Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Columbia 43: Hot racing yacht now a comfortable, fast cruiser

Below is a story that I wrote for Good Old Boat Magazine. While it didn't make it into the Magazine, the editor invited me to write a boat review for a Columbia 43. It could not be my own boat so I chose to write about my friend Craig Shaw's beautiful Adios in Portland, Ore. It appeared in the May/June 2019 Good Old Boat issue. Since then I have reviewed two more boats for the magazine.

Encore races to the finish line during the 1971 Transpac race where she won first in Class C

By Brandon Ford

At the height of his career, a new race boat design from the board of William Tripp Jr. was big news in the yachting world. The Columbia 43 is a case in point. Before the first hull was even built in 1969, Columbia had 21 orders in hand for the flush-decked sloop. By the time the first boat was launched, 60 racing skippers put money down for one.

The 43 did not disappoint. It was an immediate racing success winning several major ocean races in the first few years. Encore was first in class and 11th in fleet when she sailed in the 1971 Transpac from San Pedro, Calif., to Honolulu. Another 43, Blue Norther, was the overall winner in the Ocean Racing Class of the Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race. With 539 entries, it was the world's largest ocean race at the time.

One magazine ad touted the big sloop as the "Magnificent Aggressor" in the headline. "This is undoubtedly one of the most aggressively designed ocean racers ever created by the famed naval architect, Bill Tripp.... Classified as light-displacement, the Columbia 43 exhibits the highest sail-area-to-wetted-surface ratio of any of his designs."

At about 23,000 pounds all up, she would be considered a medium displacement sailboat by modern standards, but during the waning years of the Cruising Club of  America (CCA) rating rule she could be considered light. By comparison, a Columbia 50, an earlier Tripp design with nearly the same waterline length and beam, weighs more than half again as much.

Columbia Yachts president Dick Valdez
 discusses a design with Bill Tripp, JR.

Columbia 43s were competitive even after the racing community adopted the International Offshore Rule (IOR) in 1971, replacing the CCA rule the boat was originally designed to compete under. In 1973 Columbia introduced the Mark III, which added six feet to the mast, six inches to the bow and shortened the boom by a foot to give the boat a higher-aspect ratio rig favored by the IOR. The Mark III also had a redesigned keel moving the ballast lower and reducing wetted surface even more.

Columbia ended production of the 43 in 1974 after producing 152 of the boats. They remain popular because of their fine sailing qualities, strong build, and spacious accommodations.

A Columbia 43 graced the cover of the July 1978 issue of Motor Boating & Sailing magazine. In 2013, a Columbia 43, Stumppy J, raced in the Transpac finishing sixth in its class. (The famous Sparkman & Stevens 53-foot yawl Dorade took first in the same class).

The 43's versatile accommodations plan is well laid out for racing, cruising or entertaining. It has a large, efficient galley to port has double sinks near the centerline of the boat and two large ice boxes. The galley is convenient to the cockpit as is the a large U-shaped dinette to starboard. A former owner of a 43 affectionately called the dinette "our Denney's booth." It can easily accommodate six adults.

A step down takes you forward of the small, gun-turret house and under the large flush deck to the main salon. The facing settees convert into four excellent sea berths. Forward of that is a spacious head to starboard with a large, standing chart table and nav station to port. The V-berth in the forward owner's cabin is large enough that one owner put in a queen-size foam mattress with very little trimming. There are two large hanging lockers, one to port the other to starboard.

The arrangement is roomy and open with lots of headroom (6'4" throughout most the cabin) and it puts four good sea berths in the middle of the boat. The stand-up chart table across from the head has plenty of room for charts and electronics.

The standard boat carried 48 gallons of fuel and 50 gallons of water, but many boats were ordered with the option to double that capacity.

One of the most outstanding features of the boat is its 10-foot long cockpit. It's big, but not too big. Comfortable, dry and secure, it is easy to grind the winches when racing, or snuggle in for a night watch. At anchor, the cockpit can easily accommodate eight people if they are friendly. "This is the greatest cockpit of any boat I've ever been on," said a former owner who lived aboard his boat for 13 years while working in the marine wholesale business.

