This compact motorsailer stretches the northern sailing season.
Photos by Ron Dwelle
Putting a pilothouse on a short waterline is often a recipe for ugly, but the LM32 retains cleaner lines than similar breeds.
Danish company LM (Lunderskov Møbelfabrik) began as a wood-furniture maker in 1940. In the 1950s, the company started incorporating the newfangled fiberglass into its furniture and changed its name to LM Glasfiber.
In 1972, the company built its first fiberglass sailboat, the LM27, and over the next 20 years, it built 3,000 boats in five models, ranging from 24 to 32 feet. In 1995, LM stopped building boats and concentrated on fabricating giant wind-turbine blades. The manufacturer is now known as the LM Wind Power Group and claims to be the world’s largest maker of the blades. Unfortunately, the company no longer has anything to do with LM sailboats.
Most LM boats were sold in Europe, but for several years in the 1980s, about a fourth of their hulls were sold in the U.S., particularly in the Great Lakes and East Coast areas. A drastic change in the currency exchange rate raised their price significantly, ending imports. The importer was located in Green Bay, Wis., but went out of business in 2001.
LM reportedly sold the hull molds to English company ScanYachts, which built only two or three hulls, one as recently as 2004.
Photos by Ron Dwelle
A hatch in the pilothouse roof allows the helmsman 360-degree views.
All the LM models share a similar look—canoe-stern hulls with a pilothouse ahead of a sizable cockpit. All are mast-head rigged sloops, and every owner we talked to said that the boats sailed better than they expected—an experience that we shared on our test sail of the LM32. Despite the boat’s appearance, owners don’t regard them as motorsailers. The smallest model—the LM24—looks a little clunky with the pilothouse, but all the larger models are fairly attractive, with a modest sheer and fairly low cabinhouse and pilothouse. The LM24 was one of the few small boats with a 6-foot standing headroom. The LM27 gained a reputation as an exceptionally good, small ocean passagemaker, and it continues to be in high demand on the European used-boat market.
All LM boats came with a very complete list of standard equipment, including lifelines, pulpits, speedometer, depthsounder, boarding ladders, anchor and rode, fenders, fire extinguishers, and even dishes and cutlery.
The LM24 and LM27 have shallow full-length keels, but the other models were available with twin bilge keels in addition to the more common long-ish fin keel. As far as we know, no bilge-keel models were imported to the U.S., although this was the most popular in England. The fin-keel models have a spade rudder behind a small partial skeg. Ballast in the smaller models was cast iron, and the company said that the larger models had “an alloy of iron and lead cast in fiberglass.” We haven’t been able to decipher that claim, but the ballast is enclosed in fiberglass, which is integral to the hull.
All of LM’s designers were in-house, and they were referred to as “the back-room boys.” The designer of the LM24 is listed simply as “LM.” The LM27 was designed by Palle Mortensen, and the other three models were designed by Bent Juul Andersen.
The boats were sold with either a Bukh (German) or a Volvo (Swedish) diesel. All the LM boats imported to the U.S. came with Volvo engines, while most of the European boats had the Bukh. The Volvo featured a saildrive as standard in the LM30 and LM32. The engines are enclosed in a sound-proofed fiberglass box, either underneath the sole of the pilothouse (LM32) or under the sole of the cockpit (LM30). Many of these boats on the used-boat market have been re-powered with a variety of engines.
The LMs’ construction is conventional but well done. The boats have a reputation in Europe for high quality, and the LM32 we tested bore out that reputation. The hull is hand-laid fiberglass, and the deck is balsa cored. It’s noteworthy that we could find no delamination or spongy spots in the deck or top of the pilothouse in the 28-year-old LM32 we tested—a rarity in a boat of that age.
The interior mahogany woodwork is well done, as you might expect from a company with a long history as a furniture maker. Even the cabinets and drawers are noticeably well-made, evidence that the company didn’t skimp on what was out of sight.
The 32 shares all the obvious characteristics of the LM line—particularly the distinctive canoe stern and pilothouse. In most respects, it is simply a larger version of the smaller models. The boat is 32 feet in length and has a 27-foot, 10-inch waterline; its beam is 10 feet 8 inches, and it draws 4 feet, 11 inches. The bilge keel models (called twin-keel in some brochures) draw 4 feet, 1 inch. Displacement is 12,000 pounds, with 4,400 pounds of ballast.
The LM32’s cockpit is sizable considering that canoe-stern boats usually have shortened cockpits. There are bench seats on each side of the cockpit, and a large fold-out table easily can seat six. The boat came standard with a canvas bimini that covers the cockpit, and the boat we sailed had zip-in side curtains as well.
There are lockers under each of the bench seats—propane tanks on the port side—and a huge locker under the cockpit sole. Cockpit drains are adequately sized, but they could become a problem with boarding seas from astern, especially since there is no bridgedeck between the cockpit and pilothouse.
At the top of the rudder-stock is an attachment spot for the removable tiller, which can be used if you want to sail from the cockpit rather than from the pilothouse. The wheel steering in the pilothouse has a mechanical disconnect so the tiller moves freely. It would be a challenge to get at the steering gear near the rudder post since the compartment is sealed off from the rest of the cockpit and there are only two round, 6-inch access ports.
At the forward end of the bench seats on each side are the halyard and reefing lines, which run inside a channel on the side of the pilothouse and terminate in cam cleats in front of stainless Andersen winches. The Andersen genoa winches are adequate but definitely not oversized. None of the winches on the test boat were self-tailing; self-tailers were not originally offered as an option.
The mainsheet has a single cam-cleat attachment point at the back edge of the pilothouse, and the sheet hangs down into the cockpit. There’s no mainsheet traveller.
At the front of the cockpit, double sliding doors open up to the pilothouse. On the starboard side is the steering station with a raised captain’s seat and a second fold-up seat that slides out so two people can share the helm. A wood steering wheel is immediately ahead, and engine controls, the electrical panel, and sailing instruments are directly in front of the helmsman.
