Backyard boat builder on verge of catching dream
SUN VALLEY—The mission of building a hull from scratch is more than just a unique Noah-like venture for Dillon Griffith. It is his lifelong aspiration.
The 82-year-old retired contractor’s three-decade-long vision hasn’t always been clear. But for what the project has lacked in cohesion, it has made up in grandeur. For more than 36 years, Dillon has toiled in the Southern California heat in his Sun Valley backyard constructing a charter vessel.
Dillon, who has lived in California for more than 46 years, grew up sailing schooners off the coast of Byera Village in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and originally owned a 41-foot wooden vessel.
“I had a boat before, but it was too small,” Dillon said. “So I decided I’m going to build a bigger one that has a large galley.”
His wife of 60 years, Christine, 78, had several apprehensions.
“I said ‘How you going to build a boat?’” Christine explained. “He said ‘If I do build it, it’s going to be a big one and I’m going to make it out of steel.’ I said ‘OK, if that’s what you want. I’m 100 percent behind you, but where are you going to build this boat?’”
Dillon suggested looking for a new home with a much larger backyard. The couple surveyed greater Los Angeles for a more suitable living and working space before discovering their current home, which provides half an acre of backyard space. It was then that Dillon ordered a blueprint from a shipbuilder in Seattle, with a plan to once again cross the Atlantic Ocean.
“I had a design in mind. The design came from my want for stability and a want to travel the Atlantic,” Dillon said. “All the other boats are long bottom boats. This is a round bottom boat, but it has a keel like a sailboat so it’s very stable for the Atlantic, which is rough.”
Christine said after a few months, Dillon began laying the groundwork for the hull, which the couple has dubbed the Mystic Rose after the Virgin Mary.
“From then on it started getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “He did the entire hull.”
The soon-to-be-completed creation spans 64 feet, 4 inches in length and 19 feet in width. The boat, which will be equipped with a full kitchen and sleeping quarters, is big enough to sleep 24 passengers.
Patricia Bezart, the Griffith’s granddaughter, said she is incredibly proud of her grandfather. She added that, growing up, she would often assist with the workload, along with her cousins and the rest of the family.
“There are not many people who say their grandfather built a boat in his backyard,” Bezart said. “He’s an inspiration to me to never give up. He started something small and worked at it every day.”
While Dillon’s dream encountered rough waters from time to time, his resolve never capsized.
Dillon, who said he has invested more than $1 million in the hull, endured falling off a crane and breaking his hip amid construction. The setbacks ultimately prolonged the vessel’s launch date.
The Coast Guard has overseen the process nearly every step of the way and recently approved its construction.
“When we finished the galley, the Coast Guard came and checked it and he said ‘You’re going to have to tear the whole thing out, because I want to see the welding alongside the steel parts— the whole entire galley and the sleeping quarters,’” Christine recalled. “We had to rip everything from the galley all the way down to the sleeping quarters—take all the sideboards out so he can see that it has been welded properly. We did it exactly how the Coast Guard wanted it. We put all the panels back on. We were out there until 3 a.m.”
Dillon is currently installing electrical boxes and is waiting on pending approval of the wiring from the Coast Guard. Christine also said alterations to the kitchen; paneling and insulation are among the modifications which still need to be addressed.
The nearest dock and harbor is 60 miles away from the Griffith’s backyard. The couple has plans to launch the boat this summer and will begin chartering voyages soon after. Dillon added that the vessel, which he plans to dock in Oxnard, will cost about $50,000 to move.
“For me, I just want to see him get her in the water,” Bezart said. “I just want him to see it move. He’s already in his 80’s and just for him to accomplish it, it would be a blessing.”
With the lofty costs, the family is seeking donations from the community, including monetary contributions, boating supplies and navigational equipment. To donate send an email to email@example.com or visit facebook.com/dillon.griffith.37?fref=ts