Sand and paint and varnish and stuff . . . and COVID-19????

I took the ship to Campbell River for her usual out of water maintenance and 4 year Transport Canada inspection. And I brought her home and started to organize crews for the annual sand/paint/varish-athon for April . . .

But what is this new THING in the world?? Contriv 23??? Coorving 47???   No, COVID-19 . . . a pandemic!

A what?? No, no, no, that is far away in another land. That won’t come here, not to my tiny little bay and upset my ordered little life and my ordered little family business . . . .


To start with, we had to find crews that could self-isolate for 14 days before they could even come to our remote bay. We didn’t want to jeopardize our grand-kids nor my elderly skipper, Dennis.

Ok. stand back. I might be on the verge of a rant . . . But I will try to be discrete…                  Yes I know, uncharacteristic for me but . . .

Often my blog is driven by my secret desire for my guests to see the amount of work that goes into keeping a historic wooden vessel in top condition. I want guests to know this for two reasons: one, for my personal glory when most of the time my work is hidden from view, the Doctor of Marine Voodoo, where if I do my job really well, no one will ever know it was done….. Like a toilet that never fails or plugs . . . and reason number two, is for guests to take some pride in knowing that their money is going to preserve this classic ship and that they are paying competent crews a fair wage to do good work.

But now a new dynamic has entered the stage that I’d like to address.

Our tours fill early. Sometimes even two years in advance. Guests pay their deposits to reserve their spots, also sometimes two years in advance. This cash is what I use to get the boat ready for the up-coming season; for simple things like insurance, and sand paper and paint and replacement kayaks and WAGES to make sure the entire vessel gleams when the first guest arrives in May.

This year, because Covid-19 has closed the international border and Transport Canada has forbidden us from carrying passengers and coastal communities have closed their airports and BC Parks has closed the areas to which we travel . . . . we are unable to run our tours.  And because of factors well beyond our control we are scrambling to work with our guests to give them credits for future tours, or assist them in claiming travel insurance or giving a full refund if that is what works best for the guest.

This is all OK, even if  our hard won company savings are dwindling at an alarming rate. But please understand, the deposits sent to us in advance for the 2020 season have been spent. Look at every photo that follows and think “dedicated employee” and think “wages”. Think tens of thousands of dollars of supplies to get the ship in mint condition for our guests: upgraded kayaks ($8800), main engine over-haul ($30.000),  new life-raft ($7500), new mattresses ($1500), overhauled anchor winch ($2500) and auto pilot ($4000). and all the labour at $35-$50/hour to perform the work and sand and paint the ship . . . .

Of course, we value our reputation and customer service is our mantra, and we will repay any deposit requested in this crazy pandemic, but if you receive a refund please remember these blog posts and all the personnel hours that go into getting the ship ready for her season, even if we can’t run! This year has been financially devastating for our small family business. The ship is now ready to go, everyone has been paid for work done and refunds have been made when requested, but our savings have plummeted.

I just had to say.

So . . . .

This year we prepared the COLUMBIA III the same as every other year. To the best of our ability and stamina we have endeavoured to get the ship ready for her esteemed and deserving guests. At this point in time I am uncertain if she will have a single guest aboard in 2020. And this means we might not have a cent of revenue.


We try to sand the main wheel house every two seasons and this was the winter to resand, fill and paint the entire deckhouse/wheel house. We also stripped the guards to bare wood to keep them looking nearly perfect. Here I give Deirdre Leowinata  a hand stripping the finish off the starboard guard rail…..

and ace kayaking guide and learning-to-be-a-darn-good-ship’s sander-and-painter . . . Robin Humphreys sands the underside of the guard rail.

and skipper/son/environmental photographer/ship maintenance wizard, Tavish at work.

Frustratingly, the zillion coats of spar varnish we put on the new transom last year did NOT stand up to the ultra-violet of the 2019 summer and needed to be entirely stripped to bare wood after only 5 months at sea. As this was Luke’s pet project we let him refinish the surface. No one else wanted to risk gouging the mirror-like finish with a slip of the sander or scrapper.

Honestly, I kind a forgot to take many pictures during the sanding phase this year . . .  so onto painting . . .


Starting from the top down . . .

Here the bulwarks and the hull have been sanded and primed . . .

and many of the loose items have been removed, sanded and repainted.

There is an insane number of corners and surfaces to repaint on the anchor winch.

Here the inside of the bulwarks are painted white. One painter rolls out the paint, one brushes the edges and tricky bits (called cutting) and one brushes all the roller stipple out (called tipping).

And the wheel house gets her paint.

The spare anchor hawse pipe gets a coat of cold zinc paint.                

and Tavish is always great at catching the small details that are easy to miss.


After the dusty sanding and the drippy painting is done we move onto the finishing of the brightwork.

