Dressed in festive pirate regalia, more than a dozen protesters rallied Saturday afternoon below the Ferris wheel at Balboa Fun Zone, supporting the side yard boat restoration project of Newport Beach shipwright Dennis Holland.
Holding pirate flags and picket signs while chanting "Save The Shawnee," the protesters — some coming from hundreds of miles away — attracted the attention of the bustling Saturday crowd, just in front of the ferry to Balboa Island.
Waving signage stating "Don't let mediocre minds destroy a great ship" and "Screwing someone legally is still wrong," the group collectively cited The Shawnee's historical significance as their reason for protesting the ordinance that requires Holland to move the boat off his property.
"It's good to see such support," said Holland as he got off the ferry from Balboa Island to attend the protest. "It gives me energy to keep fighting. It's loaded my musket up."
Holland, who is in remission from prostate cancer and sees the ship restoration as a form of therapy, noted that he doesn't know what will happen after April 30, the date Orange County Superior Judge Gregory Munoz issued a preliminary injunction against him to have the ship removed from his Holiday Road home. After that date, he could incur fines of up to $1,000 daily, or possible jail time.
"I'm going to let the city figure that out," Holland said. "The thing is, she really can't be moved. I hope they reconsider all this because I'm going to go down fighting. It's my responsibility to save that boat and take care of it. I've been involved with her since 1953. I've been in love with her since then. That's a pretty long-time romance. I can't just see her get destroyed."
Since 2006, Holland has been restoring this 1916, 72-foot ketch in the side yard of his West Bay home, and estimates that he'll need at least another three years to complete the project. Prior to that, he spent 12 years building from scratch the Pilgrim, a 118-foot 1770 schooner replica that now sails as The Star of Dana Point, though he resided in Costa Mesa at the time.
City officials note that Holland has been in violation of a city ordinance requiring him to obtain a permit and give a completion date for the project since 2009.
Christine Lampe, known in the pirate world as Jamaica Rose, was the protest's organizer and the editor of No Quarter Given, a magazine and clearinghouse for tall ships, pirates and nautical history.
Lampe gave a historical list of The Shawnee's accomplishments, noting that it was one of the first vessels through the Panama Canal on its way to California; it took third place in the first TransPac race to Tahiti in 1924; it patrolled the coastline in World War II, protecting the nation from enemy invaders, among other things.
Citing a changing culture in Newport Beach as the reason for the ordinance against Holland, Lampe said, "Maybe back then [when Dennis built The Spirit of Dana Point], I think this would have been alright in Newport Beach, but I think the neighborhood has changed and some of the people are fussier. Where he lives now, it's a neighborhood of 'McMansions.' "
Ron Stackhewicz, a pirate actor by the name of Orderless Eye, came from San Diego to attend the protest.
"The very first reenactment I ever did was on The Spirit of Dana Point, the first ship that [Holland] happened to restore," Stackhewicz said. "The city doesn't understand that they could be robbing their own kids of nautical history."
Candace Propst, an anthropologist from Mission Viejo, came to the protest sans pirate attire to support the historical significance of the ship.
"I love history," Propst said. "I can't stand seeing history being destroyed. We have destroyed so much of it already. Seeing another piece of our past being destroyed just because it is annoying a neighbor drives me crazy."
Newport Beach City Council members held firm that, though they don't doubt the ship's historical value, they have given ample time for Holland to adhere to their ordinance and insist that Holland move the boat to a suitable location.
"The city has acted to enforce our ordinance," Newport Beach Mayor Nancy Gardner said in response to the event. "My only thought is, this has been going on for some time and if people are intent on saving this boat, they have a lot of people to raise money and they've had two or three years to do it. The city was very patient, so that suddenly it's an issue, they're a little late coming to the fair in my opinion."
Emailing comment from Taipei, Taiwan, Councilman Rush Hill — whose district covers Holland's property — said that Holland is in violation of a city ordinance.
"This is not about a boat," Hill wrote, "but is about conducting an industrial function in a residential zoned neighborhood. If Mr. Holland really cared about the boat he would have found a proper place to reconstruct the large vessel years ago when first noticed by the city that the construction was illegal in a residential neighborhood. I am afraid it has been more of a game with Mr. Holland than a concern over the boat."
Similarly, Councilman Michael Henn mentioned the necessity to follow the council's process.
"I appreciate the enthusiasm of their supporters and their support of nautical heritage," Henn said. "But the problem that we have here is that our resident zoning requirements do not allow for boat yards, and that's essentially the case. The city has been very patient with Mr. Holland and part of the problem is he's never been able to offer a firm timeline on when he'll be able to complete the project. It's now time for him to find another place, an actual boat yard. And I hope he is successful with that. "
Holland's wife of 42 years, Betty Holland, said that the legal side of the issue and the long-term battle with the city has been stressful for her husband.
"Just let him finish it," she said. "Let him build it and get it out of there. Quit dragging it on. He's spent more time fighting City Hall than he has building the boat. If he could just finish it, it would solve a lot of these problems."
Protesters are planning a second appearance outside the March 27 Newport City Council meeting at 7 p.m., according to their Facebook Event Page "Save The Shawnee."