Columbia 26 Mk II - One Owner's Thoughts and Upgrades

Not completely sure about 28 v. 26 and hull similarity but, I've owned a
26MK II for 25 years, lived on it for two and have coastal cruised
extensively in NC/FL panhandle and AL.  From a safety standpoint, I
would not take my "antique" 26 off-shore at present but, with an
appropriate refit and modifications, I would.  These would include:

Hull to keel joint reinforced, new keel boats, new rudder and post with
reinforcing to built in rudder post container - the unprotected, fin
rudder without skeg is a pretty sizeable design liability on the 26 MK
II for off shore use - the existing rudder needs to be beefed up
considerably - new standing rigging, reinforced pulpit and life line
stanchions with double life lines and stern pulpit, installation of jack
lines and harnesses w/manual cartridge inflateables and harnesses
mounted w/night lighting & strobes for all crew, add new SSB radio,
upgrade GPS with digital display charts to my current LORAN (which I
would keep), deck mounted inflateable,  EPIRB, radar reflector and mast
head mounted strobe, dodger.

 I could easily spend 10-12 grand on this undertaking and if I was
seriously going off shore, I'd find a way to make sure the boat was safe
and spend the money to make it so.  I do not believe an old C26 MKII
without some well thought out upgrades/additions is a particularly
"safe" off shore boat but, it could be a very safe and effective
offshore pocket  cruiser with them.  It is a good offshore design
(except the stock, non-skegged or unreinforced rudder and its hobby
horsing tendencies from too much weight for and aft); its a very strong
boat from a construction stand point; I would recommend taking a look at
a Sail magazine article about a family that modified a Cal 25 for
offshore cruising.  It was very thorough and addressed structural mods
made to this very similar but smaller boat that included raising the
height of the companionway from the cockpit sole - a good idea.  This
family sailed around the world for two years and added a kid along the
way.  Nice story and the guy knew what he was doing when he made plans
to go off shore in a small boat.

On the liveaboard issue - the perception of comfort and liveability on
any boat is in the eye of the comfortee.  I added a cockpit shower/deck
washdown with an electric pump that has both fresh water and salt water
feeds - freshwater from a 20 gallon, flexible plastic container in the
bottom of the forward, hanging locker to starboard and plumbed to a pump
installed directly under the cabin step to the cockpit - I bought a very
expensive bag-container but, can't remember the manufacturer.  It has
been very reliable over the last 7 years with no signs of
deterioration.  It can be filled by a water access/fill line installed
just above it on the deck forward of the starboard chain plates.  The
bag is vented to a small exit port just below the toe rail to
starboardt.  Buy a good water storage bag, not a cheapie. Salt water
feed is via a copper through hull installed aft of the cockpit drain sea
cock through hull.   There is an access port to the electric pump (from
a mobile home parts store) that I installed on the upright bulkhead on
this cabin step where I can select which feed I want (salt or fresh)
through a Y valve - again, a good one; don't scimp here - it will just
rust out if you use hardware store parts versus parts meant to hold up
in the marine environment. The shower outlet is in the cockpit close
enough to the sink so I can do dishes there with pressure water or
shower myself off in the cockpit.  I've added a second battery
(installed under the sink), mounted a battery switch on the bulkhead
just below the galley sink/pump, installed a new main power panel on the
forward facing bulkhead that forms the aft dinette seat (this gets it up
and out of  the bilge where the old one is), rewired most of the
electircal system and installed a battery monitoring system next to the
battery switch - I have no shore power although this would be nice.  I
have a West Marine battery charger that stays plugged into a 115/120
volt outlet on my dock all the time.  I have never "cooked" a battery
with it as others who have commented on this issue have indicated they
have.  Make sure you purchase a good battery charger for marine use that
has a sensor on it to modulate voltage output as the battery reaches
full charge and always keep your batteries topped off with water.  Solar
charging panel would be a nice addition - see past issues of Practical
Sailor for very good discussions on how to do this and what products
work.  I also have deck lighting from a Forespar replacement anchor/deck
light combo screwed on to where the original one was about 1/2 way up
the mast - a nice addition.  I installed a permanent 11 gallon gas tank
directly under the cockpit sole with gas fill device installed in the
cockpit seat (just aft of the lazzarette) to port.  The tank is vented
via fuel type line to the transome.  This was really worth the bother
and cost as I hate gas cans, mixing and all the hullabaloo - do not
skimp on cheap parts for fuel tanks, lines and vents; install it right
and in accordance with CG standards and count on spending more for hoses
and clamps than you could imagine!  I have an OMC oil feed container
mounted upright in the port lazzerette that holds about 0.7 gallons of
OMC outboard oil (use the manufacturers outboard oil - it costs more but
is worth every penny - see Practical Sailor for great article on this
subject).  After the auto oiler, I have a water separator on the fuel
line that then leads out the transom; there's a bulb on the line just
outside the transom and before the OB fuel line attachment to prime the
carb for first start.  I have a '95 Johnson, Sailmaster, long shaft,
8HP without electric start and a high flow fuel pump to handle the auto
oiler/water separator set up.  The 8HP drives the boat fine, is 30 lbs
lighter than a 9.9 and only seems to be lacking when I am trying to
motor into a steep chop with 20 or more knots of wind on the nose  The
9.9 didn't do much better but, I do notice a slight difference in hull
speed of about 5.2 knots under these conditions versus 6 knots with the
9.9; I get 5.9 versus 6.3 knots in calm water so, I am giving up a
little with the 8 HP model but, I can tell you that lifting 80 lbs off
the back of the boat versus 110 is well worth it and, there is less flex
stress on the transome with this lighter 8 HP OB - a very important
factor for maintenance and when I race, I put the motor forward.  The OB
pull starts easily from the full down position of the retractable mount
on the port side of the transom.  There is a small rectifier on this OB
that does a pretty fair job of charging the batteries when the motor is
operating at full throttle (>2500 RPM).  I liked my 9.9 electric I had
previously and was satisfied but, replaced the starter frequently
because of salt water entry corrosion inherent with the motor on the
transome.  I just decided to eliminate that problem of replacing $200
starters and have been fine without electric start besides spending
about $800 dollars less on this new engine and being able to stow it for
racing.  I would have liked a four stroke 10 HP Honda but I think there
may be problems with weight and size and this option was just too
expensive at the time and compromised my idea of a lighter motor that I
could stow forward when I wantd to so as to reduce weight in the ends of
the boat.

