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.