Columbia built  about a third of the 152 Columbia 43s at its yard in Portsmouth, Va., and the rest in the Costa Mesa, Calif., yard. The longevity of the hand-laid, pre-oil-crisis fiberglass construction means most are still sailing.

At least one Columbia 43 has circumnavigated the globe and another is most the way round.

Blue Norther a race-winning 43 became a TV star on ABC in her 40s

Blue Norther
, the race-winning boat featured in early Columbia magazine ads, became a television star in her 40s. She was the boat Amanda in the TV series Revenge. She appeared in several episodes in the 2012-2013 second season of the ABC television series. There are some nice scenes of her sailing and even some interior shots. In the climactic second-season finale, much of the action takes place on the boat. There is a murder aboard, an explosion, and the boat sinks. The sinking wasn't for real, she still sails on most Saturdays from her slip in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Adios, a 1969 Columbia 43, sails out of Tomahawk Island in Portland, Ore. She has been part of the Shaw family for more than 30 years and is now the home of Craig Shaw. Shaw raced with his father and then as the owner in scores of offshore and local races, including the Pacific Cup races from San Francisco to Hawaii. Dozens of racng awards cover one bulkhead in the boat.

Adios is also a regular in the Baha Haha, a cruising rally that sails from San Diego to the Sea of Cortez every year at the end of October. Photos of Adios and Shaw grace several covers of Latitude 38, the magazine that sponsors the rally. Shaw, who works as a professional yacht rigger, recalls one sail bringing Adios back from 1988 Pacific Cup race. As he headed back home to Oregon, the boat was surfing at speeds up to 15.5 knots under a small headsail only.

To read more about Adios see the May/June 2019 issue of Good Old Boat magazine.

Tranquilo under sail in Aruba.

Tranquilo, a red 43 in Aruba, takes as many as 22 passengers out for day sails; a job it's done almost every day since 1977, first under Mike Hagedoorn and then under his son Anthony. The large flush deck and 10-foot cockpit comfortably handles the passengers on a four-hour snorkel and lunch cruise.

In addition to the Mark I and the Mark III, Columbia also built a Mark II 43 with a centerboard. Even though it was the largest sailing yacht builder of the time with a 35 to 40 percent share of the sailboat auxiliary market, Columbia would customize boats to meet their customer's needs.

Gerry Waterson's Columbia 43 Destiny sailed extensively in the Atlantic and Caribbean
Gerry Waterson saw a brand new Columbia 43 at a boat show and thought it would be perfect for his cruising plans -- except for the deep draft. He didn't want the bother of a centerboard, so Waterson drew up a shallow keel with a streamlined bulb on the end. It reduced the draft from 6 feet, 11 inches to 5 feet. Columbia built a boat with the custom keel for him.

Destiny was Waterson's home for more than a decade. He cruised her to Maine, Nova Scotia, England, the Jersey Isles, Canary Islands, Azores, Windward and Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, Florida and the Chesapeake Bay. After all those miles he has nothing but praise for the sea-keeping abilities of the Columbia 43.

After sailing our boat, Oceanus, more than 10,000 miles, that was my experience as well. She is well mannered on every point of sail with a comfortable motion that doesn’t wear out the crew. Best of all, she is a fast passage maker. Without pushing hard, we can easily make 160-mile plus days in all but the lightest conditions. Crossing from Mexico to Hawaii with just two crew took 21 days to cover 2,750 miles. That included three days of loafing along under a poled-out genoa, a light reaching staysail and no main in very light winds.

