: Winter Maintenance

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

Winter Maintenance 2015/2016

Well, we’ve been planning this one for years. An older wooden vessel is a “work in progress” and the COLUMBIA III is no different than any other classic wooden yacht. And I think the word “classic” means a classically huge amount of work. The roof covering the aft deck provides wonderful shelter from hot sun or driving rain, but it was getting tired. We have made some pretty major repairs to portions of the structure but it was taking more and more time with diminishing results. So, we had some wonderfully clear, old-growth Douglas Fir cut especially for the project about 2 years ago in preparation, and this was stored in the boat shed. After Luke and I penciled in the calendar we decided this was the winter to remove the entire aft deck roof structure and replace it.

First on the list was to remove the steel mast which when folded down to fit in the shed would be in the way of the work. Here we winched the mast up to the ceiling of the shed, pulled the CIII out and then lowered the mast onto the herring skiff to transport it over to the welding shed for winter storage and future spring maintenance.


Skipper/mentor/great grandpa Dennis brought his skiff in to move the mast. You can just see the CIII outside at our main dock waiting to get tucked back into the shed for the winter.


All the kayaks were hoisted to the rafters to make room . . .


And then, as some macabre scene from a wooden boat owners worst nightmare, Luke began chainsawing the Columbia III to pieces!


We wanted to retain the individual pieces to use as templates, so here Luke cut the plywood decking material out from between each rafter and then removed the rafters for future measurement.


Although the roof was about 95% sound, there were certainly areas of concern that we were very aware of. The roof itself was added on in the early 1970’s and it had held up amazingly well for the harsh marine environment of  the BC temperate rainforest. We had replaced the corner structure on the port side a few winters ago and here was the starboard roof corner. This was the main reason we chose to refurbish the roof. I decided it would be more cost effective to replace the roof completely rather than patch areas continually.


Here is a cross-section of the roof trim and plywood deck . . . . a good section.


Here is a section that justified replacing.


And the demolition continued . . .


Finally we got to dig into the lumber stored for the project.


You can see the “gate” to the boat shed is open for the herring skiff to come in to pick up the lumber . . . .


. . . .for transfer to Luke’s shop for running through his big thickness planer.


And then . . . I forgot to take pictures for a few weeks and presto! It looks like Luke is a really fast worker!


Note the clear, fir! And some brass rods installed for coat hangers next summer.


The new structure will be much stronger and certainly more water-tight to prevent the water damage we had to replace. All joints and connections are being glued together with epoxy.


And because glue is drippy, sticky and icky on our otherwise pristine vessel, we wrapped the bright work in towels for bump-protection and then plastic-ed the entire aft of the ship to catch the random drips that might occur.


Here is a sneak peak into my workshop. 20’x36′ is never enough space, but a lot of wood working has occurred here in the last 32 years. Luke’s brother, Malcolm came to visit and here he is checking out the project.


Next in line is getting the  marine grade plywood ready to lay on the roof joists. By planing a fixed bevel on the ends of the sheets, Luke is able to glue the sheets together end to end to make the joints stronger and easier to make water-tight. Here is a detail of the scarf joint.IMGP6578

And two sheets gluing together before they get covered in fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin. They will then be transferred down to the ship for gluing in place.


The Columbia III is at sea for about 5 months each year, and the most asked question by guests is “What do you do in the winter?” The ship works in the summer with the guests aboard. We work all year around to ensure this heritage boat stays in top shape for the next season’s guests. And yes, many of you return and I have to maintain the image!

Here, April Bencze caught a great shot of Luke; master paddler/skipper/woodworker/naturalist and pretty good son-in-law too.


More posts will follow. I am keeping busy on other aspects of the ship. Stay tuned for fascinating details!

All the best,