The original Columbia's history was detailed in
part one of this series, and the
construction of Disneyland's version is covered
in part two. We caught up the rest of the ship's history
to current day in part three.
Co-author: Preston Nirattisai
We ended the last installment in this series with a question: Exactly how accurate is the Columbia,
compared with real ships from the 1780s?
answer that, I would now like to turn over the literary "helm" of this
article to Preston Nirattisai. Many of you know that Preston executed the
wonderful line drawings of the Disney trains in my two books on the Disneyland
But Preston is more than a CAD artist. He's an accomplished sailor,
having started sailing aboard the replica Lady Washington in the winter 2005 as deckhand/trainee, in tours of 3-6 months per year.
In spring 2007, he was promoted to "Bosun" (Second Mate), and last summer, he
was promoted to First Mate on the Lady Washington's sister ship, the Hawaiian
With experience like that, Preston is quite able to explain to
us the similarities and differences of Disneyland's Columbia, the Lady
Washington, and the real ships that are their namesakes. So, without
further adieu, here's Preston:
at dock. Photo courtesy Preston Nirattisai.
Lady Washington. Photo by Beth Loudon. 2007.
I have always been a fan of
Disneyland's Columbia. In fact, the ship inspired me to volunteer on the
Lady Washington. I learned many
things in my experiences as a seaman on an operating square rigged ship, and
here, I hope to explain a few of the details found throughout the Columbia,
and compare and contrast them with the same features on her working sister
ship, the Lady Washington.
As expected in anything Walt Disney
undertook, the Columbia actually got a lot of things "right" when it
came to authenticity. Let's start at the front, or "bow."
of the most important (or at least notable) aspects of a sailing ship is its
figurehead. Figureheads are decorative carvings (generally of wood or cast
metal) at the bow of the ship, under the "bowsprit" and mounted on
the "beak." The subject of the carving may be anything of the ship
owner's choosing, and are generally designed to convey the name of the ship, or
at least its meaning in the mostly illiterate world.
Columbia's magnificent figurehead eternally stares ahead into the
distance. Resplendent in red, white and blue, it evokes the patriotism of a
young nation. Photos courtesy Matt Walker.
the figurehead serves no "working" purpose on a ship. You might have
heard about some old sailors believing the figurehead was there to be "the eye
to see through storms," but the origin of this myth is hard to confirm. More
certainly, though, we know that the figurehead was used as a sort of badge of a
ship to display its power or wealth. A warship of the British Royal Navy, for
example, would be inclined to display a large, impressive figurehead, perhaps
of a Greek god with a sword and a shield to show off the ship's strength and
What about our Columbia? Here, the Disney interpretation gives her a
large, colorful figurehead, depicting a woman in flowing, streaming robes, as if
flying through the wind. It's romantic enough, but is it accurate?
On the left a close-up of Columbia's figurehead, photo courtesy
Matt Walker. For Disneyland's 50th anniversary she got some serious
bling-bling (right), which thankfully was short-lived.