The chart table is immediately ahead of the wheel. This setup is good for laying down a chart so the helmsman can see it, but it made it difficult to do actual chart work.
The pilothouse’s front windows have windshield wipers, and the front center window opens up for ventilation. An interesting feature testers noted was a sliding hatch above the wheel and seat that allows the helmsman to stand up for a good view of the sails, deck, and seas.
On the port side of the pilothouse is a compact galley, with a two-burner propane stove and a small sink. On the test boat, the front-loading refrigerator is underneath the stove, and storage drawers extend all the way outboard to the hull. The only usable counterspaces are the hinged wood covers for the stove and sink, which can be moved when the stove or sink are in use. This may be the smallest galley in any 32-foot production sailboat.
The pilothouse steps down into the saloon, which has a settee on the port side and a dinette/double-berth to starboard. The owner of the boat we sailed had removed the dinette table, opting to eat only at the cockpit table in exchange for a roomier saloon. Stowage lockers are outboard of the 6-foot-long settees as well as underneath. An overhead hatch and a single, fixed port on each side offer good lighting.
Forward of the saloon is the head to starboard, with a hanging locker opposite. The compact head compartment is unusual in that the sink slides out from underneath the deck, above the toilet. The small head also has a teak grating above the sump, making it possible to shower in the head. Fixed ports on each side offer lighting.
The V-berth uses a filler to make a roomy double bed, though it is only 6 feet long. Small stowage lockers are at the head of the V-berth and underneath the anchor locker. There are also shelves along the hull above the berth. Two fixed ports on the side and an overhead front hatch provide adequate lighting. Early models had stacked berths that looked suitable mostly for children, but we don’t think any of those were imported to the U.S.
Overall, with its narrow beam, long cockpit, and canoe stern, the LM32’s interior room is comparable to a more-modern, broad-beamed, fat-stern 28-footer. At least LM avoided the folly of quarter-berths, which are wasted space on most boats this size. This is definitely a couple’s boat, and finding living or sleeping space for four people would be a push.
The cockpit table folds and tucks into a dedicated slot in the stern (left). Great Lakes sailors will like the warmth and security that the pilothouse affords (above).
The rig is a conventional, single-spreader masthead sloop. The chainplates are close to the deckhouse, so the sidedecks are adequately wide, except at the back edge of the pilothouse, where it is a squeeze to get through.
A rigid boom-vang was standard for the LM32 mainsail, making up some for the lack of a traveller. A 150-percent furling genoa also was standard; smaller sails and a spinnaker were options. The boat we test sailed had only the standard main and 150, but had recently added a “stack pack” for mainsail handling.
Anyone buying a saltwater LM will want to scrutinize the rigging and chainplates carefully for corrosion. The boat we tested was a freshwater boat with zero rig issues after 28 years.
The LM32 engine is a Volvo MD17 three-cylinder, 35-horsepower diesel. It’s plenty big to push the boat, even through headwinds and waves. The Volvo saildrive makes for a compact installation, and the entire engine/drive unit is contained in a waterproof and soundproofed compartment underneath the pilothouse sole. Testers noted that the engine was quiet and its installation offered good access.
The aluminum saildrive needs to be maintained carefully if used in saltwater, but we’ve heard of surprisingly few problems with corrosion or with the rubber hull seal. The saildrive came with a fixed prop—a folding prop being optional—and the boat we tested had the fixed. Performance would benefit from a folding prop.
On the LM32, the prop is well forward of the rudder, making the boat less maneuverable in reverse. There’s also little sidewise kick from the prop, so tight-quarter turning will be a challenge. In the LM30, the saildrive is much closer to the rudder—under the cockpit rather than under the pilothouse.
Original fuel tankage on the LM32 was 55 gallons, more than enough for normal cruising. In fact, we’re not big fans of such large tankage. Most coastal cruisers will eventually have fuel in the tank that is several years old, and this could lead to potential problems with algae and other contaminants.
The 55 gallons of water tankage is also adequate for coastal cruising, but the holding tank is only 15 gallons, and this could be an issue as states increase enforcement of pump-out rules. Unfortunately, there is no good place on the boat to install a larger tank.
The original electrical wiring was well done, although after 25 years there are almost always some cobbled-up wiring runs, and the breaker panel would benefit from expansion. The boat comes standard with four 90-amp batteries—housed directly ahead of the engine compartment underneath the pilothouse sole—and shorepower wiring.
The boat also came standard with basic sailing instruments—except a wind meter—and all were still working on the boat we sailed. A wheel-mounted autopilot was installed in the pilothouse. Most owners will want to upgrade to more modern instruments.
The standard deck hardware was satisfactory, in our opinion. There’s a small bowsprit, and our test boat carried a 33-pound Bruce anchor. The anchor locker offers plenty of room for adequate rode. The boat we tested had all chain rode and a windlass. Second and third anchors would have to be stowed in cockpit lockers.
As we noted, the sidedecks and toe-rail are acceptable, being skinny only at the back edge of the pilothouse, but testers did have a problem climbing up on top of the pilothouse—something that you would not do often anyway. The boarding ladder at the canoe stern could be a challenge for some, since there’s so little deck space back there, but it’s do-able.
We were pleasantly surprised by the sailing ability of the LM32. With its pilothouse and canoe stern, you might expect it to sail like a motor sailor, but it’s nimble and relatively quick, much like a conventional modern sloop.
Conditions for our test sails were 8- to 10-knot winds, and later 10 to 14 knots winds, in relatively flat water, so we sailed with a full main and the 150-percent jib. Both Dacron sails were in excellent shape, of recent vintage. The LM32 sailed nearly to hull speed in the light air and definitely to hull speed in the heavier air.
She came about quickly and tacked easily through 90 degrees. Off the wind, she did very well on close and beam reaches, slowing down only when the wind went more than 120-degrees apparent. You wouldn’t need a reef in the main until about 15 knots. Though narrow, the LM32 is a pretty stable boat.