Columbia 43s love the open ocean. Like other owners, we experienced speeds in the low-teens while surfing on reaches and runs. Far from white knuckling it, the boat practically sails herself and always feels under control. On one memorable run from Drake’s Bay, passed San Francisco to Halfmoon Bay, Calif., we averaged 10 knots for more than an hour while surfing on 16-foot waves. The same day saw 22-foot breaking seas across the entire entrance to San Francisco Bay and the Titans of Mavericks big-wave surf competition. Far from “white knuckling it,” everyone aboard Oceanus, except the helmsman, spent the time napping in the mid-winter sunshine.

Serendipity was home to Tom and Karen Gray for 25 years

Like Waterson, the Hagedoorns and the Shaws, many Columbia owners keep their boats for decades even passing them down to their children. Tom and Karen Gray lived aboard their Columbia 43, Serendipity, for 25 years. Their daughter, Samantha, was born after they began living aboard, under, what Karen calls, the "make-your-own-crew plan." Sam grew up cruising the Caribbean and Florida with her parents. After Tom died and Samantha left for college, Karen put their beloved boat up for sale.

The new owner, Leigh Weber, is an experienced sailor. He plans an extensive refit before taking his family cruising in Serendipity. So, another Columbia 43 passes to a new generation. The aggressive racing boat is proving to be a magnificent cruising boat as it passes the half-century mark.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Voyaging through life

Oceanus in her new home: Olympia, Wash.
Oceanus moored in her new home, Olympia, Washington.

By Brandon Ford

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always our self we find in the sea
 -- ee cummings

There is no better metaphor for this journey through life than a sea voyage. It is always a call to adventure. It requires preparation for both the vessel and her crew. It requires a destination. But most of all it requires the courage of the crew to leave safe harbor and strength to see the voyage through to the end.

I first started dreaming about making a sea voyage myself at the age of 13. I read an article in National Geographic about a boy, Robin Lee Graham, who set out to sail around the world alone at age 16 -- only three years older than me! The story and the idea completely captivated me. I wanted to see what he saw, experience what he experienced and accomplish something big.

Instead of 16, I was 61 when I set out on my sea voyage. It wasn’t around the world and I wasn’t alone, thank goodness. My voyage took my wife and me from Newport, Ore., to California, the wild west coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, into the Sea of Cortez, then to Hawaii where, for 13 months, we cruised seven of the eight main islands. It took us 24 days to sail from Ni'ihau to Port Angeles. In addition to my wife and I, we had our 14 year old grandson who flew to Oahu to join us for his first voyage. 

Elijah on watch in the mid-Pacific.
It was not a circumnavigation of the world that I first dreamed of, and it took a little less than two years, instead of the five years it took Graham, but I will always remember and be grateful for the experience.

During our three years of rebuilding and outfitting our 1971 Columbia 43 prior to setting out, we met many would-be voyagers making their own preparations to cut the dock lines. Some spent years working on their boats, most for much longer than us. When we left all but one couple were still dithering on with a list of projects that kept them from leaving.

One old salt liveaboard, who circumnavigated the Pacific three decades and two wives earlier, paid us little attention at first. But as we walked past his boat nearly every day carrying tools, resin, wood parts and cartloads of equipment for months, he slowly opened up to us. He started offering good advice and encouragement. He even got his shy Samoan wife to help us weave true-lover-knot mats for our companionway steps. He saw that we might be different from the dreamers he was used to seeing. When we left on a sunny morning in early February he was on the dock waving goodbye.

When Robin Lee Graham returned from his voyage around the world he said, “At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much.” In addition to that, we learned how self reliant we could be and how much we have to be grateful for.

(copyright Brandon Ford)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Aloha Hawai'i

Last night's sunset over Hanalei Bay, Kauai.
Today we leave Kauai. We enjoyed our year on the Hawaiian islands. A fond aloha to all the good friends we made here.

We are hoping for a fast, uneventful passage to Olympia, Wash., Oceanus' new home port.

Follow our progress on the link to the right.

