The Boat - Overview
Like similar all-around displacement-designs coming off the boards of Sparkman and Stephens at the time (that no doubt influenced Tripp since he worked there before opening his own office), the Columbia 50 was clearly designed to be at sea for long periods of time, to be handled easily and move well in any direction relative to the wind, and to be able to manage whatever weather came up (in a time before modern weather forecasting). The boat's weight and hull form provides a relatively comfortable ride in any direction, most importantly including upwind in a blow. That can count for a lot, especially in a cruising boat with a shorthanded crew that really doesn't want to get too beaten up.
Those long CCA-inspired overhangs have their pros and cons. Combined with a beautifully sweeping sheer, the boat seems to turn a lot of heads, at the dock and underway. Looking good never gets old! (...although some would say the doghouse is a little high for optimal appearance--see a comparison with Kialoa II here). And all of that reserve buoyancy in the bow means that the waves would have to get seriously big--and freakishly steep--before you would ever have to think about even a hint of green water on deck. Seldom do you have to give a second thought to leaving the cockpit to get a job done up there.
On the other hand, a short waterline means there's not much living space inside for a boat of this size, speed is a bit reduced and, detractors would say, the boat is prone to hobby-horsing in a seaway. Experience indicates this isn't much of a problem. If you get two or three big waves in a row you might get slowed up a bit, but on the other hand the boat's fine entry, heavy displacement and relatively narrow beam mean you punch through stuff pretty well, with the added benefit that the deck stays safe and dry. And as far as the amount of room inside? "It's the biggest 38-footer out there, with a huge, easily worked deck, and it has incredible storage space in the ends!"
Beyond the overhangs, another difference you see in comparison to modern boats, and that also harkens back to the boat's at-sea, race-boat heritage, is that the bunks are in the middle of the boat where the motion is the least. In the standard arrangement four people can sleep below in comfort, each in their own perfectly-designed-for-sea bunk, no matter what is going on outside. Even the bunks in the vee-berth are well aft and usable even upwind while underway, although while racing the vee berth was typically used for sails. (With a big foredeck hatch, it still works well for that purpose.) In any event, the cost of putting good sea berths in the middle of the boat is that you don't have the privacy at anchor that a cabin in each end of the boat provides--something most modern boats would never forgo.
From a cost point of view buying an obsolete race boat can make good sense, but only if it's a suitable design. As a CCA boat, some would argue that the Columbia 50 is really the last of the old race boats that was ideal for conversion to a cruising boat, since the IOR that followed promoted huge jibs, tiny mains, pinched ends and, in general, less than optimal handling characteristics off the wind.
What the Columbia 50 offers that's unusual is that it is the only true CCA boat commonly available in its size range that was built in fiberglass with a spade rudder--a unique combination of attributes. The fiberglass is heavy, which means the boats have held up well, and the spade rudder provides handling and suitability for vane steering that is unmatched. Cruising boats of the era, and for years thereafter, tend to be relatively poor performers under sail by comparison so, at least for some, they might deserve a little less consideration. Ultimately the Columbia 50, with the addition of some modern sail-handling equipment, ends up being a reasonable boat-for-dollar option for modern shorthanded cruising, and looking good never gets old!
** Ultimately, of course, Cal 40s led the way forward for lighter and lighter boats that were specifically designed to regularly exceed their hull speeds on downhill races, "The Wizard" Bill Lee taking the concept to a whole new level. At some point race managers eventually decided to set aside a special category for "Ultralight Displacement Boats" (ULDBs) in an effort to keep things fair. And even then, amazingly, the Cal 40 continued to do well, since it really wasn't so light that it could be classed as a ULDB, and therefore continued to race with the displacement hulls, enjoying the same surfing advantage against them when the conditions were right that it had always enjoyed.
Columbia 50 Owners' Network
- Life Begins at 50! -
- Life Begins at 50! -