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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?

To 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 Railroad.


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 Chieftain.

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."


One 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.

'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.

Alas, 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 firepower.

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.

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2008 Steve DeGaetano

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