Testers found steering from the pilothouse to be tricky. The sheets and other sail controls are all in the cockpit, behind the pilothouse, so the helmsman has to leave the helm to handle the sails or depend on crew.
The boat can be sailed from the cockpit, using the attachable tiller, but visibility is poor from the cockpit seats—the helmsman would have to stand up to steer the boat. For cruising, the autopilot would ease this problem, but most experienced sailors would have to adjust to the pilothouse.
LM boat owners seem to hold on to their boats for a long time. At presstime, 15 LMs were listed for sale in Europe, but only one was listed in the U.S. And the only boat sold in the U.S. in the previous year that we could find was actually exported to Europe. Prices varied from $43,000 to $73,000, which we think is very expensive for this size boat.
The appeal of LM boats is definitely in their appearance. If you like a pilothouse and the idea of a canoe stern, this boat is worth considering. It’s well-made and sails well, better than most motorsailers we know. We would be hesitant to take one offshore (though a number have made long passages), but it would be a good coastal cruiser.
Be sure to check out those boats built between 1978 and 1981—owners think they're the best.
By the mid ’80s, after only ten years in business, Hunter Marine had become one of the two leaders (with Catalina Yachts) in the volume of auxiliary-sized sailboats on the US market. And, like Catalina, the corporate philosophy at Hunter was to mass produce low priced boats with as few changes in tooling, hence design, as possible.
As a result, Hunter until 1978 had a line basically consisting of three boats: the Hunters 25, 27 and 30, added to thereafter by smaller (20' and 22') and larger ( 31, 34', 36', 37' and 54') while the original three remained in production. Only after nine years production was the 25 replaced in the line (with the 25.5) and, after 10 years, the 27 (by the 28.5).
The basic marketing program of Hunter has remained remarkably consistent since it produced its first boats in 1974. That policy has made price the single most important factor in selling its boats. With the cost savings from mass production and minimum changes in tooling, Hunter has sold by far the highest volume of the lowest priced boats of their size and type on the market for the last 10 years.
Hunter Yachts came into being amid the energy crunch in the early 1970s. Silverton, a large manufacturer of smaller powerboats, expanded to build “energy-conscious” sailboats. It started with three boats, two John Cherubini-designed performance cruisers, the Hunters 27 and 30, and a Robert Seidelmann/J. Cherubini-designed small (MORC) racer, the Hunter 25.
The original Hunter 25 was a racy boat with a wedge-shaped cabin trunk that limited interior space. That space was further restricted by a design parameter for trailering, an 8' beam.
From the outset Hunter has maintained a policy of selling its boats “fully equipped” so the original boats came with sails, dock lines and fenders, required safety gear, etc. and no factory supplied options except a shoal draft keel (in the fall of 1978 this sales policy got a name, CruisePac). Price of the 25 in 1974 was quoted at less than $8,000 with the boats reportedly being offered to dealers at closer to $6,000 in order to encourage a high sales volume.
By 1975, the desired sales being apparently unattainable with a boat as performance-oriented as the 25, the boat was offered in a so-called “pop-top” version with a more box-like cabin trunk at a price just $150 above the $8,500 tag on the standard version. The hull, rig and interior layout remained essentially the same. The following year the original model was discontinued and a box cabin trunk model without a pop-top became the standard Hunter 25.
At the same time, in keeping with the cruising image and purpose, a Yanmar single-cylinder diesel engine became an option and much was made of the increased headroom (from 5' 2" to 5' 8"). Later still the transom was made more vertical (cockpit space having been at a premium and helping to cure the problem of mounting a outboard motor) and the headroom further increased.
In all over 2,000 25s were built, the exact number an oddly unavailable figure from Hunter Marine. Today they are probably the most universally recognized boat of their size and one of the most ubiquitous both in anchorages and on the used boat market, in brokers’ listings and classified advertising.
A Look at the Boat
Looking critically at a boat with the sales success of the Hunter 25 invites contention, but it does have notable deficiencies as well as notable virtues. Its virtues start with price just as Hunter Marine intends they should. When low price is a chief priority, it buys a lot of boat in a Hunter 25. This axiom applies just as much to the used 25 as it did to the new. For the entry-level sailor or one moving up into a first boat suitable for cruising, the 25 offers good livability (space, berths, enclosed head, and cookable galley), at least average performance and stability, a functional decor and styling, easily maintained (or neglected) cosmetics, and adequate structural strength for semi-protected waters. And all of this is obtainable at a price that competes with typical prices for the smaller, more cramped 23 footers of similar vintage.
On a negative side, the 25 suffers from the original narrowish beam, an unfortunate parameter since the boat never proved practical for trailering. Worse still, the shoal draft version, otherwise a desirable feature in boats of this size and purpose, does not have top-notch performance or stability. The cockpit is short and cramped for daysailing with a crew of more than three or four, and the coaming is too low for back support.
In general the Hunter 25 performs adequately. Under PHRF a fin-keel 25 rates about 222 (shoal draft, 230 or so), letting it sail boat-for-boat with the Catalina 25 and the O’Day 25, two slightly higher priced but otherwise comparable boats in size and type. Windward performance is hurt by shrouds attached at the rail and by the heavy weather helm created as the 25 heels. The shoal version further suffers from excessive leeway.
Perhaps the most serious fault of the Hunter 25 (as well as a lot of other boats of her size) is the inadequacy of an outboard motor as auxiliary power. For a “transition cruiser” auxiliary power is a highly desirable feature. At 4500 pounds with considerable windage the 25 needs engine power unavailable with outboard motors of reasonable horsepower. Add to this problem the tendency of a transom-mounted engine to lift free of the water in pitching conditions as well as the awkwardness of operating engine controls from the end of a tiller in a tight cockpit and you have persuasive arguments in favor of inboard engines in boats of this size even at the considerable additional cost.