See you on the other side of the ocean,
Brandon and Virginia

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cast iron keels and keel bolts


...after sand blasting, epoxy filling and sanding, then three coats of epoxy primer the cast-iron keel of our Columbia 43 is ready for bottom paint. It has a complex and beautiful shape that you could only achieve with a strong, durable materal like iron.
I get a lot of questions about keel bolts. Almost every potential owner and owner of a Columbia 43 worries about them.

I only really know about my boat, a Columbia 43 Mark I, but I think it is like most of Tripp-designed boats Columbia built. They had cast-iron keels attached with galvanized keel bolts. The keel was set in a socket in the fiberglass hull with an industrial adhesive called Furane Epibond, which is still made today.
The keel installation page from the Columbia 43 plan set. Note the beautiful drafting, which was all done by hand. Tripp was a consummate artist.

Here's an interesting paragraph from a 1971 article in Boating Magazine describing in detail how the keel on a Columbia 43 is attached:

"With a 10,250-pound cast iron fin keel hanging on the bottom of the boat, we were interested in the method used to secure same. We found that the keel flange is flushed into a recess or pocket in the hull. Prior to attachment, the keel is given a dry run to check for accurate fit in the recess. If all is not well, the flange is ground to suit--the pocket is never ground except to remove gel coat. When the fit is satisfactory, the recess is coated with a thick application of Furane Epibond, and epoxy compound. With the entire weight of the boat resting on the keel, ten 3/4" diameter cotton-wrapped bolts, nuts, flat washers and lock washers are installed. Internally the keel weight is distributed by a heavy, glassed-in platform and a series of steel transverse channels that pickup the keel bolts. We were convinced that the keel is there to stay."

The article didn't specify that the bolts were galvanized steel, but the plan sheet for attaching the keel does. That's what is on my boat too.

Galvanized bolts were exactly the right thing to use. They start out being 18 percent stronger than the same sized stainless bolt. From there the stainless bolt has nowhere to go but down. I would not trust any stainless bolt more than 10 years old. They can look perfect and yet fail catastrophically with no warning.

Galvanized bolts, on the other hand, retain their strength even when they are rusty. So a 50-year-old galvanized bolt that is 18 percent rusted away is about the same strength as a brand new stainless steel bolt. I won't even get into crevice corrosion in stainless steel. Let's just say a damp bilge provides the perfect environment for crevice corrosion.

If someone, I'm thinking a boat buyer here, looks in a bilge and sees some rusty keel bolts they totally freak out! I've had more than one person tell me that they once considered buying a Columbia 43, but didn't because of the condition of the keel bolts. I also had a C-43 owner bemoan the fact that she almost had her boat sold until the potential buyer looked in the bilge and saw the keel bolts. I told her to get a wire cup for her drill and go to work on them to get the loose rust off them, wipe them down with acetone, prime with a rust converter and then spray paint them white. I hope that was good advice. (While you're at it GET RID of all the old useless wires, pumps and junk in the bilge.)

The keel bolts on the Columbia 43 Mark I were studs and can be backed out (theoretically). I wouldn't do it. I might sister them, but I would not do that either unless the bolts -- all or most of them -- had all but disappeared. I can think of all kinds of things that could go wrong. You could get the new bolts torqued wrong and start a leak, for example. (More about this later.)

The thing is, there are no cases where a Columbia 43 has lost her keel. If there were, we would hear about it. (Think Cheeki Rafiki.) Also, Columbia tested the adhesive system they used on these keels using it alone without any keel bolts. It worked fine, or so the story goes. I don't know if they went back and added keel bolts later or not. Let's just say I trust my 46-year-old keel attachment more than I would most new boats.

Now for the Columbia 43 Mark III: The Mark III was a later development of the original Mark I. One of the biggest changes Columbia made was a smaller keel (same depth, 6'11", but a much shorter chord) to reduce wetted surface. I haven't seen a Mark III out of the water nor have I seen the design drawings. From what I can gather the keel had external lead ballast on a fiberglass keel stub. I don't know what kind of bolts they used. I also don't know who did the redesign, since Bill Tripp (the Columbia 43's designer) was dead before Columbia came out with the Mark III.

