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Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Columbia 43: a classic Tripp racer


The Columbia 43 is a big, muscular boat made for long ocean races. The boat is largely forgotten now because its birth coincided with the death of the rating rule it was designed to race under.

With a long, flush deck and a low gun-turret house, the boat is easily recognizable as coming from the drafting board of William H. Tripp, Jr., one of the great designers of the Cruising Club of America racing era. Trip designed the Columbia 43 as part of a suite of racing and cruising boats for Columbia Yachts that included two of the largest production boats of the 1960s, the Columbia 50 and the Columbia 57. In fact, the first model of the Columbia 43 had a Columbia 50's deck house.
Columbia 43 hull number 1 with the deck house off a Columbia 50.
The Columbia 43 is a fast boat. In its early years, a 43 finished first-in-class in the Transpac race from San Pedro, Calif., to Honolulu, Hawaii. As the International Offshore Rating rule took over the racing scene, the Columbia 43 was left behind in favor of boats that would rate better under the new rule. With the popularity of sailboat racing under PHRF, the Columbia 43 is again a contender for the silver.

A Mark III recognizable by her small rectangular ports.
Columbia also came out with a Mark III model that was even more competitive as a racer. It had a keel with a shorter chord and lead ballast, a modified rudder, and six additional feet of mast height. Columbia also abandoned it's trademark long, low window on the side of the house for this model and substituted two, rectangular ports on each side giving it a mean, pillbox look.

Tripp's name is synonymous with CCA racers that have centerboards, so, naturally, there is a centerboard version of the boat as well. It has an additional 1,300 pounds of ballast and a minimum draft two feet less than the keel version.


The boat was well laid out for racing with a galley to port and a U-shaped dinette to starboard, a step down takes you to the main saloon with facing settees that convert to four single bunks. Forward of that is a small head to starboard with a large standing chart table and a V-birth in the forepeak, The arrangement is somewhat less desirable as a cruising boat for a couple, but it is still workable. The boat also carried 50 gallons of fuel and 50 gallons of water, about half of what you would want on a cruising boat that size.

Columbia built 153 of the 43s: about a third at its yard in Portsmouth, Va., and the rest in the Costa Mesa, Calif., yard. A smaller number (about six) of the Mark IIIs were built. The longevity of heavy fiberglass construction means most are still sailing.

At least one Columbia 43 has circumnavigated the globe. Other boats ended up scattered across the world in the Mediterranean,Caribbean and the islands of the Pacific as well as in every coastal state. A 43 in Aruba takes out 22 passengers for day sails; a job it's done every day for more than 30 years under two generations of owners. The large deck and 10-foot cockpit comfortably handles all 22 passengers. A tough boat indeed.
Columbia 43 under sail on the Columbia River.
Here's the Columbia 43 by the numbers:
  • Length: 43 feet 3 inches
  • Beam: 12 feet 4 inches
  • Draft: 6 feet 11 inches
  • Waterline Length: 32 feet 8 inches
  • Displacement: 22,200 pounds (one source says 18,900 pounds)
  • Ballast: 9,500 pounds
  • Sail Area: 806 square feet
  • Sail Area/Displacement: 18.24
  • Ballast/Displacement: 50.26 percent
  • Displacement/Length: 257.49
  • Theoretical Hull Speed: 7.5 knots 
  • Vertical Clearance: 58 feet 4 inches
  • Built between 1969 and 1974
  • Number built: 153
  • PHRF number: 102 (Columbia 43 Mark III has a PHRF number of 96)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bill Trip's fast and beautiful boats


Hinkley Bermuda 40

In the last two decades of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) rating rule, William H. Tripp Jr. designed  fast, beautiful and innovative sailing yachts. He became known for winning and weatherly centrerboard yawls like the Block Island 40, the Bermuda 40 and the Mercer 44. Many sailors and yacht designers consider them some of the most beautiful boats ever built in fiberglass. They continue to captivate sailors and command high prices in the used boat market today.

