While holding on to the original wheel in 2012, Dennis Holland looks over his rebuilding efforts of the 72–foot Shawnee, parked in between his historic barn and home in Newport Beach. He died Monday in his home. He was 68. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / April 3, 2012)

  • Related
  •  Photo: 
  • Topics
  • Laws and Legislation
  • Justice System
  • Government
  • See more topics »

Dennis Holland, a master shipwright who in his last years of life battled city officials over whether he could restore a 72-foot boat in his Newport Beach yard, has died. He was 68.

At home with family, Holland lost his battle with prostate cancer Monday night, said Eric Longabardi, a longtime friend acting as a family spokesman.

Holland became a local celebrity when he spent 13 years building a replica of a 118-foot Revolutionary War-era tall ship in his yard and launched it in the Newport Harbor.

The Los Angeles Times estimated that 2,500 people watched as the hand-crafted vessel touched the water for the first time in 1983.

Holland constructed the ship in front of his Costa Mesa home and dubbed it the Pilgrim of Newport.

"It looked like Noah's ark," Longabardi said.

Holland spent almost two decades sailing the Pilgrim around Newport Beach and San Pedro before selling it to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point in 2001.

Holland grew up not far from San Pedro. Born in Seattle, his family soon moved to Long Beach, a city that nurtured his love of all things nautical.

But Holland put down roots in Orange County. He graduated from Corona del Mar High School, where he met the girl who would become his wife, Betty.

Holland had an insatiable love for anything historical, especially if it came from the sea, Longabardi said. Along with that drive came a seemingly boundless energy as a craftsman.

For seven years, Holland, his wife and their children lived aboard the Pilgrim of Newport as it was being built. They rented out their house to earn extra money to put back into the ship.

"He wasn't a rich guy," Longabardi said. "He basically did it piece by piece, dollar by dollar."

About five years after selling the Pilgrim, Holland set his sights on a new project.

Instead of working from scratch, he turned to a boat in need of restoration called the Shawnee. He'd admired the 1916 sailboat since he first caught a glimpse of it as a child.

When the owners moved it to Newport Harbor and it fell into decay, Holland finally had his chance to own the Shawnee. He offered to restore it in exchange for title to the boat.

In 2006, Holland moved the Shawnee into his backyard, this time in Newport Beach.

As he embarked on the restoration, doctors discovered that Holland was suffering from late-term prostate cancer.

Nevertheless he continued, at one point battling his cancer into remission.

"Working on that ship was his therapy," Longabardi said.

In 2012, Holland described his relationship with the Shawnee.