Yesterday I was giving Tranquility a nice soapy bath when a man came by on the dock. “I am glad to see a beautiful Columbia 29” he said. He is the owner of a gorgeous Swan 40 tied up a few slips from Tranquility and remarked how both boats were designed by Sparkman & Stephens.
We nattered quite a while and he was very curious about her, and profoundly admired Tranquility’s design. I was flattered by his ammiration while at the same time I was embarassed by the general cosmetic situation like the still incomplete toe rail, the scratches and the worn out teak (at least I had just removed the mud from the anchoring operation). Kate and I often joke about it saying we own “a classic”, instead of an old piece of plastic that has been shaking in seas for almost 50 years.
I have to say that the first moment we met Tranquility on the grass of a random yard something magical happened and we decided to buy her even if the seller was also offering a Pearson Triton in sailaway condition.
The irrational magic prevailed over the rational thinking and we purchased the Columbia. Forty percent of this magic comes from the awe and fascination of an almost bare hull that make you dream about how beautiful and custom made the final result will be. Another forty percent is for sure that no matter what boat you end up buying you made a great choice because it’s yours. Twenty percent is something unexplicable, like a siren song of boat fetishism. Or maybe it’s true that boats have spirits and she was talking to us. “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux”
This magic embodied in her lines may or may not be visible but other people notice it. She has charming lines. Everyone who asks “What boat is this?” then pretends to know about Columbia 29 and the most common words associated are “seaworthy”, “sturdy” or “well built”.
I haven’t found another Columbia 29 on the water yet and after a brief online research it looks there are very few for sale. It’s not a popular boat that you run into at every anchorage, but it looks like it’s a famous one. Quite a few people still admires boats from that era. They recognize in them the golden era of classic and seaworthy designs, even if this concept is open to endless debate as it’s very hard to define what makes a boat seaworthy.
Columbia 29 is one of the first fiberglass boats that made sailing affordable for the middle class. The first boat was built independently around 1960 on S&S design #1508 and then bought by Glass Laminates of Costa Mesa, CA that launched her on the market. This boat became a big seller and the name Columbia was incorporated into the company. Columbia then expanded on the East Coast in Portsmouth, VA where Tranquility was built in 1965 as hull #85. Tranquility is the MK1 version, from the original design. Later, Columbia introduced a MK2 version with raised deck and 1000 lbs more ballast. And not happy, following a market that was going in the direction of more and more interior space they raised the deck again and launched the model called Defender.
I am happy about the choice we made with Tranquility. This doesn’t mean the Columbia 29 is a better sailboat than the Pearson Triton, but that we are happier with the features we have (masthead cutter rig, electric engine,). On the other hand there is no rationality in deciding to buy a boat and so it’s pointless to try to understand why. It just gives a lot of satisfaction to encounter many people that admire our tiny little boat.