Mercer 44

"The Mercer 44, arguably one of the best-looking stock boats ever built," wrote Seattle yacht designer Bob Perry. "You can still find Mercer 44s cruising and racing today. They are a marvel of balanced proportions and look as good today as they did in 1959."

Tripp was a self-taught designer who came up through the ranks working for other designers, including Sparkman & Stevens and Phil Rhodes.

He was a prolific designer. In addition to providing custom racing and cruising designs for many clients he designed production boats for Seafarer, Hinckley, Pearson, Columbia and others. An early advocate of fiberglass, he became known for flush-deck race boats with his distinctive gun-turret dog houses.

As a teenager in the 1960s, Bob Perry considered Tripp to be his favorite designer, along with Phillip Rhodes.

"Tripp’s boats had a very distinctive look, with proud sweeping spoon bows, bold sheer springs, long concave counters terminating in almost vertical transoms, and sexy and svelte cabin trunks," Perry wrote in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Good Old Boat Magazine. "You would never mistake a Tripp design for an S&S design. They just seemed to my young eye to have a strength and boldness, kind of an 'in your face' quality. Plus, his boats were consistent race winners."
Pearson Invicta 37

Burgoo, the Tripp-designed Pearson 37-footer, won the Bermuda race in 1964. At that time it was the smallest fiberglass boat to ever win the race.

"[I]t had all the Tripp trademark design features and it was a very sexy-looking little boat," Perry wrote. "In fact, and I could be wrong, this may be the first Tripp design to have the “gun turret” cabin trunk."

"Bill was the first to put portlights in the topsides as well as opening ports in cockpit sides to improve air circulation and communication below," said Ted Jones, who worked with Tripp before becoming a boating magazine editor. "He popularized flush decks on small boats (Galaxy, Medalist, Invicta, Mercer 44), and set high standards in hull and rigging scantlings that have been proven over time. He designed boats to stay together under the most difficult circumstances. I cannot recall one of his designs ever being dismasted or suffering structural damage at sea."

By the mid-1960s, Columbia, America's leading builder of fiberglass yachts at the time, approached Tripp to design a fifty footer. He produced the first of the Columbia bubble-topped high-sided boats that are still easily recognizable. In the next six years, he produced thirteen Columbias, including the Columbia 26 MkII, Columbia 34, Columbia 39, Columbia 43, Columbia 45, Columbia 50, and the Columbia 57. The boats are vintage Tripp, but with fin keels and spade rudders.

The C-50 attracted a strong following that still has an active owners association.
Columbia 50

"The Columbia 50 was a big elegant-looking boat with the same bubble house and long flush deck (of many other Tripp designs)," Perry wrote. "It was a very good-looking boat and it was fast. Seattle’s racing scene was dominated for years by a Columbia 50 called Six Pack while the smallest class was dominated by a Columbia 26 called Miller’s High Life."


In 1969, Columbia was the world's largest fiberglass sailboat manufacturer and Tripp designed a 57 footer named Concerto, which became the largest production fiberglass boat. It displayed several of Tripp's trademark features: an unusually-long and effective waterline, high-aspect ratio sail plan, dual-surface steering system with a keel-mounted trim tab as well as a balanced spade rudder aft. Speed was derived partially from an absolute minimum of wetted surface area, and from the high prismatic coefficient hull design.

In 1971, the racing community adopted the International Offshore Rule (IOR), effectively making every CCA yacht obsolete. Tripp fought hard against the change, but designed a 52-foot IOR boat for Columbia and was looking forward to developing more of his ideas on the new rule. A few months later, a drunk driver lost control of his car, hurtled over the divider on the Connecticut Turnpike and smashed into Tripp's Jaguar, killing him instantly. He was 51.


While we usually focus on just one design, I wanted to look closer at a designer first, then at one of his designs in more depth. Stay tuned.