Since, with the exception of the short-lived Yanmar option and owner-retrofitted engines (usually Saildrives), Hunter 25s are not available with inboard power, they are probably not a good choice for a buyer wanting a small auxiliary cruising boat.
What To Look For
Anyone in the market for a lower priced boat has to be more aware of possible problems than those prepared to spend more. The reasons are two-fold. In the first place, quality in boats is to a large degree a function of price. Secondly, for the less expensive boat the cost of repairs or replacement becomes a greater proportion of the value of the boat. With this in mind, we suggest looking at the following:
• A number of owners report problems with gelcoat. Crazing, voids, and porosity (pinholes that trap dirt) are commonly cited faults, especially in the deck and cabinhouse. Also, Hunter used a stippled gelcoat non-skid deck surface that deteriorates over the years. This pattern can be restored but it is not an easy task for the average owner unfamiliar with working with gelcoat.
• About half of the Hunter owners (25s and 27s) whose PS Boat Owner’s Questionnaires are in our files report at least “some” bottom blistering. Even if owner-refinished, the cost of ridding the boat of the pox could amount to 10% or more of the resale value of the boat and is unlikely to be more than tokenly recoverable in the sale price.
• Another oft-cited problem with the 25 is deck and cockpit-sole flexing. This flexing, while not a severe structural problem unless delamination has occurred, is unnerving and offends our sense of what a boat should feel like underfoot. To check for delamination (separation of the outer fiberglass laminate from the core material) tap the whole deck lightly with a hard plastic object such as the handle of a screw driver. Voids produce a dull sound.
• Play in the rudder post seems common on the 25s. Of the three we specifically looked at, 1977-1980 vintage, all had a noticeable degree of “slop” between the rudder post and the rudder tube. There is no simple or easy way to cure the ill that is more annoying than dangerous.
• Several readers report—and our findings support-the impression that 25 built between 1978 and 1981 are generally of at least a bit better quality than those built before or since. Note, however, there there can be no similar assurance that boats of that era were better maintained.
In our opinion the Hunter 25 does not recommend itself for any substantive restoration project except as it may help make the boat more enjoyable to own. With the number on the market, the basic functionality of the boat inside and out, and the low cost versus quality, expensive improvements do not produce commensurately higher value for the boat. At the same time, a polyurethane refinishing, bottom fairing (especially the iron keel), some dressing up of the decor (e.g., new berth upholstery), and a good choice of sails can do much to both the appearance and the pleasure of owning a 25.
One owner questionnaire voices the wonder of why Hunter-built boats tend to depreciate in contrast to other less popular boats. The reason is simple: the supply exceeds the demand. With the numbers built there are a lot on the used boat market. Many are also available because they were traded in on new boats, a source on the used boat market that tends to further depress selling price.
Frankly the Hunter 25 is best as a used boat when the most boat for the dollars is the overriding concern and, on a buyer’s market, when a good deal presents itself. Yet even then there are roomier, faster, better finished, and more distinctive boats readily available at comparable prices. One example is the Catalina 25. More importantly we think buyers should think smaller if budget constraints are crucial because they will want better performance with outboard power or they should think inboard at 10-15% higher price if needing 25' and/or 4000+ pounds of boat.
If still otherwise sold on a Hunter 25, we would opt for a deep draft 25 for her performance and greater stability, and look for one that has had better-than-average maintenance to reduce the chances of serious problems. Whether valid or not, we’d also look for one built between 1978 and 1981—they have impressed owners as better boats.
This late '70s coastal cruiser is somewhat plain but structurally sturdy.
The Columbia 9.6 is one of the last boats built by this pioneer of fiberglass sailboats. The 9.6 stands for meters and distinguishes it from Columbia’s earlier boats, which used feet: Columbia 22, 26, 28, etc.
According to Heart of Glass, former PS editor Dan Spurr’s encompassing history of the fiberglass boatbuilding industry, Columbia was founded by 25-year-old Richard Valdes and Maurice Thrienen in 1960. Valdes had graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1956. Thrienen, 10 years older, had served in the US Navy submarine service during World War II. In 1957, Thrienen was selling fiberglass supplies.
The company was first named Glas Laminates, later Glass Marine Industries. Within a few years, the name was changed to Columbia, after the successful introduction in 1962 of the Columbia 29, designed by Sparkman & Stephens. It became, along with Jensen Marine that built the Cal line, one of the largest builders of fiberglass sailboats. Later they built a line of power cruisers called the Express 30, 36 and 42. In its heyday, Columbia exported boats to Europe.
The Columbia 9.6 is a salty, attractive- looking boat... even if it was designed to the now-defunct IOR. The transom, however, is quite small and the bow very raked.
Learning early on not to put all their eggs in one basket, the young men also built fiberglass camper tops, shower stalls and chemical toilets. Perhaps this was because Vince Lazarra had bought controlling interest in their company. Lazarra had come out of Chicago, where he owned a foundry, to join with Fred Coleman in Sausalito building the first production fiberglass sailboat, the Bounty II. When they sold out to Grumman, Lazzara moved south to Costa Mesa to join Valdes and Thrienen.
In 1964, Columbia opened an East Coast facility in Portsmouth, Virginia.
By 1965, Columbia built the largest production fiberglass sailboat—the Columbia 50, the boat in which authors Steve and Linda Dashew made their first circumnavigation. The 50 was successful both on the race course and in numbers sold.
Bill Tripp designed the 50 and a slew of similar, flush-deck racer/cruisers—among them the 26, 34, and 43. Bill Crealock was commissioned for the hugely popular Columbia 22 and Charley Morgan for the Columbia 40, based on his Sabre, which nearly won the 1964 SORC. The Columbia 31 was based on Morgan’s Paper Tiger, which did win the SORC—twice.
In 1967 the trio sold out to the Whittaker Corp. and Lazzara moved on, building houseboats for a time before his no-compete clause expired, when he started Gulfstar in Florida.
