A (Little Less) Sketchy History of Columbia Sailboats

This is essentially my first cut at a history of Columbia Yachts. I've learned a lot since I first started it and I'll try and update it and correct it as I get time.

I'm always interested in personal experiences with the company and contributions are welcomed. Eric White (ewhite@columbia-yachts.com)

I have split the history into four sections. The "Book" and Gray Area sections are on this page. The third and fourth sections are on separate pages. The third section tells how Richard Valdes started Glas Laminates and gives a look inside the Costa Mesa factory. Ed's "Myths & Legends" is on a separate page and is a fun read.

Paraphrased From "the Book", 1978 Version

The 1978 Whittaker version of Columbia's history. I have added information from my many contributors in (italics). My use of C- is simply shorthand for Columbia.

1960 "Columbia Yachts was founded Costa Mesa, California." It was started by Richard Valdes and a friend as Glas Laminates, a small producer of camper tops, shower stalls, and portable chemical toilets.
1961 Glas Laminates expanded into the sailboat buiness. The first boat was the Islander 24, which sold out production in the first year.

The Islander 24 was a collaboration between Glas Laminates and a wooden boat builder named McGlassen. McGlassen made a 24' wooden sloop called the Islander 24 and approached Glas Laminates about building a fiberglass version. Using a boat as a plug, Glas Laminates pulled a mold. Evidently, the plug had "v" planking which gave the Islander 24 the look of a wooden boat. Glas Laminates created a modified a mold without the grooves. They raised the freeboard and cabin top and the result was the Columbia 24. Columbia got a lot of mileage out of this basic design. Soon after they created a mold to take a raised deck and produced the Challenger 24. They also stretched the Columbia 24 to create the Columbia 26. Later they returned to the Islander 24 design and modified the ports to create the Contender 24.

1962 Introduction of the Sparkman & Stephens designed Columbia 29. This design was highly successful and inspired the company to take on Columbia as the corporate name and establish the Columbia shield emblem. It was introduced at about the same time as the Columbia 24.

Columbia also re-used this basic hull. They used the same approach that they did with the Challenger to create the raised deck Defender 29.)

1964 Columbia added an East Coast plant on a nine acre site at Wesley & Jackson Streets in Portsmouth, Virginia.

(My first Columbia was a Columbia 24. The brochure for it calls the company: Columbia Sailing Yachts Division of Glass Marine Industries. Glass Marine was the yacht division of Glas Laminates.)

1965 Columbia builds the largest production fiberglass sailboat, the William Tripp designed C-50.
1967 Columbia becomes a subsidiary of the California based conglomerate, the Whittaker Corporation.

The headquarters and West Coast plant moves to a ten acre site in Southern California's Irvine Industrial Complex.

1968 Columbia acquires Coronado Yachts, merges it with the Columbia operation, but continues to produce Coronado brand yachts.

There was some "cross breeding" between Columbia and Coronado designs. Here's what I've found so far. Coronado.

1971 Columbia launches Sailcrafter Custom Yachts, a line of kit boats.

Put Deck A into Hull B?

1972 Columbia changes from a subsidiary of Whittaker Corporation to a division of Whittaker Corporation. This appears to be when Richard Valdes left Columbia.
1974 Columbia deep-sixes Sailcrafter Custom Yachts kit boats.
1975 Columbia re-establishes its headquarters in a new 50 acre, 5 building site on the Intercoastal Waterway in Chesapeake, Virginia. It sells the Irvine, CA and Portsmouth, VA plants. Coronado Yachts are blended into the Columbia product line.

The following information came from Pat Sturgeon's article.

1978 Pat states that Columbia closed down because of labor problems, but from what I hear the problems were due more to a lack of cashflow. Columbia sold a reported $250,000 worth of parts to a marina in Virginia to cover payroll and expenses.
1979 Howard Hughes, from Hughes Boat Works, picked up the molds for at least the meter boars and the Coronado 35, brought them to Centralia near London, ON, and began producing Columbia Yachts.
1982 Hughes goes into receivership.
1982 According to the USCG website, CLY, Columbia's Manufacturers Identification Code (MIC) was retired August 28.
1982 Aura Yachts takes over Columbia.
1986-? Hughes takes back the line back again. After this, Hughes built boats until a fire destroyed his factory in Orangeville. It is unclear when this fire took place. The fire was probably in 1986-1990.
2001 The Coast Guard issues the manufacturers code CYV to Vince Valdes, son of Dick Valdes. It is the code for the new Columbia Yachts.
2004The new Columbia Yachts introduces the Columbia 30 Sport Sailor.

The Grayer Areas

Recently, I received a copy of an early ad ("over 100 boats are sailing") for the Columbia 24. The ad included the row of shields seen on most Columbia literature. Take a look to see the surprise.

Dick Valdes Speaks

On Feb 23, 2002, Doug Ward arranged a rendezvous in Long Beach, CA. This included a raftup of 3 Columbia 50s and a Columbia 52 (that's 202 feet of Columbias). Other Columbias in attendance included a C-45, a Defender, a Columbia 29, a 26 MkII, a Sabre, and a C-34. There was a dinner for about 60 people and the guest speaker was Dick Valdes.