In the Yachting Press
Notable Columbia 50s
Buying a Columbia 50
The Columbia 50 is an unusually great boat and, if you've read the full home page, you know some of the reasons why.
Beyond aesthetics, the boat's collection of unique and particularly functional design details and characteristics was no accident; those details were clearly carefully considered and developed, and then systematically tested and refined, one by one.
Set in the period of the transition from wood to fiberglass as the material of choice for building boats, it's not hard to speculate on how and why the boat came out so well. Putting the pieces together makes an interesting story...
An enormous amount of effort was expended on the Columbia 50 design before production ever started--surely much more than almost all other boats before or since--because of the circumstances at the time:
Thus they were highly motivated to get the design and tooling of the Columbia 50 as close to perfect as it could possibly be, right from the beginning, and they expended a relatively enormous amount of time and effort in this regard.
They started with a full-on, top designer of racing boats because they wanted this boat to compete at top levels and win. Everyone wants a fast, "winning" boat, whether or not they actually plan to race, and this fact was part of their marketing strategy.*
Bill Tripp was such a designer. At 45 years old he was at the peak of his game and, having worked for both Philip Rhodes and Olin Stephens, he had a first-class pedigree. He had long since established himself on his own, so he wasn't "just starting out." And his designs--like the Pearson Invicta, Block Island 40, and the famous "Ondine"-- were winning.
Then after getting a top designer, they apparently commissioned a prototype in wood, probably just to take a look at it, give it a little more thought, try it out in various conditions, and see what improvements could be made. One of the best wood boatbuilders in the country at the time did the construction.
Then they had Tripp work out over 20 possible interior arrangements so that they could think about and discuss the pros and cons of each one, and offer their initial customers some choices. So much effort on interior arrangement options is almost unheard of in yacht design; Tripp even worked out trunk cabin and yawl versions of the boat.
Finally they began production. They built the hull and deck molds and started turning out the largest fiberglass yachts in history, but with "stick built" wood interiors. Different owners had different ideas of what they wanted in terms of interior arrangements and, by building exactly what they wanted, they had the opportunity to evaluate them as well.
Ultimately based on this experience they decided which interior arrangement was the best possible compromise. In the middle of the production run they built a mold that reflected it so that they could, thereafter, make the basic interior structure out of fiberglass. This reduced costs even further and had the added benefit of also saving some weight over the all-wood interiors.
By taking their time and "doing it right" every step of the way -- from designer, to prototype, to multiple interior designs, to production, to selection of the best interior for fiberglass production -- there was ample opportunity, and a lot of motivation, to perfect every attendant detail.
Thus the "near-perfect" results were not really a matter of luck, but rather a matter of competence, diligence and time--yielding a beautiful and timeless boat for sailors to enjoy, with details and distinguishing features that still stand out and make sense in comparison to other boats today.
* Here is a good article by Ted Brewer on how rating rules shaped yacht design that was published in Good Old Boat.
Columbia 50 Owners' Network
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