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Lobdell: Boat adds character to neighborhood

February 07, 2011|By William Lobdell

I found myself doing the same thing in my college years when Holland was building, from scratch, what's now called the Spirit of Dana Point, a 118-foot replica of a 1770 schooner. I would purposely go out of my way to travel down nearby Santa Ana Avenue, where Holland lived then, just to check on the ship's progress. It took him a dozen years to finish the job.

On Monday, I decided to not just drive by Holland's house, but to stop in for a chat. I found a man who loves to talk almost as he loves old boats.

He told me he planned to replace the Shawnee's rotting ribs with wood from an Amish lumberman in Pennsylvania — and Holland would make the pick up and delivery himself. The side planks would come from Alaskan wood and the decking from trees in Oregon. The hardware, circa 1915 or older, would come from England for an authentic restoration.

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He talked about having his eye on the Shawnee for decades, first spotting it in San Francisco in 1954 when he was 8 years old, and later in Newport Harbor. He even kept the name and phone number of its owner ready if an opportune time came to strike a deal.

Through neglect of the boat and the death of its owner, the Shawnee in 2004 was slated to be taken out to sea and sunk. Holland stepped in to save her and barely managed to keep her afloat in Newport Harbor while he figured out if he wanted to take on the massive task of restoring her.

Approaching his 60s, Holland needed to make sure he would be physically able to complete the job. He went to the doctor for a checkup and got the bad news: he had prostate cancer that had spread to his bones. He was given 18 months to live — that was seven years ago.

He found another oncologist, one who shared his love for sailing and adventure. With experimental treatments, Holland was given a better prognosis and told that he needed a project such as the Shawnee to lift his spirits.

In 2006, the boat landed in Holland's backyard.

I guess there are two kinds of people in the world who will never see eye-to-eye. There are folks who look — year after year after year — at Holland's dilapidated boat in a residential neighborhood and seethe. This is no place for a shipyard. He's flaunting city codes. He's bringing down property values.

And there are people like me who are captivated by the audacity of Holland's vision and don't see why the rules can't be relaxed for this maverick shipwright who's restoring a century-old boat in his yard.

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