When motoring or motor sailing in heavy sea conditions, the prop can be
lifted out of the water with a transome mounted OB.  This is a safety
problem in my mind - I have sheared the prop pin when the motor
over-revs out of the water and then comes in contact with it again on
reentry of the lower unit, rendering my motor useless when I once really
needed it.  If you are going off shore, I think that the well mount is
preferable for your motor (all downsides of this installation not
withstanding - noise and exhaust fumes and the potential that the best
motor - a 4 stroke 10HP Honda - may not fit in the well).  With a well
mount, the prop stays in the water and under the boat where it belongs
in heavy weather.  I installed a side mount whale gusher hand pump in
the starboard lazzerett to replace the old hand pump - a must if you
plan on going off shore.  I then fiddled enough with the old pump's
lines to get pretty good access to pump most of  the bilge - I'd like
better but my boat- a '74 with toe rails - compared to older models, has
no clearance under the cabin sole for a bilge pump mount and feed lines
and believe me I've tried everything to get far enough forward with a
feed line to get the bow area dry with a pump - I just pump it manually
with a small portable hand pump at present..

My home - when I lived on the boat - was in the V-berth - I  mounted 12v
cooling fans on the anchor locker door forward and directly over the
galley wired to two speed switches - I have another portable that is
pigtailed into the cabin lights and can be moved anywhere in either
cabin.  Air circulation is an absolute must on this boat to keep
humidity and condensation to a minimum.  There is no kind of insulation
to reduce this problem and when these boats were designed, nobody
worried too much about that problem.  Today's designs for liveaboards
consider hull and cabin bulkhead liner insulation a high priority.  I am
planning on re-doing the interior next year and when I do, I will
install hull insulation (see past articles on this at our Columbia web
site).  I use lots of net hammocks for storage of clothes, gadgets and
gillhickies.  Forget about hanging anything in this boat and learn how
to wash and roll all your clothes for storage in net hammocks.  There is
simply not enough room to hang anything and I found the forward hanging
locker to be a pretty moist and moldy proposition for my good clothes -
which were USMC uniforms at the time.  I dressed in the station Gym
every morning for work when I lived aboard.

I have made more or less a permanent storage area of the folding dinette
area by keeping the table down all the time and dinette seat cushions
ashore.  This is almost a must for storage as there is very limited
storage area aboard and it is not easily accessable.  It would be
possible to make access panels to the storage areas under V-berth and
main salon settee but, I've just not gotten around to it - I think it
would be a must for live aboard or extended cruising away from shore
facilities.  I have a porta-potie of 2 gallon capacity - its way too
small for liveaboard when you're away from a flushable crapper ashore.
There were some good discussion of this issue on our site a few weeks
ago with some good ideas for holding tank installations in our model.  I
just don't care to go that route now but, more serious living aboard
would require it.

