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,


Spring 2015: SPV

Sand, Paint, Varnish. REPEAT!!!!!!!!!!! Steve started sanding as soon as the boat was back in the shed after the ship yard. The WHOLE boat got sanded on the outside (O.K. I lied. We didn’t do the masts this year. We did them last year and just did touch-ups this year.)IMGP6133

And I “dug into” a small issue. The deckhouse roof was fit out 50 years ago with galvanized steel downspouts. I wanted to replace one of the worse and chiseled and cut the first one out of the roof.


The old downspout hanging below the deckhouse soffit.IMGP6184  IMGP6140 IMGP6141


A crude router jig to clean up my chiseling surgery . . .

IMGP6142 IMGP6143

The new brass fitting right before I epoxied it into place. Good for another 60 years!IMGP6185

Then I clamped in a piece of yellow cedar to repair the cut-out I had made . . . IMGP6192

The new brass downspout in place.IMGP6187

AND  . . . Sand and sand and . . .IMGP6144

sand  and . . .



and sand . . .



and sand . . . IMGP6148

and sand . . .IMGP6149

and sand . . . .


Another small side project. The main ship’s batteries were never properly vented to the outside, So I made a new vented box over the batteries with a small computer fan for extra venting under conditions when the batteries are gassing such as when they are equalized.IMGP6166 IMGP6167

Sand the transom ready for varnish . . . IMGP6180

A bit of repairs near the bowstem. i am SO not a ship wright. The small piece of wood was totally non parallel, curved, slanty, tapered and generally confusing for a poor carpenter that likes right angles and parallel sides . . . . I made 3 until  I  got it right. . . . IMGP6182

Selfie  . . . .


Sand, Sand, Sand . . . . What a MESS!!!!IMGP6188 IMGP6190

The big day came when the sanding was finally finished and the sun shown brightly. So we pulled the CIII out of the shed to wash her clean and dry her in the sun . . . IMGP6193 IMGP6196

Wash, wash, wash. from the very top to the water line . . .   IMGP6198 IMGP6200 IMGP6202

Even the deck chairs were scrubbed with scotch brite to prep them for another coat of Cetolclear gloss finish . . .

IMGP6203 IMGP6204

Stain the transom . . . IMGP6205


A small diversion. the lid for for our roof top freezer box was mistakenly opened too quickly on a gusty, windy day and the lid was damaged. It was easier to make a new lid than repair the old . . IMGP6206 IMGP6207 IMGP6208 IMGP6209


Varnish the transom . . .  4 times . . . IMGP6210

Paint the green bulwarks . . . IMGP6213 IMGP6216 IMGP6217


Paint the roof details . . .   IMGP6219 IMGP6221

Wipe the varnish clean with paint thinner . . . IMGP6222

Varnish the exterior teak doors and windows . . .IMGP6223 IMGP6225 IMGP6226 IMGP6228

A few accumulated cans of paint and spare paint brushes . . . IMGP6230

Cold zinc the stanchions  . . .

IMGP6231 IMGP6232

Paint the deck house . . .


Paint the hull . . .



Paint the inside of the bulwarks . . .


and paint . . .


and paint . . .!!!!!!