The "meter" line of sailboats was introduced in the mid and late 1970s. All were designed by Australian Alan Payne, whose 12 Meters Gretel and Gretel II had competed tenaciously for the America’s Cup.
When Whittaker decided to unload Columbia, it was the molds for the Columbia 7.6, 8.7 and 10.7 that were sent to Aura in Huron Park, Ontario, Canada. Aura built some of these models, but only between 1984 and 1986.
The Design Columbia called Payne’s "meter" boats "Widebody Supercruisers." While some other models in the line may have had wider beam than most of their contemporaries, this isn’t the case with the 9.6's 10'2" beam. For example, the 1973 Ranger 32's beam is 10'10"; the Paceship 32 10'6" and the C&C-designed Ontario 32 11'0". Yes, there were boats with narrower beams, but these were generally older designs.
The company also hyped the 9.6, introduced in 1976, as having a “…racing physique. And a cruising heart.” The production run was about three years. Like nearly all major production builders, Columbia was after the elusive ideal of the racer-cruiser, trying to convince buyers that you really can have it all: Win races and cruise in sheik-like comfort.
When first introduced, Columbia said it was organizing one-design fleets around the country—à la the Tartan Ten—but we don’t recall this happening, at least on any large scale.
The overhangs are fairly generous, especially the almost clipperesque bow (because of its slight concave shape), which gives the boat just a 23'9" waterline length. Draft is 5'6", which is a bit deeper than many 32-footers, and a nice concession toward the fast end of the performance continuum.
The most interesting and distinguishing characteristic of the 9.6, however, is the skeg between the keel and rudder. Of it, designer Payne said, "The skeg of the 9.6 was carefully designed to eliminate the separation wave which is commonly seen on the weather side towards the stern of a medium displacement yacht when it is heeled over and going fairly fast."
When viewing the plans, it certainly seems that this long skeg makes for too much wetted surface area.
Payne also noted that medium displacement was chosen in order to provide reasonable space inside plus the structural strength necessary for a lasting investment.
Unlike the 8.7 Meter, with its unusual wine glass transom, the 9.6 has an IOR type transom—a small triangular shape.
In any case, she’s better looking in the flesh (if one can say that about fiberglass) than on paper.
The displacement/length (D/L) ratio is a hefty 350 while the sail area/displacement (SA/D) ratio is a modest 15.3. Given these numbers, it's hard to see how this boat can win many races, despite the fact that its waterline length increases as it heels.
Construction The older and more successful Columbia models, such as the 26 and 36, all had molded fiberglass pans glassed into the empty hull; these pans incorporated the engine beds, berths and most of the other "furniture." Such "unitized" interiors, as Columbia called them, greatly speed up construction as it reduces man-hours—a key factor in the cost of building a boat. They do, however, have their drawbacks, as we have pointed out many times. Compared to plywood interiors tabbed to the hull, fiberglass pans are poor acoustic and thermal insulators (they are noisier and condense more moisture), can make access to parts of the hull difficult, severely limit customization, and are difficult to rebond to the hull should they ever come loose.
That said, the Alan Payne "meter" line has built-up wood interiors, which we much prefer.
To stiffen the hull, longitudinal stringers are glassed in both below the cabin sole and above the waterline. Columbia literature doesn’t specify what the stringers are formed over, but they’re probably wood or foam. The hull laminate itself is solid glass. The deck is cored with balsa.
Ballast is external lead with 3/4" keel bolts.
The rudder is a hollow fiberglass shell filled with foam; the rudderstock is stainless steel. Owners of the 8.3 noted a number of rudder failures but we did not hear this complaint about the 9.6.
A molded drip pan is fitted below the engine to prevent oil from migrating into the bilge.
An important feature for offshore sailing is the tabbing of structural bulkheads to the deck. This isn’t possible when molded fiberglass headliners are used. The 9.6 has a fabric headliner with zippered panels so the bulkheads can be bonded to the deck and so one can access the nuts that hold deck hardware in place.
The standard cabin sole is wood but of what species we are uncertain. A teak and holly sole was optional.
The 9.6 has a lot of teak veneer plywood and solid teak trim in the interior. Otherwise unfinished areas of the hull were coated with gelcoat, which makes them easier to clean.
All through-hulls are fitted with proper, positive-action, bronze seacocks, not gate valves that can freeze and whose handles may then twist off in your hand.
The toerail is an anodized aluminum extrusion similar to that popularized by C&C and that allows one to shackle a block anywhere; it also strengthens the hull-deck joint.
The electrical system has circuit breakers, but not many circuits. A good upgrade on many older boats is to install a new panel with more circuits. Be sure 12VDC and any 110VAC shore power systems are on separate panels per American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards. Some older boats may have combined panels. Underwater metal parts such as through-hulls are electrically bonded together and to a sacrificial zinc anode, which means that there are wires connecting them so that they all have the same voltage potential. This should minimize loss of metal to galvanic corrosion. The boat also has a lightning ground system, which directs current through the mast and shrouds to ground (water).
Standard steering was a tiller; in 1977 wheel steering was a $950 option. The rig is a keel-stepped masthead sloop with double lower shrouds.
Most owners responding to our Boat Owner’s Questionnaire rate construction quality as excellent, despite the fact that nearly all respondents complained about problems with the hull-sump joint. A few also noted gelcoat crazing.
Several owners said that the engine exhaust installation was incorrect and allowed water to backflow into the engine. This can be an expensive repair so check any boat you're considering purchasing to make sure this has been taken care of. Often the cause of water backflowing into the engine is the wrong placement of the waterlift muffler, or a muffler not large enough to hold the volume of water between it and the exhaust fitting in the hull.
Accommodations The interior plan is straightforward and functional. Two layouts were offered during the production run. Hulls #1-90 have twin pilot berths in the saloon. Hulls after #90 have an extension berth and pilot berth to starboard and a settee/berth to port. This later plan also has a quarterberth to port, whereas the earlier plan has no quarterberth, but instead an ice box with chart table over. In both layouts there is a V-berth forward plus enclosed head and hanging locker. Maximum headroom is 6' 1".
