Woodside man's yacht makes it to Bay after a few glitches | January 14, 2009 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - January 14, 2009

Woodside man's yacht makes it to Bay after a few glitches

by Dave Boyce

In 1977, Jimmy Carter took over as president, the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game of baseball, the first Star Wars film came to movie theaters, and Woodside resident Jerry Ellis began work on a 73-foot wood and fiberglass sailing yacht of his own design.

At about 10 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8, after 32 years of not infrequently interrupted effort, Little Bear began its journey seaward to a port in Redwood City, the finished hull gleaming and pristine, its interior rooms paneled in walnut. The California Highway Patrol led the way.

Because the vessel weighs 70 tons and is as big as a house — it sleeps eight and has three bathrooms, or heads — and there being no convenient waterway between Dry Creek Lane off Canada Road and the Redwood City harbor, it had to be towed over the roads as a wide load. Therein lay the challenge.

Mr. Ellis, 71, faced an implacable deadline: a once-a-year high tide deep enough to accommodate the launching of his craft. He had found just one mover, Montgomery Contractors Corp. of Sacramento, agreeable to hauling his vessel from Woodside to the Bay, and he had an eight-hour window — 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. — to use the roads.

The hours ticked by as the crew tried to maneuver the towing package out of Dry Creek Lane. Beams from flashlights held by friends and neighbors, their breath condensing in the cold night air, punctuated the darkness. Overhead utility wires got in the way of the hull and had to be pushed up with homemade poles. The eight-wheel dollies up front seemed uncooperative in rounding the turn on to Olive Hill Lane, and the electric motor used to slue the wheels around sparked and fizzled. Tight chain lashings held the vessel in place on the trailer, and its movements elicited ominous groans and pops of metal under stress.

Forward progress settled in at around 2:50 a.m. after the towing crew swapped out the two front dollies for a single one. They made it as far as the dirt triangle at Whiskey Hill and Sand Hill roads in Woodside.

After a day's rest, the overland journey at 3 to 5 mph resumed Friday night and ended Saturday morning, Jan. 10, at Docktown Marina in Redwood City. In need of deeper water, the vessel was then towed to the city's municipal marina.

Crying wolf

The best laid plans, etc., etc. Asked at around 2:40 a.m. Friday morning for his impressions of the night's activity and with his vessel still sitting in Olive Hill Lane, Mr. Ellis replied: "I just hope we get there in two or three days. This isn't quite what I expected. I expected to be at Roberts (market at Woodside and Canada roads) at midnight."

Jim Thompson, his friend and protege, said he worked on the vessel as a gofer for five years in the late 1970s. "I was kind of the 'do it all' guy and wanted to learn a lot and I was lucky to meet Jerry," he said.

Mr. Ellis is "very determined and very smart (and) one of the best builders in the whole area," Mr. Thompson said, and added that he attributes his decision to go to college and pursue civil engineering in large part to being inspired and mentored by Mr. Ellis.

The vessel's departure "is something I never thought would happen," he said. "I thought that boat would be there forever."

Mr. Ellis' daughter, Kristin Mosely, 42, said her father began work on Little Bear when she was 10. She recalled many optimistic predictions of the vessel's completion. But as in the story of the boy who cried wolf, dashed expectations became routine, she said.

"It's like he's been pregnant for 32 years," she said. When he called her at her home in Colorado this time, "my heart just dropped," she said. "Is this really it"?

The long view seemed a habit for Mr. Ellis. Over the decades, he let Atherton homeowners with walnut trees know of his interest in their wood if the trees needed felling, said friend and Portola Valley resident Scott Petry. From those trees, he planed the walnut into boards, kiln-dried it, and used it to panel the vessel's interior, Mr. Petry said.

The help of friends can be a boon if your backyard yacht project takes 32 years, and Mr. