This post will briefly compare the Columbia, a Disneyland sailing ship attraction, with the original HMAV Bounty. Previous posts explored the history of the original HMAV Bounty of 1787, the first replica Bounty , and the 1979 replica.
Bounty had a sistership!? Well, yes and no. One of the most accurate Bounty replicas is not Bounty at all! One of the benefits of Facebook groups about very specific topics is you learn some pretty interesting things. When I shared Part II of these Bounty posts, I learned from a former park employee at Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) that one of the ship attractions, the Columbia sailing ship, was actually based closely on the original Royal Navy dockyard draft of the Bounty.* Park animators receive a detailed booklet about the attractions that lays out this interesting story. Columbia is featured in our sailing warships and replicas page, but we didn’t know how closely these vessels were connected.
During the mid-1950s, Walt Disney asked his team of theme park designers for a new attraction that would be a sailing companion to Mark Twain, the recently completed riverboat, on the Rivers of America lagoon rides. Joe Fowler, his Director of Construction and Maintenance, suggested a recreation of the Columbia Rediviva, the first American ship to circumnavigate the Globe. At the time, it was the second major recreation of a sailing ship in the park, joining the stationary “Chicken of the Sea”/Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Raymond Wallace designed and supervised the building of the replica.**
The details about the original Columbia Rediviva are a bit vague, but she may have been built in the early 1770s in Massachusetts, and was extensively rebuilt in 1787, right about the time the British Admiralty were rebuilding Bounty for her long journey to Tahiti. At 83.5’ long on deck and about 210 tons burthen, Columbia Rediviva was slightly smaller than the original HMAV Bounty. A model at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, Oregon, shows a vessel that, all things considered, shares many features with Bounty and the 1770s-era converted Whitby collier HM Bark Endeavour, Captain James Cook’s vessel from his first voyage of discovery. The deck layout is similar to the Endeavour, with a small break at the mainmast to make a slightly raised quarterdeck, where the cannon are sited. Her armament seems to have been heavier , with gunports piercing the hull sides along the quarterdeck. In contrast, Bounty had a flush (or continuous) weather deck.
The ship, which was not a commissioned US warship, became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the Globe. On a commercial venture that also involved exploration, she was commanded by John Kendrick with Robert Gray as his second. Columbia left Boston with a hold full of trade goods in October 1787. For some of the way she was accompanied by the Lady Washington brig. Like Bounty’s commander, Lt. William Bligh, at least one of Columbia’s crew, Simeon Woodruff, had also served aboard HMS Resolution on Captain Cook’s third voyage of exploration to the Pacific. Columbia rounded Cape Horn on her passage to the Pacific, and was extensively damaged during March 1788. A month later, Captain Bligh would try the same passage in HMAV Bounty, and encounter even worse conditions. Bligh had to opt for the longer eastward passage around the Cape of Good Hope. One important legacy of the 1790-1792 journey is that large areas of the Pacific Northwest of North America are named after her – notably the Columbia River and the region which became the Canadian province of British Columbia. Columbia Rediviva was eventually dismantled in 1806.
No accurate plans of this historic ship survive, and “Columbia in a Squall” is the only contemporary illustration of the ship. The Disney team located the plans of a similar pint-sized three-masted ship. They settled on adapting the original British Admiralty plans of the HMAV Bounty to represent Columbia Rediviva. Sections of the ship were built at the Los Angeles division of Todd Shipyards, which had also built the Mark Twain riverboat for Disney. In contrast to the Mark Twain, Columbia was a full-sized tall ship with none of the visual shortcuts that help shrink park attractions into usually tight spaces. She dwarfed her surroundings, and was actually several feet larger than Columbia Rediviva! Her length on deck is about 90 feet and the breadth across the deck is 24 feet, matching precisely the original Admiralty plans for HMAV Bounty. In terms of displacement and general dimensions she is the most accurate of all Bounty replicas! Like the New Zealand Bounty replica, she is based on a steel frame and everything under the waterline is also steel. Wood was laid over the steel frames above the waterline. The similarity ended there, as Columbia was given a very flat, barge-like bottom suitable to the shallow lagoon and running along the track. The water of the lagoon is coloured a murky green to camouflage the shallow lagoon, the track, and the shallow hulls. Columbia has two screws, which were powered originally by diesel engines. A Natural gas engine now propels the ship sedately around the lagoon. The Columbia began operations June 14th, 1958–two years before work began on the (much larger) 1960 Bounty replica–and she’s been giving visitors 12-minute rides around the Rivers of America lagoon ever since. For the night displays of Fantasmic!, Columbia is quickly converted to play the role of the Black Pearl, the pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.
The visible differences between this replica and the original Bounty are fairly minor. The most obvious distinguishing feature is that Columbia lacks the ornamental quarter badges (small bay window-like projections) on either side near the stern. Columbia’s bows also have simpler decorative head rails. Just aft of the projecting catheads that secure the anchors, the ship’s rails on either side are also more built up than Bounty’s. This may be inspired by something about the Columbia Rediviva, and certainly is safer for the hundreds of visitors that daily tread her decks. In contrast to Bounty’s figurehead “Bethia,” a demure lady fully-clothed in riding wear, Columbia, the female personification of the Americas, is depicted as a glowing, goddess-like figure. The Lady Columbia looks downright Bountiful!
The Columbia replica is armed with a few swivel cannon along the rails and four small cannons, which are very similar to Bounty’s four-pounders. Two of these cannons are installed further aft near the taffrail, another difference with Bounty. Inboard, Columbia has her capstan fitted way forwards, near the windlass and the gleaming brass ship’s bell.
Standing on the deck of this ship in the artificial lagoon in Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, park goers are unwittingly getting an accurate feel of the setting for the events of the 1789 Mutiny near Tahiti. Though we ardently hope that the Bounty replica languishing in Thailand will be rebuilt, and that further replicas will slide down the ways, it is nice to know that the Columbia, a very good likeness of the Bounty, has been delighting Disneyland visitors for almost 65 years!
* Messaging with R. Villanueva, Museumships facebook group, 2022/02/05.
**Ray Wallace founded a company that has continued to build many theme park maritime attractions ever since.
Additional Information and great photos of the Columbia can be found in the Inventing Disney blog post ” Walt Disney’s Disneyland Mistake“.