An early brochure made this point: "Teak Cabins Vs. Teak Trim. There’s a Difference. You’ll find a lot of boats that claim 'teak interiors.' But look closely. Unlike many 'price boats' that offer a teak bulkhead or two and some teak trim, the 9.6 cabin is all teak. Teak doors, cabinets, drawers, bulkheads, lockers, shower grate. Teak wherever you look. You can even get a teak sole. Only the counter and table tops, that have non-mar surfaces for frequent cleaning, are not teak. But even they have teak sea rails."
You get the idea.
The 1970s was a time when everyone wanted gobs of teak—down below and on deck. Teak decks were considered the classiest. Teak is a low-maintenance wood and highly rot resistant, owing to the high amount of oils in it. Ignored, it turns a weathered gray, which is fine if you don’t mind a dingy appearance. If, however, you want to enjoy the beauty of oiled or varnished teak, teak suddenly becomes much more maintenance-intensive, requiring sanding, taping off, and the application of an oil or varnish by brush. While many owners happily or grudgingly perform these rites of spring (and summer and fall if they’re smart), during the 1980s more boat owners began deciding they’d be willing to forego the beauty of natural teak for more time sailing. Builders were quick to pick up on this trend and began stripping teak off the boats above and below. Today it's not uncommon to see a big boat with no teak on deck and more judicious use of it below.
Performance Designed to the IOR (International Offshore Rule), the 9.6 had a 21.7 rating. One of the more interesting comments from owners is the complaint that the boat is difficult to make perform to that rating. Typical of these remarks was this summation from the owner of a 1977 model in Massachusetts: “Sails well, good in chop, handles well, however she will not race to her rating, either IOR or PHRF.”
The average PHRF rating is around 189 seconds per mile, though there are few fleets around the country.
As with most boats, owners' ratings of upwind and downwind speed, compared to other boats of similar size, are no doubt exaggerated. Most rate upwind speed as excellent and downwind as above average. A few perhaps more realistic owners give ratings of average and below average. In any case, nearly all agree that the boat doesn’t perform as well off the wind, which is generally the case with IOR-type hull forms.
In the same vein, owners rate stability and seaworthiness as very good but nearly all downgrade the boat for balance—again, particularly off the wind. "Must work controls to maintain balance," said the owner of a 1977 model in Pennsylvania.
When you study the sailplan you see a very high-aspect ratio mainsail and large overlapping genoa. In recent years, the trend has been in the opposite direction, back to smaller headsails (even self-tacking jibs of 100% or less) and larger mainsails, if for no other reason than most people don’t like to grind winches.
Several small diesels were supplied with the 9.6, including the 10-hp. Volvo MD6B and the MD7. Most owners complain that these powerplants are too small to move the boat at desired speeds, especially into head seas. Many have repowered with larger engines. If we were looking for a used 9.6, we’d hope for one with a newer and larger diesel. We noted that some repowered with early model Q series Yanmars, which prospective buyers should know are not the same as the current generation, and are quite a bit noisier.
Conclusion The Columbia 9.6 is one of the better looking "meter" boats from designer Alan Payne. The basic structure is quite strong and suitable for offshore sailing.The interior may, to some eyes at least, be a bit on the dark side owing to all the teak. Of course one could paint over some of it, but that seems sacrilegious… even if the amount of teak is on the excessive side.
We could make do with either of the two interiors. Pilot berths make good sea berths and also are good places to store frequently accessed gear. Fit the berths with adjustable weather cloths to keep stuff from flying across the cabin. One owner said that the interior was great for overnight races, and we assume he's referring to the four berths amidships (or three in the saloon and one quarterberth in the early model). Kids like pilot berths, too.
The boat is not a screamer, but acquits itself quite nicely upwind. A spinnaker helps performance off the wind, though the helm will need attention.
Asking prices range from the high teens to low twenties, averaging around $21,000.
Bench tests compare porta potties from Thetford and Dometic.
The low cost and utter simplicity of small portable toilets make you think twice about fully plumbed marine heads. While installed heads can get complex with hoses, valves, and through-holes, porta potties are basic fill-and-dump systems—two tanks and a pump, that’s it.
Testers evaluated the toilets’ construction and performance. Pictured (from left) are the Thetford 260, Thetford Curve, and West Marine Cruiser
A few steps above the old cedar bucket, portable toilets are essentially glorified waste containers, but a good one offers more comfort than a bucket, won’t leak, and can be emptied and cleaned with limited hassle. Plus, you can use them on all U.S. waters without the risk of violating marine sanitation regulations.
What We Tested
We last reviewed portable toilets in the October 2005 issue, and Thetford Marine’s products were testers’ top picks. This time around, we tested three portable toilets made by Thetford—the Porta Potti 260, the Porta Potti 550P, and the Porta Potti Curve—and two West Marine-brand port potties manufactured by Dometic/SeaLand, the Runabout 962 and the Cruiser 976. Dometic and Thetford are both global companies leading the marine-sanitation industry.
The test toilets were all constructed of polyethylene plastic and have either a piston, electric, or bellows-style pump. The bellows pumps use a bellows device to move the water, and the piston pump employs a high-pressure seal and a piston. In our experience, the plastic bellows pumps aren’t as durable as the piston pumps. They break more readily and tend to leak with extended use.
All of the test potties would fit on board a pocket-cruiser or larger boat. The Thetford 260 and West Marine Runabout also would fit onboard most daysail boats with cuddy cabins.
How We Tested
We based testing on the real-world situations in which most people use portable marine toilets (day sailing, weekend trips, cleaning them, transporting them, etc). Testers evaluated the dimensions of the toilets, toilet bowls, and toilet seats; the freshwater and wastewater tank capacities; toilet and tank weights (empty and with full tanks); ease of use; and construction quality. Then, we put the porta potties through their paces: Testers filled the freshwater tanks, looked for spills, and pumped the water into the bowls. We tested emptying the bowl into the holding the tank, and rated the levers and latches used to connect the freshwater and holding tanks. We also carried and emptied the wastewater tanks, with a close look at procedure, ease of emptying, and tendency to spill.
