Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Annapolis, Md
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Over the years many people have come to view Columbias as being some kind of high quality boat, but back in the 1960's they were looked down upon as being the inexpensive, high volume producer in much the same way as Hunter or Catalina is looked down upon today. In truth they were neither as bad as they were seen back then, nor as good as some folks see them today.
In a broad general sense the glass work of the 1960's, almost no matter which manufacturer you are talking about, was not as good as the glasswork that followed. Manufacturers of that era tended to use larger quantities of non-directional fabric (mat), resin rich mixtures, larger amounts of accelerators, and handled the reinforcing fabrics in ways that reduced the capacity of the fabric. All of this combined resulted in laminates which on a unit basis were not as strong or fatigue resistance as later laminates. Beyond that boats of that era, typically lack the kind of internal framing, that we later came to understand as being important to the long term life of the boat. To a lesser extent, this is somewhat offset by the thricker lay-ups of the era. While these boats are often seen as being heavily laid-up, the reality is that these are not sturdier hull sections, nor are they as stiff as later layups.
In terms of Columbias in specific, I have heard differing accounts of whether Columbia used chopped glass in the lay-up. Chopped glass wasn't all that common back in sailboats of the 1960's. It existed but it was generally used for non-structural parts or for building up thickness in a hull. What was used was widely used were non-directional fabrics (mat) and these behave like chopped glass in terms of premature fatique and reduced sheer and rupture strength.
The bigger issues with the Columbias were the use of plywood in their decks (more rot prone than balsa), the use of non-marine plywood in their interiors, antiquated, undersized, and poorly laid out deck hardware, and plumbing (which often included gate valves and below water hoses that were meant for above waterline use only) and electrical systems which were terrible, even by the standard of the day. Of course, over the years some of these deficiencies may have been corrected by prior owners.
In the big picture, boats like the Columbia Defender, still make reasonably good overnighters and daysailers. By modern standards they are not especially fast, or comfortable, or seaworthy, but they still sail reasonably well and were moderately good coastal cruisers, which of course were their original intended purpose. They should be understood for what they were- value oriented coastal cruiser-racers. They were never intended to be offshore or long distance cruisers and so if that is your goal, I would suggest seeking more of a purpose built design even if it is from that same era.
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay