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June 27, 1974: Dennis Holland surveys progress on the brigantine he began building in the front yard of his home four years before.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Maxine Reams / Los Angeles Times

April 21, 1980: Shipbuilder Dennis Holland, wife Betty and daughters Julie Moore, 6, and Heidi Lynn, 3, aboard the 110-foot sailing ship.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Steve Rice / Los Angeles Times

April 28, 1980: Dennis Holland puts caulking between boards in the side of the ship he is building in his Costa Mesa front yard.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Steve Rice / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 17, 1983: Dennis Holland building his 100-foot Baltimore Clipper. He prepares the whiskey plank for the boat he started in 1970.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 17, 1983: Shipbuilder Dennis Holland shoves a 20-foot board into place on the underside of his Baltimore Clipper, named the Pilgrim of Newport, which is almost finished.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 17, 1983: Dennis Holland checks the plane of a Douglas fir plank. It's the last plank to be put into the ship he is building at his Costa Mesa home.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 14, 1983: Dennis Holland's Pilgrim of Newport makes the turn from West Coast Highway to Newport Boulevard on its way to the Lido Shipyard.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Ambrose / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 14, 1983: Boat built by Dennis Holland has some problems at Dover Drive and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. They worked around the signal at intersection.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Ambrose / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 19, 1983: A crowd of 2,500 watches Dennis Holland's Pilgrim of Newport get launched in Newport Bay.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 19, 1983: Dennis Holland, with wife Betty and children, waves to crowd from the bow of the Pilgrim of Newport.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 21, 1984: Dennis Holland moves his Pilgrim of Newport to a new anchorage.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Thomas Kelsey / Los Angeles Times

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Dennis Holland builds a really big boat

In 1970, Costa Mesa resident Dennis Holland began building a sailboat in his front yard. Thirteen years later he finished–but the 100-foot-long vessel needed to be moved to water.

Staff writer Gordon Grant reported on the move in the Nov. 15, 1983, Los Angeles Times:

The massive hull of a 100-foot-long brigantine, modeled after the sailing vessels of the early 19th Century and built almost entirely by the hands of one man in his Costa Mesa front yard, took the first step toward breaking its bonds with dry land early Monday.

Despite the hour and chilly darkness–the moving operation began about 4 a.m. – scores of automobiles followed as Pilgrim of Newport, riding on dollies with a total of 32 wheels, moved through the quiet streets toward Newport Beach’s waterfront.

Hundreds of other men, women and children gathered at strategic intersections to watch the snail’s-pace procession, and among them was Dennis Holland, 37, who built the ship in his yard in the 2400 block of Santa Ana Avenue. It was a project he had begun 13 1/2 years ago.

“This is like walking your bride down the aisle,” he said with a grin as the gray and white hull rolled by.

He had chosen not to make the journey on the boat’s deck, explaining, “I’ll have plenty of time to spend on her later at sea. This is the only chance I’ll ever have to see her like this.”

At the same intersection, Dover Drive and West Coast Highway, Adele Johnson cheered and waved as the Pilgrim was towed around the turn.

“I watched him build her, right from the start,” she said. “My husband and I live right behind Dennis’ property. We moved there in 1969 and he began building the boat in 1970.

“Everybody around there was behind him 100% all those years. It became kind of a neighborhood project. You should have heard the cheers and hoots and the clapping when she first started to move this morning.”

Holland originally figured it would take three years to build the vessel, but inflation drove up the cost of construction materials, forcing him to take outside jobs–plumbing, carpentry, and the like–that stole time from his shipbuilding. There were other delays as well. A final hitch came on Saturday, when heavy rains forced a postponement of the moving operation.

Monday, however, brought a different story.

The sun rose large and golden as Pilgrim glided with dignity along the highway.

More than half a dozen police cars and motorcycles cleared the way.

Pilgrim was towed stern first, and at 7:35 a.m. the job, done by B and Y Heavy Equipment Movers of Santa Ana, came to an end at the Lido Shipyards. The project went without a hitch, covering 5 1/2 miles in about 3 1/2 hours.

“We’ll actually put her in the water at 9 a.m. Saturday,” Holland said. “In the meantime, while she’s on the ways, I’ll start filling her with water. After all these years, her planks and seams have dried out. They must be soaked so they’ll swell tight. Once in the water, we’ll rig pumps in her hold until she’s closed up tight.

“Then we’ll step the two masts, install the rigging and, in about six weeks, she should be ready to go.”

He said the Pilgrim, appraised recently at about $1 million, will be put in charter service, operating out of Newport Harbor on weekend cruises to Catalina and other Channel Islands.

“There’ll be accommodations for 22 people for these trips,” Holland said. “And someday in the future, we’ll start longer cruises–Tahiti, Australia…”

In the crowd that gathered at the shipyard was Holland’s wife, Betty, and their three daughters, Julie, 9, Heidi, 6, and Amy, 2, all of them born after their parents had moved aboard Pilgrim while it still sat in their front yard, and while their father was still working to finish the vessel.

Holland sailed the Pilgrim of Newport around Southern California for almost two decades. In 2001, he sold the vessel to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. The ship is now named the Spirit of Dana Point.

In 2014, Holland passed away. His Los Angeles Times obituary and more recent photos are online: Dennis Holland dies at 68.

1 Comment

  1. October 19, 2016, 7:30 pm

    My daughter attended RH Dana Elementary School and their class were privileged enough to spend the night onboard the pilgrim. They had written letters to their families as though they had been gone at sea for a long time and it was such a memory for us all. I saved the pictures and the letter in my Cedar chest. I am thankful Mr Holland and family fulfilled their dream building and sailing their magnificent sail boat and that we were able to be a part of its history. My daughter is 42 years old with her own family now but will never forget.

    By: Trish Richer

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