Thetford Porta Potti 260
Testers also rated the potties for comfort—and while comfort is relative, these things are not thrones. All the test toilets stand less than 24 inches off the ground and have an average seat diameter of less than one foot. Comparatively, a typical house toilet stands about 28 to 32 inches tall and has a seat that's 14 to 17 inches wide.
Testers measured how much water per pump each toilet used, and gauged that both West Marine test toilets required three pumps per flush and each Thetford toilet required six pumps. With that, we calculated the number of flushes per tank based on freshwater tank capacity.
Testers also looked at the tanks’ waste level indicators, fill and empty caps, locking mechanisms, and price. The Thetford toilets come with three-year warranties; the West Marine heads have one-year warranties.
Size and MSDs
One thing testers noticed right out of the gate: When it comes to portable thrones, size does matter. Users will have to balance the size and capacity of the toilets with how often they want to empty and clean the wastewater tank. A bigger tank can go longer without being emptied, but it will be heavier to haul down the dock and dump when it’s full.
The porta potties we tested are heavy when full (see Value Guide), and you’re not going to want to cradle them against your torso for support while transporting them for obvious reasons. Carrying them away from the body with arms extended can be hard on the arms and the back, especially when dumping larger-capacity wastewater tanks.
For a general reference, remember that a gallon of liquid weighs about 8.35 pounds. So a full 2.6-gallon wastewater tank weighs nearly 22 pounds, and if you have a porta potty with a 5.5-gallon wastewater tank, you’re looking at over 45 pounds of waste. Dock dolly anyone?
Thetford Porta Potti 550P
A word about Marine Sanitation Devices (MSDs): Regulations covering the certification and use of MSDs are issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. In general, regulated sanitation systems comprise an installed head, a waste-treating device, and/or a holding tank. Unless plumbed to a permanent, fixed system, portable toilets are not considered to be MSDs, so they are not regulated and are legal to use on all U.S. waters. (For more on MSD regulation, check out this article online.)
The Thetford Porta Potti 260 was the simplest toilet in our test group and for that reason, a favorite of testers. With few bells and whistles, there are fewer things that can break.
The Porta Potti 260, the smallest toilet in the test group, stands just over a foot off the ground and is just more than a foot wide. The freshwater and wastewater tanks each hold 2.6 gallons. The lid and toilet seat can be removed for easier cleaning. The 260’s seat and toilet bowl were the smallest of the Thetford test toilets, but they were still slightly larger than those of the West Marine toilets.
As with all of the test toilets, the 260’s freshwater tank is filled through an opening on its top. The model we tested had a piston pump, but the 260 also is available with a bellows-type pump, and there are two MSD models.
The 260 is comfortable enough to sit on, it pumps easily, and the waste is easy to empty into the holding tank, simply by pulling a sturdy lever on the toilet’s front. Testers also noted that the tanks are easy to separate—simply slide a lever in the back of the toilet and release the latch—reset, and connect back together.
The six-inch spout on top of the wastewater tank easily rotates 280 degrees, making dumping easier. A valve releases any pressure built up in the waste tank and helps prevent splashing.
The wastewater tank does not have access for cleaning other than the release opening and the spout opening, but this was true for all models in our test. The holding tank level indicator is a simple green square on the front of the holding tank that eases toward red as the tank fills. When full, the wastewater tank weighs approximately 22 pounds. It has an ergonomic carrying handle, but there is no handle on the freshwater tank.
Our testers found no leaks during normal use, lifting, transporting, and dumping, but if the toilet is tilted (like when the boat is excessively heeled or pounding into waves), the freshwater tank will leak at the cap if it is full.
The 260 sells for $76 online. Bottom line: Simple and easy to use, the 260 gets the Budget Buy pick and our Recommendation for a basic, small portable toilet.
Although it’s more than 4 inches taller than the 260 with a slightly bigger seat and a deeper bowl, the Thetford Porta Potti 550 doesn’t seem to offer many other advantages over the 260, in our opinion. Construction, gauges, and quality are the same, as are the pumps and the release levers.
Our Thetford 550 test unit was an MSD model intended for permanent plumbing, so it did not have a spout for dumping the waste tank. The MSD option would be for permanent installation only. We did not test this function.
Testers could not get the lid of the 550’s freshwater tank to close. This allowed water to leak out of our test unit, when it was moved, essentially rendering the toilet useless on a moving boat; however, we suspect the freshwater tank cap on the non-MSD models is designed differently.
Both the 260 and 550 allow 2 ounces of fresh water from one pump of the piston. With the 550’s 4-gallon freshwater tank, that allows an average of 43 flushes before you need to refill the freshwater tank. The wastewater tank is 5.5 gallons, and the tank contents weigh approximately 45 pounds when full. Add to that the toilet’s 10.55 pounds, and you may need a dock cart, or an extra hand, to haul the toilet for dumping. Marina managers might also have a problem with this much waste being poured into a marina toilet.
Note that before you put anything into the 550’s bowl, the two tanks have to be securely fastened or else the waste and fresh water will spill onto the holding tank. The good news is that, like us, you’ll only make this mistake once. The holding tank has a sealed valve to keep odors trapped.
The Thetford 550 costs $140 online. Our test model included a tie-down kit.
Bottom line: Other than its larger size and the optional outlets for permanent installation, the 550 doesn’t offer many advantages over the 260. A bigger toilet may be more comfortable and home-like, but it tends to take the “portable” out of porta potty, when it comes to dumping it.
A portable toilet with electric flush? That’s the case with Thetford’s Porta Potti Curve, which adds a little glamour to the portable toilet concept with battery-powered flushing. We were initially skeptical of the seemingly unnecessary feature, but once the six AA batteries were installed and testers tried it, we were impressed.
