Columbia 8.7 – boat reviews article

The Columbia 8.7 was one of the first of a series of modern small cruisers built by Columbia in the late 1970s. All were given metric length designations to distinguish them from Columbia’s older boats, most of which were designed by Bill Tripp. The metric Columbias—the 7.6, 8.7, 9.6, 10.7 and 11.8—were drawn by Alan Payne, the Australian who designed the America’s Cup challengers Gretel and Gretel II, two of the more competitive boats to participate in the Cup races prior to 1983.

Columbia labeled the entire Payne line as “widebody supercruisers,” the implication being that the boats were designed exclusively for cruising, and that you were getting more boat per foot of length. In fact, the metric Columbias are a few inches beamier than most other “modern” cruisers of the late 1970s, and quite a bit wider than slightly olderstyle cruising boats of the same period.


By way of comparison, the Cape Dory 28 has a beam of 8′ 11"; the Ranger 28, 9′ 7"; the Newport 28, 9′ 7"; and the Cal 2-29, 9′ 3".

As with any boat that has been built by several different companies, opinions vary about who built the best Columbia 8.7. Our owners’ surveys do not reveal any definite pattern of superiority among any of the three builders that were involved with the boat: owners of boats from all three companies tend to believe that their boats are better than earlier or later incarnations.

For better or worse, the Columbia 8.7 is modern in appearance, with a very straight sheer, pronounced forward overhang, and no overhang aft. The stern is decidedly unusual, with an exaggerated wineglasssection transom. This reduces the apparent size of the back end of the boat, which would otherwise look very ungainly since beam is carried well aft. From an aesthetic point of view, you either like the stern or you don’t.

You might think that a cruising boat designed by one of the more successful 12-meter designers would be a real screamer under sail. But the 8.7 is about 500 to 1,000 pounds heavier than other boats of her size and type, while the rig is about average in size. In winds of below about 10 knots, owners report that the boat is no faster than other boats of her type.

One big performance plus is the boat’s balance under sail. A large number of owners say the boat is perfectly balanced on all points of sail, and in all wind velocities. Part of this probably stems from the shape of the stern. The pronounced tuck in the stern that creates the wineglass transom also creates a fairly symmetrical waterplane, which stays symmetrical as the boat heels.

The mainsheet traveler is recessed in the aft end of the bridgedeck at the forward end of the cockpit. This puts the three mainsheet blocks fairly close to the end of the boom, reducing the amount of effort needed to trim the main. The mainsheet is trimmed directly on the traveler using a block and cam cleat. This is a good arrangement for a boat this size. The helmsman can actually reach all the sheets, so the boat can easily be sailed by one person.

The original rig was neither anodized nor painted, so you may find corrosion in an older mast. Very early in the production run, there was a free factory retrofit which modified the masthead shroud tangs. It will be next to impossible to determine if this has been done on any particular mast, so you should carefully examine the masthead for any signs of metal fatigue or unusual wear.

Engine choice is always a problem, and seems even more so in a small boat like the 8.7. The weight of a larger engine can have a negative effect on sailing performance and trim in a small boat, and the greater fuel requirements of a bigger engine reduce cruising range for a given fuel capacity. At the same time, small boats seem really sensitive to being underpowered, particularly when trying to make way into a head sea. The small boat pitches more, losing forward momentum, and always seems to be the wrong size for the wave pattern.

The Yanmar 2QM15 is probably the best engine choice for the boat. One owner reported breaking two prop shafts when the shaft separated from the coupling in reverse. We have heard of similar problems with some Yanmar engines in other boats from this same period. We suspect the problem is related to early Yanmar engine mounts. Another part of the problem is probably the shaft itself, which is only 3/4" in diameter, and has an unsupported run of about 4′ from the transmission to the stuffing box.

Engine instruments are mounted in a recess in the cockpit under the bridgedeck, while controls are mounted on the side of the cockpit well. This is a pretty good location for the instruments on a coastal cruiser, but it would be too close to the cockpit sole for an offshore cruiser that might take a lot of water into the cockpit in severe weather.

Because the plywood interior is a structural component, you must make a careful survey of every secondary bond in the boat. A secondary bond is any bond made after the original hull lamination. In order to achieve strength comparable to the rest of the hull, careful surface preparation and workmanship are required for secondary bonds. Poor secondary bonds are unfortunately not rare in production sailboats, even though there is nothing in our owners’ surveys of the 8.7 to suggest that it is either better or worse than any other boat in this respect.

Some owners rave about finishing detail such as interior joinerwork and systems installation, some complain about its mediocre quality. Some of these differences are in the eye of the beholder, while others are likely to be real. No production boat, no matter how carefully construction is supervised, will have absolutely consistent quality from one hull to another.

Another problem mentioned by several owners is rudder delamination. This is fairly common in twopiece rudders, and repair involves cleaning and drying the cracked area, then glassing over it. Merely forcing epoxy or polyester putty into the joint is not a suitable repair. Check for play between the rudder blade and rudder stock at the same time that you examine the rudder blade for flaws.

Because the original fixed ports were large, oddshaped, and recessed in the cabin trunk, installing opening ports in older boats is a problem. There is room, however, for a double-opening aluminum framed hatch over the main cabin between the main hatch and the mast, which would help ventilation in good weather. Cowl vents in dorade boxes can also be installed on either side of the sliding companionway hatch over the aft part of the main cabin.

Opposite the head is a hanging locker and a threedrawer bureau. While drawers waste a lot of space, they are the best way to stow folded clothes. You don’t see too many drawers on boats this size. The foot of the starboard settee berth extends forward under the bureau. The backs of both settees swing up and out of the way to make wider berths for sleeping— a good design feature.

Aft of the port settee, there is a quarterberth tucked under the cockpit. Unlike the quarterberths on many small boats, the head of the berth on the 8.7 is not under the cockpit itself, so you won’t get claustrophobic. The rudimentary fold-down chart table over the head of the quarterberth is nothing to write home about, but few 28 1/2-footers have anything better. A real nav station ain’t usually in the cards on a boat this size.

Pushing the starboard settee forward leaves the starboard aft end of the main cabin free for the galley, and it’s really a pretty good galley for a boat this size. A deep single Polar sink is standard—much better than the toy sinks frequently seen on small boats. There is also room for a two-burner gimballed stove with oven, which is a genuine luxury, although you won’t find anything but an alcohol stove unless an owner has changed it. Owners comment that the insulation in the icebox leaves something to be desired.

The Columbia 8.7 and her sisters were not the first boats to feature more volume in less length, but they did it with fewer compromises than a lot of more “modern” cruising boats. The Columbia 8.7 does not look particularly dated, either inside or out. She is certainly not classic, either, despite what anyone may claim about her unusual stern shape.

balance under sail and relative stability, the boat would make a good entry-level coastal cruiser, even for relatively inexperienced sailors. The boat is not handicapped by poor hull shape or bad deck layout, which run rampant in small boats touted as cruisers rather than racers. Unfortunately, the term “cruising sailboat” has become equated with “slow.” That is true for a lot of small boats, but it need not be if designer and builder have done their homework.