Brandon and Virginia Ford had owned several boats through their marriage, up to a 27-footer they sailed on with their three kids and a dog. After their kids were grown, the couple downsized to a 19-footer that Brandon could sail alone. He figured that would be their last boat — until a family emergency changed their lives.
That prompted them to buy their 1971 Columbia 43, Oceanus, embark on a major restoration and move forward with their dream of long-distance cruising. The boat is homeported in Newport, Ore.
Tell us about your boat’s name.
Brandon: In Greek mythology Oceanus was a Titan and a brother to Poseidon. While Poseidon presided over the Mediterranean Sea, Oceanus was god over the great waters surrounding the known world of the Greeks, so really, unless you are sailing the Med, you should really make your ablutions to Oceanus, not Poseidon.
When we bought the boat a year and a half ago, my wife and I considered changing the name, but the name Oceanus was engraved in the builder’s plate above the Coast Guard hull identification number, so we decided not to change it. Besides, as my wife pointed out, she’s gone through enough changes.
Have you owned other boats before this one?
My dad and I built a 17-foot Folbot Super when I was 13. We bought a sailing rig for it and that’s the boat I learned to sail on.
Soon after I got married, we bought a beautiful wooden 22-foot Alden sloop named Frejya. It was a great boat! We kept it on Lake Union and sailed it every chance we would get. It was three-quarter rigged knockabout and had a huge mainsail. In Seattle’s typical light airs we would literally sail circles around boats twice our size.
As my family grew, we bought a Pearson Renegade (27 feet) named Lobo and sailed it out of Olympia. We cruised the San Juans for two weeks every summer with our three kids and a border collie. Compared to the other boats, we looked like the clown car when the kids, dog and parents would pop out of that little boat.
When the kids got into high school we got so busy we didn’t use the boat much, so I sold it and bought a 14-foot Chamberlain Dory that I could row and sail. I kept it for about 10 years and then built a faering named Ravn.
Ravn was going to be my last boat. She is 18 feet 9 inches, about as large a boat as I can row alone. She has a standing lug rig , so I can sail her too. She was designed in 1952 by Atkin after a Hardanger Fjord faering, a type of boat that has been in continual use since the time of the Vikings.
I spent three years building Ravn using the very best wood and materials I could find. I enjoyed her for a few years and still own her, but she is for sale. I blogged about the build and some of my expeditions with her here. She won the People’s Choice award at the 2011 Toledo Wooden Boat Show.
Tell us the story of how you found your boat and what makes it special to you.
A family emergency with our daughter in Washington required more help than we could give long distance, so my wife moved up to help her out. We lived four hours away from each other for 20 months. About a year into this involuntary separation, my wife said, “Let’s sell the house in Oregon and go cruising.ʺ
This is something I always wanted to do, but I didn’t think my wife would want to cruise full-time.
We looked at scores of boats; many had some features we liked, but only a few stood out as real possibilities as a home and vehicle for our cruising dreams.
Then I was walking the docks at the marina across from where I work in Newport, Ore., and saw a for sale sign on Oceanus. I called the old salt who was representing the owner in the sale and he agreed to show it to me. The owner got cancer and had to sell the boat in the middle of a total rebuild of the interior.
It was a huge project, but the workmanship so far was of the highest quality and it looked to me like the hard parts were done. Best of all, I loved the design of the big, powerful sloop: she looks like she could muscle her way through any sea.
My wife saw it a few weeks later on one of her visits home and she fell in love with the interior space and possibilities. We knew it would be a lot of work. When we were done, however, it would be our boat, finished just the way we wanted it and all new on the inside.
What’s the history of your boat?
The Columbia 43 was designed by William Tripp, Jr. in 1968 to compete in long ocean races under the old Cruising Club of America. By the time my boat was built in 1971, sister ships were winning their class in races like the TransPac. Columbia 43s are still competitive 45 years later, as evidenced by a good showing by one in the 2013 Transpac. One source says Columbia built 152 of this design.
At least one Columbia 43 has circumnavigated and others can be found in anchorages around the world. I’m in contact with one owner who cruised his boat to England, Bermuda and the eastern Caribbean, among other places, from his home in Virginia.
One Columbia 43 was even a television star in several episodes of the ABC series ʺRevenge.ʺ You can read more about other notable Columbia 43s here.
I don’t know a lot about my boat’s history except that it spent most of its life in Southern California. From all the racing hardware on the boat, I’m sure it was raced. At one point it was a liveaboard for a family of four. It was moved up to Oregon more than a decade ago and sat neglected until the previous owner started working on it about five years ago.
What do you like best about your boat?
Right now I like how livable the interior of the boat is and that we get to decide the fit, finish and every detail, right down to where and how many lights to place in the interior. Day or night the interior of the boat is bright, cheery and comfortable. The interior is as near to perfect for a cruising couple as I can imagine. You can see for yourself on my blog.
Later, once I get her sailing, owners of other Columbia 43s say I’ll love the way she sails. All of them report that she is fast and weatherly, with an easy motion at sea.
What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
We both knew we were taking on a huge project, but I don’t think either of us appreciated just how big it was. The to-do list goes on forever. Each time we accomplish a big task, however, we feel a rush of accomplishment.
If we had fully appreciated how much work was left to do I think we still would have bought the boat. She is going to be amazing.
What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
The previous owner is a stay-at-home dad who would work on the boat while his daughter slept in the forepeak or played in the boat. As he dismantled the interior, large sections of the hull would be completely empty and she would run up one side and then the other, like a skateboarder in a half pipe.
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
I do fine woodworking as a hobby: building furniture and building and repairing boats. This project has stretched my abilities to the limit.
Likewise, my wife is a very good painter and sewer, but getting a fine finish on the inside and outside of the boat has been a real challenge for her. She sewed all new cushions for the interior and cockpit of the boat, as well as a new dodger. Currently she’s working on the bimini. We seem to constantly surprise each other with what we are able to accomplish.
Tell us a little about your boating background.
Like many guys my age, I was fascinated when, at 13, I read the accounts in National Geographic of Robin Lee Graham, who started sailing solo around the world when he was 16. I was hooked. Long-distance voyaging has been my dream ever since.
Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
We plan to leave next summer on an extended cruise of the California coast, Mexico, Hawaii and Polynesia. We both want to make it to Fiji before returning to the Northwest. One of the places high on my list is an extended stay at Palmyra Atoll, about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. The diving there is supposed to be out of this world. About the only way you can get there is to sail there on your own boat.
If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
If you asked my wife she would say a watermaker and a scuba compressor. I think I would opt for a new mainsail and mainsail track.
Both of us love to dive and that is one of the main reasons we want to cruise the Pacific. We also want to be as free from shore as possible — so a watermaker makes sense. I really like to sail and want to get places fast. I think a new main would really make the boat perform well.
If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
My all-time favorite boat is another Tripp design, the Hinckley Bermuda 40. I’ve drooled over pictures of those boats since I was a teenager. But now that I’ve gotten used to the interior space of our Columbia 43, I would go for a well-maintained Columbia 50, another Tripp design. (Do you see a pattern here?)
They are beautiful boats and both the B-40 and the Columbia 50 were voted in the top of Cruising World magazine’s 40 best sailboats of all time. It would be tough to find moorage for a 50-foot boat, however.
What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
The best part of this project is how engaged my wife is. She’s helped me on other boat projects, but with this one she is all in. We are both giving it our all. I don’t think we’ve ever been closer during all our years of marriage. Once we cast off our mooring lines, the best part will be not having her more than 40 feet away from me.
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