One of my friends who has a Mark III in the Sea of Cortez had problems with his where it developed a smile (in boatyard parlance, it's called a "Catalina smile"). It looked like the keel was starting to become detached. He had a yard in Mexico fix it -- I don't know the details -- but so far he's happy with it.

Stumpy J, the Columbia 43 Mark III that competed in the 2013 Transpac and finished 6th in Division 8, the same division that Dorade won that year, also had problems with her keel. When the owner was getting her ready for the race someone recommended that he re-tighten the keel bolts. He did that and it caused leaks that plagued the boat throughout the race and afterward.

That's about all I know about Columbia 43 keels. I believe a lot of the Tripp-designed Columbia's had cast iron keels similar to the 43 Mark I. One notable exception is the Columbia 50, which has lead encapsulated in the fiberglass hull. (This, to me, is the most trouble-free method. I hesitate to say "best" because other things come into play.)

I generally think Columbia 43 boat owners worry a lot about keel bolts because they look bad, not because there is any real danger of losing a keel. Should I be worried? Comment below. You'll have to cite actual examples of keel failures if you want me to pay attention.

Friday, May 12, 2017

New luxury aboard Oceanus: A real mattress

We talked about this since Mexico; that's a year. Finally, on our most recent trip to Costco, the $100 off tipped the scale. We bought a real queen-size mattress.

It is made of three layers of foam and has a quilted top. We thought we could successfully trim it to fit our berth on the boat. That required the additional purchase of an electric carving knife. (The poor man's tool for cutting foam.)

Getting it back to the boat was the first hurdle. Inside the big box, the mattress was vacuum packed and rolled up like a big white marshmallow. It fit in the bow of the dinghy, but just barely. Fortunately, we had a calm evening to row back to the boat. Once there, Virginia lowered the spinnaker halyard, I snapped it around the marshmallow and she used a winch to hoist it on deck. Easy.

In the morning, we opened up the plastic to let the mattress expand on deck. We also need to let it air out for the recommended 24 hours. It was tempting to sleep on deck, I'm a little sorry I didn't.

The next morning we cut open the cover on the hull-side and hacked off about $60 of foam using our new electric carving knife. Our old memory foam topper served as a pattern. Perfect fit the first time.

Getting it through our Columbia 43's large companionway was not a problem. Likewise, sliding it on its end to our berth was easy too. Heaving it onto the berth was a chore, but not bad. The whole process took about an hour with more laughing than swearing.

W cut open one side of the cover. It took two passes to get through all 11 inches of foam.
The mattress is 11 inches thick -- three inches more than our previous assemblage of various pieces of foam. It makes it pretty high, but we still have plenty of room above our heads thanks to the boat's flush deck.

With our old foam assemblage (you really couldn't call it a mattress) the queen-sized sheets never fit well. Now they fit like a glove. The bed is made. Time for a nap.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Farewell to our whale friends

A humpback whale breaching. (NOAA photo)
At the end of March, 2009, we went on a boat dive to Molokini. One of the divers complained on the way back that he hadn't seen any whales. The boat captain said the whales already left. To this the man exclaimed angrily: "The chamber of commerce said they are here until April first!" I guess the whales just didn't look at their calendar that year.

We enjoyed our whale watching season this year. Every December an estimated that 60 percent of the North Pacific humpback whale population migrates to Hawaii's waters. In spite of numerous studies, no one knows how the marine giants manage to cross open ocean from Alaska to Hawaii never veering off course by more than one degree.

The waters around Maui, Lanai and Molokai provide the perfect protected waters the whales need for their great social gathering. The channel between Maui and Lanai turns into one big nursery when the pregnant humpbacks give birth to their 2,000 pound calves. The newborns measure about 12 to 15 feet. A Humpback mother and newborn calf will stay close to shore while nursing. The calf will consume about 100 gallons of his mother's fat-rich milk a day.