My fridge still drains to the bilge and this has been a constant source
of aggravation for me and a problem if you use the cooler in a
liveaboard situation - your cabin will smell like an old refriderator
most of the time.  I am investigating teeing the cooler drain into the
sink/cockpit drain system line that goes to sea cocks and out via
through hulls and using a one way check valve to keep sea water out of
the cooler (note that the cooler drain is below the water line).  Still
not sure about this set-up working.

I bought a bimini - got a good, custom one using Sunbrella material and
spent some bucks but, it has weathered three hurricanes, with it up once
in 65+ knots! - it was a terrific idea and looks good considering; the
guy who built it did a great job with limited space to install it.
After 5 years it looks as good as new.  It keeps the cockpit cool in the
summer heat.  I also have a white parachute nylon awning that I can
spread over the boom and anchor to the lifelines/toe rail at anchor to
keep sun and condensation off the boat day/night - this makes a
trmendous difference in cabin comfort both day and night.  For offshore
design, I would lower the bimini top that I have about 8-10 inches (its
currently just under the boom and allows 5'9" headroom in the cockpit)
and add a dodger forward that snaps to the bubble top - a must if you
want to keep half way warm and dry during extended period afloat.  I
also have a Navico Tiller pilot with remote controller (skipped the wind
vane thing).  I think mine's a 5000 model (or the middle one) - it works
fine and was also a great addition for solo sailing which I do a lot
of.  It steers most accurately to windward and to 80 degrees apparent.
After that, its a little squirly if there is any sea at all and needs
pretty close watching in crowded areas - this a factor of the boats
underwater design more than a fault of the Navico Pilot.  Don't think
I'd sleep with it on and trust it to hold a real accurate course off
wind, even off shore but, then again, I've never tried it - it could be
fine.  Buy a new one if you get one - they're not that expensive at
discount these days -  a discussion on used tiller pilots in this group
previously revealed problems with used ones.  I concur.

Sails:  I have a new, Banks Sails, 2+2, full batten main with fixed
gooseneck boom that has internal controlls for jiffy reefing and outhaul
on a loose foot (i.e., the mainsail foot is not in a track it just flys
loose like a dingy sail). I use a cunningham rig for main luff tension.
I have a new 140%  shanked on geneoa also by Banks Sails - these two new
sails are absolutely terrific after having sailed with my old, original
sails for 24 years.  I would like a lazy jack system because the full
battens make it pretty cumbersome when your flaking the main.  I also
have an old 160% genoa and a medium old 110% which is controlled with
inboard sheet block tracks.  I have an asymetrical chute for reaching to
135 degrees and a full downwind chute both oldies but goodies.  I'd like
a single tri-radial, cruising chute (my next sail purchase) to replace
both of these and all the rip stop tape.  I'm still learning about the
140/full batten main combo but, I used to get very good performance with
the 110 in winds above 15-18 kts true.  I'm now thinking that I can get
good performance with the main reefed and the 140 up to about 20 - 22kts
true and going to the 110 above 25kts. This remains to be seen in races
to come next summer/season. The 140% geneoa with new main seems to work
nicely from 10 kts up so far.  I'll need a new 170%/drifter combo some
day.  I race a good deal and always do pretty well with many 3rds, 4ths
and occassional 1sts and 2nds when I hit a good shift upwind on the
fleet. The C26 is still a "tub" downwind unless its howling and then its
better than anything out there.  I love to watch those light weights in
their J boats and San Juans struggling in stark terror down wind and at
every jibe when it pipes up!  The old tub just plows right through it -
steady as she goes! and it goes like s rocket ship to windward with the
best of them PHRF rating of 228 in hand in anything over 10 kts.

You might also want to consider some thought on your ground tackle.  I
have a 30 lb and 15 lb Danforth each with 6 feet of chain and 150 feet
of rode.  Its just not enough for combinations of some bottom conditions
and high winds (35+).  Consider adding a 50lb CQR on more chain, of
course, depending on intended  ports of call.  Lots of good articles
floating about on the subject of ground tackle and achoring - a very
important subject.  Multi anchor and line storage is a problem but, I
think with ordered cockpit lockers it could be done efficiently.

Best of luck and I hope this helps out.  I have loved my C26 ever since
I first saw it on the stand, new and shiney in Daupine Island, AL at
Turner Marine in late '74.  If any of you knew Prince Turner you knew
one of the best C26 sailors ever.  He taught me first hand how to sail a
C26 and to win on the race course and to cruise in comfort and safety!
He's doing it heaven now I'm sure!

Jeff B
Coup Dess'ai
Havelock, NC

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