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In landlocked Sun Valley, a small ship is taking shape

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Published : 2014-05-07 20:09
Updated : 2014-05-07 20:09

LOS ANGELES ― He grew up on the sea. So maybe it’s only natural that Dillon Griffith still has some salt water in his blood.

It would help explain why the 82-year-old retired heavy-duty mechanic has spent the last 37 years ― miles from the ocean ― meticulously assembling a 64-foot boat in the backyard of his Los Angeles home.

“The Mystic Rose” has slowly taken shape on quiet Arminta Street, a project so ambitious that it has passed through the generations with his children, in-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lending a hand along the way.

When the boat is finally ready for its christening ― by August or September, he hopes ― it will take a 32-wheel trailer and a CHP escort just to get it to the water.

“People are already calling up to charter it,” Griffith marveled.

Griffith plans to launch the boat in Oxnard, California, after a boatyard puts a special coating of paint on its hull and reattaches the wheelhouse, which will have to be removed so the 40-ton boat can clear overhead wires and bridges as it rolls to the ocean.
Dillon Griffith, 82, has spent the last 37 years building a boat in his backyard in Sun Valley, California, hoping to have it ready by this fall. He is shown with his family, wife Christine (from left) granddaughter Mellani Bautista; daughter Kim Griffith and Dillon. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Griffith was born on the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet. As a young man, he sailed a 75-foot island-hopping cargo schooner around the Caribbean before coming to the U.S. in 1967.

Once in America, Griffith purchased a 40-foot fishing charter boat that he kept at the 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro.

“I finally decided it was just too small,” he said.

When Griffith set his sails on building a larger boat, he and his wife concluded that their home in Arleta didn’t have a large enough yard to accommodate his king-size plans. They snapped up the Sun Valley property when they discovered its house was large enough to accommodate the pair’s eight children and its half-acre lot was big enough for his dream boat.

Griffith hired Seattle shipbuilder Ed Monk & Son to draw up plans for his steel-hulled craft and built his own dry dock out of heavy-duty piping. He started building the boat in 1977, working from the keel up.

Early on, Griffith and his family traveled to Montreal to purchase a battered, rusty 1955 Dodge truck with a small crane attached to it to lift the hull’s steel plates into place for welding. “It took 11 days to drive that truck back here,” he said.

Later, when the twin 600-horsepower marine engines were hoisted into the rear of the vessel to power its two propellers, a larger crane had to be rented. Two generators have also been installed to provide electricity for lights, refrigeration and navigation equipment.

“I couldn’t believe he could do it. Many times I thought he would just quit,” said his wife, Christine. “But I told him there was no way he’s going to drop this now, in the middle of the project.”

There were setbacks along the way, of course. The U.S. Coast Guard visited the backyard on numerous occasions to inspect Griffith’s work. Once, Coast Guard inspectors made him rip out the boat’s internal walls so they could inspect his structural welding.

Over the decades, everyone in Griffith’s growing family ended up lending a hand ― new sons-in-law and many of his 54 grandchildren and great-grandchildren chipped in.

“Everybody in the family has been involved with this,” said daughter Kim Griffith, 48.

Patricia Bezart, a 32-year-old granddaughter, said she’s proud of the family’s role. “How many people can say their grandfather built a boat in the backyard?” Bezart asked.

But even with the free labor, Griffith estimates he has spent $1 million of his own money on the boat.

“And I’m not done yet,” he said, noting it will cost another $50,000 to truck the Mystic Rose to the sea.

The finished vessel will sleep 25 people on fishing excursions and will have a refrigerated hold large enough to handle 10 tons of fish. It will require a certified skipper to operate it.

“Police and firemen have come by to climb aboard and watch me work,” Griffith said. “Everyone in the neighborhood has been watching the boat being built.”

Next-door neighbor Carmen Iniguez said she hopes to travel to Ventura County for the launching, which will feature a Caribbean-style steel band.

“I’ve been watching Grandpa build this boat since 1983,” she said, employing the affectionate nickname those in the neighborhood call Griffith.

“I’d like to be there when he finally puts it in the water.”

By Bob Pool

(Los Angeles Times)

(MCT Information Services)

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