By Marc Costa
“Columbia, gem of the ocean!” Built in 1964 in Provincetown for my dad, Elmer M. Costa, Columbia has been in the “family” since new. Elmer equally loved the sea, boats and fishing. He left high school after eighth grade to fish with his dad on Liberty, a 36-foot-long liner and then, for 37 years, commercially on many of his own vessels. He owned lots of boats, but loved Columbia.
Columbia literally came from ashes. In 1963 while my grandfather, John, was towing the “first” Columbia from Rock Harbor to Provincetown, she caught fire and burned to the waterline off Wellfleet. She was insured, but now to replace her. Elmer and my mom, Jackie, searched the coast for a boat to buy. While there were plenty of boats, unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of “good” boats out there. Elmer knew boats! He saw a sister ship of Columbia in Rhode Island and, as my mother recalls, that was it. Being 43 feet and boasting a beam of close to 15 feet, she was big for her day, and the design, by Phil Bolger, was way ahead of her time. Looking stopped and the building began.
Elmer hired a long time boat repair facility, Taves’ Boatyard in Provincetown. Taves did major repairs to almost every boat in Provincetown, and were masters at boat building, but had never built a boat from the keel up. Columbia was the “one,” and the heart and soul of Frank Taves and the three other builders went into her. Their craftsmanship attests to the fact that Columbia is still here 45 years later and in original but used condition.
A little about me. I love boats too! Love to work on them as much as I like to work them, meaning it’s a passion of mine. There’s nothing like refinishing a boat so she looks like new. In high school I was in shop building my first boat while cutting class. After graduation I bought my first reconstruction, and that was the start of many. My dad taught me most of what I know about wooden boats. Now after rebuilding many of my own, I’m in the process of bringing Columbia back to pristine condition.
Columbia is built of white oak frames and clear cedar planking shipped from Virginia. Silicone bronze screws hold the planks on the frames. The planks and screws are still in impressive condition; however, some of the frames where “sweet” or fresh water that was present daily had caused the oak to decay and lose strength. While on a regular fishing trip in 2008 in much less than good weather, Columbia’s condition caught up with her, and things started to fail. She began to take on water and needed assistance. I was on my own charter boat that day about five miles away. Columbia was on Billingsgate Shoal when the mayday call came over the radio. The captain decided to keep the boat in shallow water just in case. Ironically, she was only a stone’s throw from where the first boat burned. I transferred to Columbia in a very dangerous leap of faith, something I don’t think I’d do again. Columbia was flooded with 2 feet of water in her and pumps were not working. We immediately started to bail and headed for home.
After 10 minutes and many buckets we were seeing the level fall. Shortly after we had a USCG 47’ and a helicopter escorting us safely back into Rock Harbor. An inspection found that the main pump had blocked discharge and that the second was fouled with debris. Once cleared, she finished the season; however, it was clear that she needed work.
In the fall she was hauled to Karl’s Boat Shop. The engine, tanks, exhaust and deck were removed to reveal the boat’s framing. The framing is nearly the first stage of building a wooden boat, and it had to come out without disturbing the soft cedar planking, so each screw was found and taken out. Work was done in stages to keep the shape of the boat. Once out, each new piece had to be shaped to the hull, difficult because there are curves and bevels on the side that meet the planking.
Over two winters, reframing of the boat was finished. She got a new deck, tanks, exhaust and her 1969 engine was replaced with new diesel. She fished the 2010 season and went back into the boat shop for year number three of work. Year three she got a new forward deck. Last winter we replaced the cabin top and much needed paint. Through all of the rebuild she never got much attention to paint and polish so it was difficult for people to appreciate what was done.
This year it all came together! Columbia looks much less than her age of 48. It’s so rewarding when people come by the boat at the harbor and tell of stories of having fished on her years ago. She’s still a work in progress and plans for next year are already in the works. A labor of love … that’s all I can say except for “thanks” to everyone for their help and support, especially my mom who gave me the opportunity to restore Columbia.
-Marc Costa is a resident of Eastham and is a charter captain out of Rock Harbor.