And this year, 8 coats of Cetol Marine Gloss go on the transom. Lets see how this stands up to the elements .

and many coats later . . .

and STUFF:

Whilst everyone else concentrates on the sand/paint/varnish phase, I organize and work on the bits and pieces of the ship’s maintenance that needs to be done to keep the COLUMBIA III up to snuff. And in this modern bureaucratic world we live in I spend a huge amount of time on the computer making sure Mothership Adventures and the COLUMBIA III are “in compliance.” (Gee, I think that could be THE MOST BORING blog entry possible! Stand-by to be overwhelmingly bored!)

Our existing life-raft was 25 years old and needed replacement. Luke designed, welded and installed a new cradle for the life-raft.

The new raft was quite heavy and needed to be winched into place with a set of blocks suspended from the boat shed rafters.

And the salon fire place runs all winter to keep the ship dry. Here I made the 1 hour run to Campbell River to pick up two more barrels of stove oil which we transfer out of the skiff by pump.

A new link was installed in the anchor rode to prevent electrolysis between the stainless cable and the galvanized chain.

Bits and pieces get reinstalled after refinishing

Tavish helps get the anchor and its chain back aboard after painting the winch.

I installed 4 more new smoke detectors on the ship so that every single compartment on the ship now has a dedicated smoke detector connected to the 8-zone fire detection system.  

And here my Skipper, Dennis, tries to help me figure out why the anchor winch hydraulic pump failed when I was pulling the new chain aboard.

Ahhh, the ball bearing race fell into pieces into my hand . . . not a good sign!.

After a bunch of unsuccessful effort to find parts for the old pump I finally sourced a new pump assembly

But anything new requires new mounting hardware, different length belts, and of course the aluminum belt guard needed to be modified.  

We carry a pretty extensive first aid kit . . .  but all medical supplies have a limited life span and keeping track of which items have expired each year is a tedious task.

Here is this year’s portion of the supplies that were replaced. And all dates noted in the records . . .

I retired two kayaks from the fleet and replaced them with two new ones.

The other kayaks were not that old but they had different sized cockpits and it was confusing for guests to have different spray skirts for different boats . .  I just wanted them all the same!

Further to the idea of constant upgrades, I sourced two new custom made mattresses for the aft staterooms. The idea is to change a few each year . .

Ah. . .  here is a little sea story . . . on the second last tour of the year we had a very abrupt and unforecast change in the weather and we found ourselves in gusts to 56 knots whilst running for a safe anchorage. In one intense burst, the lid to our spare life jacket box on the roof tore loose and was lost instantly over board. We also lost 5 life jackets . . . So I made a new lid,

with nice strong hasps to latch it shut ….

and extra hinges for a secure windward-side attachment . …

and 5 new life jackets . . . easy peezy.

and I may as well make the freezer box more secure while I am at it . . .

I had a second expansion tank custom made and I installed it in the exhaust stack closet. This was the final stage to an up-grade to the engine and radiator coolant system I made over the winter.

And all the new valving in the engine room was too heavy for the existing supports so Luke custom made a stronger bracket . . .

And just to add to the fun a recreational boater was out camping near our island and their motor decided to break its drive shaft . . . So I jumped in our skiff and gave them a 50 minute tow back to their starting point at Heriot Bay where their truck and trailer was parked. With the Covid-19 afoot, I stayed a good distance away and tossed them a tow line. We never got closer than 20 feet! Now, what was I working on when the Marine Assistance Request came over the radio??

Attention to detail is my second name . . ( yes, a weird second name).  The aft head has a nice wide shelf great for storing tooth brushes, shampoo bottles and drinking water glasses. But, there was never any rail to keep said objects in place. I designed the rail and Luke silver soldered the brass together. It is the perfect height such that even if the glass falls over it can’t roll under the rail.

And last but not least, I completed my 60 page annual report that I provide Transport Canada a week before they come to inspect our ship. It contains all my required certificates, and a record of all safety related upgrades to the COLUMBIA III. I also send a copy to my insurance agent. But it only takes me a week or so to produce this document . .

And now we are in a holding pattern. The COLUMBIA III is looking pretty darn shiny and ready to go. And it seems strange to have the calendar say JULY and the ship is still tucked securely in her shed. Waiting. Unfortunately, we are not sure what we are waiting for . . . a miracle perhaps, a vaccine that works perfectly and is cheap and abundant . . .  or maybe we can run some small family group tours in the fall . . . if there is an area that would allow us to do so . . . .

But  a word of gratitude here too. Many of our guests, some returning, some whom have never met us, have chosen to move their deposits to next year and beyond. And some have even voluntarily requested a reduced refund to help us bridge this unprecedented year. These are generous gestures and we appreciate the understanding.

One final point for me to ponder: I haven’t had a summer off in 50 years!  But I’m not much for laying about . . . .

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