The adult whales, including mothers, don't eat while they are here. The water is relatively nutrient free and too warm to support enough of the humpback's food to sustain them, so they live off their blubber.

The calf can double in length during his first year and learns whale behaviors from its mother. We would often see the mother whale breach followed by a clumsy attempt from the baby whale. We also noticed the mother and baby were often accompanied by a "teenaged" whale that seemed to be acting as an escort or bodyguard.

Male humpbacks hang around and sing. Their songs are complex and can last up to 20 minutes and can be heard up to 20 miles away. Since December, with our heads underwater, we could hear the songs and sounds of whales. No one knows exactly why, but recent studies show that male songs actually attract other males, rather than females. The male whales face the singer during the song. These encounters are usually brief and friendly. Maybe they just want to brag about their new calves.

Songs are just one of the ways whales communicate. Humpbacks emit other sounds referred to as social sounds. In addition, they use breaching, tail slapping, and fin slapping to attract attention, which works on whales and humans alike.

Breaching seems like an act of pure joy. (NOAA photo)
Last weekend, on April first, we saw a whale breach. It was beautiful and poignant because we knew it would most likely be the last one of the season.

But with the whales gone, another friend has returned. We don't know why, but while the whales were here, we spotted fewer dolphins. Maybe they can't put up with the whale's singing. Until next December, the dolphins will delight us and keep everyone company.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Creating paradise: A poet's palm forest

A glimpse of  blue sky through the dense palm forest created by poet W.S. Merwin.
W.S. Merwin's trees are an expression of hope and an attempt to heal the divide he sees between man and nature.

Merwin won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1971 and in 2009 and was chosen twice as U.S. poet laureate (1999-2000 and 2010-2011). He authored more than 50 books of poetry, translation and prose. You would think that would be his enduring legacy, but there's more.

A recurring theme in Merwin's writing is man’s separation from nature. He sees the consequences of that alienation as disastrous, both for humans and the world. By planting a tree a day for decades he reclaimed a piece of paradise that will last generations.
Part of the tour group at the palm forest.
When Merwin moved to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism in 1976 he bought 19 acres of a failed pineapple plantation. Most of the soil was eroded away. He found about the only thing he could grow on it was Hawaii's native coconut palms.

He worked rebuilding the soil and planting different palm tree species from around the world. Most days he and his wife planted a tree, then he would meditate and write poems. Eventually he had a dense and diverse palm forest where before there was nothing but bare rock and played-out soil.
Most days Merwin meditates and writes in the screened-in porch built behind the potting shed.
The forest has more than 2,740 individual palm trees, with more than 400 taxonomic species and 125 unique genera, and nearly 900 different horticultural varieties. It is recognized as one of the largest and most extensive palm collections known to exist on earth, according to the Merwin Conservancy, the group formed to preserve the forest indefinitely.

A couple times a month, members of the conservancy and the professional gardener Merwin hired 10 years ago, lead a free tour through the palm forest. I signed up for one. Virginia and I and two young friends who drove us went to Haiku on Maui to meet with about 10 others for the three-hour tour. It was a fun and beautiful experience.
The professional gardener Merwin hired 10 years ago explains features of the palm forest.
Our only criticism was the guides need to spend more time walking and less time talking. I welcomed hearing the poetry and the stories, but some of the minutia could be cut to improve the focus.

One good story was about a palm from Madagascar. When a scientific expedition went to document the palms of Madagascar a few years ago, they couldn’t find this particular palm and feared it was extinct. They contacted Merwin (now recognized as an expert in palms, in addition to poetry). He told the biologists he had a few in his forest and would send them some seeds. Later they found the palm growing in an isolated area on Madagascar, but by then they used Merwin’s seeds to help reestablish it in other places on the island.

We enjoyed the tour, especially seeing the lush palm forest and the porch behind Merwin's potting shed where he meditates and writes. Like his poetry, the forest he created heals the soul.

by W.S. Merwin

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not for the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

(from The Rain in the Trees, Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.)