Thursday, December 12, 2013

Destiny: a Unique Columbia 43 With a Rich History

Destiny, a 1971 Columbia 43, is a well-traveled boat.
Destiny, a 1971 Columbia 43, was the live-aboard home for Gerry Waterson for more than a decade. He cruised her to Maine, Nova Scotia, England, the Jersey Isles, Canary Islands, Azores, Windward and Leeward Islands, Pueto Rico, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, Florida and the Chesapeake Bay.

He and his wife bought the boat when he was 31 and she was 29 after seeing her at the Annapolis Boat Show. "I fell in love with her lines immediately," Gerry said. "I could see she would be a great cruising boat."

He asked Columbia to build his boat with a shallow-draft keel. "I may have been the first to use the smaller keel," he said. "I told Columbia that I wanted a five-foot one instead of the seven-foot one or the centerboard model. I knew reef avoidance was a major consideration where I would be traveling. I drew a diagram of a keel roughly based on the Star class boats with a large streamlined  bubble at the bottom and Columbia made it. I'm not sure if they offered it to others; they said they might. If so, I was the first to have one. If any readers had that keel configuration, I'd like to know."

Gerry said he used to race informally against a Columbia 43 with the deep-draft keel and didn't notice any difference in performance.

Gerry paid around $30,000 for his new boat back in 1971 with Atomic 4 gas engine and special-made five-foot keel. If you run that through the Inflation Calculator it comes out to be about $173,000. The cost of a new Corvette was about $5,000 in 1971.
Destiny is docked behind Gerry's home.
That was just the beginning of the changes Gerry made to Destiny. After taking possession in August 1971, he replaced the gasoline engine with a Westerbeke diesel, replaced the alcohol stove/oven with a stainless steel propane one, added mast steps, replaced the fuel and water tanks with bladder types and added some more in other compartments of the vessel and added a wind-vane style self steering mechanism.

After getting the boat, Gerry and his wife spent every weekend and vacations on the boat, including during cold weather. They were living in Philadelphia at the time where he was Director of Computing at Rutgers University and she was a physical therapist. They moved aboard full time in 1976 and continued to work on outfitting the boat.

"Our last winter before we left I added a small firebox that burned pea coal and that provided more than enough heat on a freezing night," he said. "We lived and worked in the Philadelphia area while refitting Destiny into a shorthanded vessel, adding self tailing winches, a substantial anchor davit and windlass [to handle the] all chain rode, fanny supports around the mast to facilitate sail changes and life raft support on the cabin top that made for an easy toss into the ocean if need be."

He also added a boom crutch, which served as the front support for an awning that covered the entire cockpit. One last addition was a club jib, "which was great for sailing in high wind conditions since it was not way up at the bow and it was a small sail that could even be furled into a smaller area."

In 1977, before he started cruising full time, Gary gathered some friends to sail from Cape May, New Jersey to Bermuda.

"We didn't have weather forecasting like there is today, but did check as best I could. It's around 600 miles and I thought I could make it in around five days or so," Gerry recalled. "Hurricane force winds developed and we were in a terrible blow. We used double reefed main, reefed club jib and dragged a sea anchor for stability. All of sudden the furling genoa unfurled and the boat went over on the side with the mast touching the water. Then the genoa caught wind on the other side and went to the other side touching water on other side. Before we could all say our last prayers, the genoa ripped to shreds and we were saved. We limped along as the storm abated and tried to determine where we were using sextant (no GPSs in those days) but I couldn't get a great position. We saw very large U.S. Navy ship in distance."

The ship was the cruiser USS Columbus. It came towards Destiny, probably because they saw the shredded sail on the forestay.

"It looked enormous alongside Destiny and we had to speak via megaphone since our radio was out of commission," Gerry continued. "I asked for our position and a bearing to Bermuda."

After sailing for a few days it became clear that either the Navy gave Gerry wrong coordinates or he misheard because the sextant readings didn't jibe with where the Navy said they were. Eventually he got the readings to work out and Destiny limped into Bermuda. "She was a mess with vomit, paper mush and broken items all over."

Gerry said he loved the club jib and never used a roller furling sail again after that experience.
This bow photo showes several modifications Gerry made to his boat, including the bow roller for the anchor.

The harrowing trip to Bermuda didn't dissuade Gerry from his dream of cruising full time. In 1978 he and his wife chucked their jobs and cut the dock lines. He cruised with her for two years. They divorced in 1980.
"She was very excited to do what we did," Gerry said, "but she really did want the white picket fence. I continued my cruising  and then I remarried in 1986."

Next came a house, then a job, then a business. The house required a cedar shingle roof, new bathrooms, new windows, new patios.... "The intervening years went by fast but each year I look out at my dream and shed a silent tear as to what was and what could be," Gerry said.

The other priorities lead to Destiny being ignored. Water damage from deck leaks, a failed hose and defective bilge pump left her with a long to-do list. But Gerry is committed to bringing her back.

"Your work has inspired me to bring Destiny back to life," Gerry said. "It might take me five or 10 years but I've already started the planning. I am fortunate to live near Annapolis, Md., so there are local places to buy all sorts of exotic woods, maybe rebuild the Westerbeke 40 and get some stanchions replaced. I'm 73 so I'll have to work fast."