|The Columbia Story
Before the Columbia was designed,
wind studies were made of Disneyland, and maps of the Park showed Imagineers the predominate wind direction. Walt Disney was so
interested in giving his guests an authentic 18th century sailing
experience, that "simulating the sailing experience was planned to be part of the
show. The designer of the ship, Ray Wallace, even proposed a mechanical system
for tacking and unfurling the sails as to give the Ship a more realistic
journey," according to Imagineer Eddie Sotto.
Marine architect Jeff Maillian, whose company handled one of the Columbia's
rehabs in late 2004, concurs. "The original set-up had self-tacking 'show
sails'. They were removed largely due to Fantasmic! rigging
conflicts. 'Self tacking' means self-tending, and that means that they take
care of themselves." In other words, the ship was originally designed to have
unfurled and self-tending sails, and in several early views of the ship, many
of the ship's sails are unfurled.
Fears that high winds could topple the ship are completely
unfounded by mathematical calculations that showed a minimal effect, and
indeed, for many years, the ship sailed with sails partially unfurled.
The ship is actually powered by two 30"
diameter, 18" pitch standard ship's propellers (known as screws) housed in
fairings called "Kort Nozzles," which increase the screws' efficiency. They
were originally driven by two 15 horsepower electric motors that were supplied
with electricity from a Westinghouse 30 kilowatt electric generator. Today, the
horsepower of each AC motor has been increased to 25 hp. That generator was
originally powered by a Detroit diesel engine, but today a Compressed Natural
Gas (CNG) engine generates the electricity. Power for the lights comes from a
2,500-watt alternator, also powered by the CNG engine.
The Columbia has a draft of 45"
and the ship itself weighs 195,000 pounds. She travels at a speed of 1.3 knots
along the 2,410 foot guide rail. When originally built, she had a crew of four,
but today, two can handle the ship quite efficiently.
Here is a rare shot of one of Columbia's electrically-driven propellers,
taken while the ship was undergoing repairs in the Fowler's Harbor dry-dock. Photo courtesy Jeff Maillian.
many people realize that a rail guides the ship, she still floats freely in the
water. Jeff Maillian details how the boat sails on its path through the Rivers
of America: "The big boats (Mark Twain, Columbia), ride on a set
of wheels in a sliding steel cage that extends through the bottom near the bow
and stern. One wheel rides the top of the track and supports the cage; other
wheels ride the sides of the track and direct the boats."
An excerpt from "Adventureland/Frontierland Facts and Figures" provides more
The guide mechanism consists of two semi-buoyant caissons
set into the guide trunk, located in the hull of the ship. One is located
forward, and the other is aft. The caissons are equipped with a series of wheels
that roll on a steel rail which is supported on concrete piers beneath the
water. Other wheels roll vertically on tracks in the trunk to transmit rail
reactions to the hull of the ship. The semi-buoyant action of the guide assembly
permits this mechanism to continually exert a moderate downward thrust that
keeps the guide mechanism in close contact with the guide rail. At the same
time, the assembly compensates for the varying displacement and list of the
ship. This reference system creates a natural effect, which simulates a "rudder
So, while the Columbia is indeed free-floating, she is
guided in her cruise through the Rivers.
the course of several months, craftsmen added authentic wooden planking to the
hull sides, and completed "fitting out" the ship. Ray Wallace commented in
1964, "To the ship-lover and to the eternal purists, the actual timbering of
the Columbia can be a study in itself."
wooden masts and spars were installed and accurate, functional rigging steadied
those masts. In accordance with maritime tradition, silver dollars were affixed
at the bases of the masts where they attached to the keel, for luck (sadly,
when Disney replaced the wooden masts with steel ones in the 1990s, the coins
were pilfered). By the middle of June 1958, the ship was completed.
Disneyland is the only Disney theme park that features the Columbia.
This 1960 publicity photo provides a good look at the original sails and
According to Jeff Maillian, in legal terms Disneyland's Columbia (and the Mark
Twain, as well), are "water-borne amusement park rides." To dispel some
frequent message board rumors, the Coast Guard has no jurisdiction over the ship--nor do they want any. There is an informal agreement
regarding this between Disney and the USCG. The Columbia does not meet
certain federal requirements for rail height and fire suppression equipment.
Besides, the Coast Guard only has jurisdiction over "navigable waterways," and the Rivers of America--really a small
private-property lake--certainly does not qualify as such.
Columbia was dedicated at Disneyland with the pomp and flair that only
Disney could provide. The ceremonies took place on a balmy Saturday afternoon,
promptly beginning at 5pm on June 14, 1958. The cost to
re-create the Columbia? Depends. Most
sources list the amount at $300,000 dollars--six times what it cost to build the
real ship in 1787. However, the "Facts and Figures" sheet for CMs published in
1995 lists the amount at $100,000.
Coast Guard Admiral Alfred Carroll Richmond presented a Bible to the Columbia's
acting skipper, in accordance with maritime tradition. And the Admiral's wife,
Gretchen Richmond, christened the Columbia with a bottle of champagne as
Walt looked on proudly.
Mrs. Richmond christens the new ship before excited passengers are allowed to
ship, with a capacity of 275 able-bodied "crew," sailed Disneyland's Rivers of
America for several years, a wonderful reminder of America's grand colonial
past. But there was something lacking about the ship; details that Walt wanted
to portray. For five years, the ship had merely been a set; a showpiece.
wanted something more. He wanted the ship to be "real."
Next: Walt gets what he wants.