The Curve’s construction and design are similar to Thetford’s 260 and 550 models, with the exception of a rounded overall shape that mirrors the curved toilet seat. Its seat and toilet bowl dimensions are the same as 550’s, making the two the largest in the test field. The Curve also has a freshwater-tank level indicator and a toilet-paper holder on its side. The lever that empties the bowl into the holding tank pulls out from the right side of toilet, so the toilet will require a little more lateral space for installation.
The cap on the Curve’s freshwater tank seals securely, and testers would have preferred that the same design were used on the 250 and 560, both of which have comparatively poor seals here. Also, unlike its siblings, the Curve has excellent carrying handles molded into both the freshwater and waste tanks, for easier toting on and off the boat.
Pressing the battery-powered pump button releases a controlled pulse of water. The pump continues to pulse water out from the tank with continued pressure (as opposed to a flow of water). Testers noticed that using the battery-powered pump usually resulted in more water being used per flush than when testers flushed those with manual pumps. The Curve doesn’t require more water than the other Thetford toilets to flush the bowl, but the convenience of the electric pump made it easy to forget to be frugal with the water usage, resulting in the freshwater tank draining more quickly.
A hard, plastic cover offers some protection against accidentally engaging the battery-powered pump button. But if there’s enough weight on the cover—like a toolbox—the pump will turn on and stay on, even after the tank is empty.
According to Thetford, a fresh set of batteries should last a season in the Curve, and the company recommends installing a new set of batteries at the beginning of each sailing season.
Testers like the ease of use and design of the Thetford Marine Porta Potti Curve—it is higher off the ground and slightly more comfortable than the 550 and 260, and the battery-powered pump is a bonus—but for portable toilets, we prefer smaller wastewater tanks over the Curve’s 5.5-gallon tank, which tops 45 pounds when full. The Curve does not have a manual backup to the electric pump, but users can always just add water to the bowl and use the slide lever to flush it should the batteries die.
West Marine Runabout
The Thetford Curve retails for $165 online, making it the most expensive in the test field.
Bottom line: Testers liked all the bells and whistles, even if they aren’t necessary. We Recommend the Curve for those looking for a bigger throne and who aren’t deterred by emptying the larger waste tank. Just be sure to keep plenty of extra batteries on hand.
West Marine Runabout
The Runabout, with a 2.6-gallon freshwater tank and a 2.5-gallon detachable holding tank, was the smallest of the two West Marine toilets we tested. Standing a foot off the ground, the sturdy Runabout uses a bellows pump and features a molded carrying handle in each tank.
Like the other test toilets, the Runabout’s freshwater fill is on its top. Testers noted that when the toilet is on a heel or is rocked from side to side, fresh water leaks from the tank.
Testers found that both West Marine models pumped 4 ounces of water per pump, double the amount of the Thetford toilets. This helps rinse solids more completely from the bowl, but means fewer flushes per fill-up.
The latches connecting the Runabout’s freshwater tank to the holding tank contain metal parts—this is never optimal in the marine environment. We’d prefer all-plastic latches.
The process of disconnecting the toilet before dumping was not as easy with the Runabout as other test toilets because both hands are required to hold the tank, leaving none free to clear the hanging latches. The lever that empties the bowl contents into the holding tank was also difficult to open and close. If not completely clear, waste will sit on the lid or spill down its side, testers noted.
The opening to empty the holding tank is wide and accessible, but there’s no spout extending away from the tank. The opening is located on the tank side, so be sure to securely close the lid after each emptying.
During testing, water left in the Runabout bowl leaked through the drain and settled on top of the holding tank. Although it’s rare that waste would be left in the bowl, rather than being flushed, we’d prefer to have a seal here to keep this from happening.
West Marine Cruiser
The Runabout costs $100 at West Marine.
Bottom line: The Runabout is pretty low to the ground, so users might want to set it on a platform. Average performance and a few design shortcomings kept the Runabout out of the winners circle.
West Marine Cruiser
The West Marine Cruiser is higher off the ground than the Runabout, but the body is the same sturdy construction. The Cruiser’s freshwater-tank cap, which was the only one in the test group with a gasket, locked down nicely and did not leak. The Cruiser has the preferred drain spout connected to the top of the waste tank, but testers still found it a good idea to empty the 5-gallon holding tank before it reached its capacity, as it’s too heavy once full.
The Cruiser’s single-mold freshwater and waste tanks are easy to connect and disconnect, testers noted, and both feature an ergonomic molded carrying handle.
The lever to empty bowl contents into the holding tank is easy to grasp and use. It and the tank latches are better designed than the Runabout. Testers weren’t impressed with its tank-level indicator, which would be hard to read while standing. The Cruiser’s seat is just slightly more narrow than the Curve’s, but its toilet bowl is only about 6 inches deep, a few inches shallower than the Curves’ and 550’s bowls. The Cruiser retails for $150.
Bottom line: The West Marine Cruiser is well-made and easy to use. It gets our Recommendation for those seeking a larger capacity toilet who don’t want to
fuss with batteries.
After all the pumping and dumping was said and done, testers’ pick for a simple, easily portable potty was the Thetford Marine 260 Porta Potti. It is well-made, easy to use, and truly portable, even when full. It gets our Budget Buy pick, and we recommend it for small boats or for anyone looking for a no-fuss porta potty.
Testers couldn’t help but like the battery-powered flush on the Thetford Curve, and they also appreciated the thought-out design of the West Marine Cruiser.
Both get our Recommendation for those seeking a little “luxury” in their porta-potty experience, and who have the space for a larger toilet and the muscle to haul the larger-capacity tanks. Their prices aren’t drastically different, so the decision would boil down to whether you have faith in electric pumps and are willing to keep feeding the Curve AA batteries. If you plan to use the toilet on a regular basis, the Cruiser or Thetford 260 would be our top picks.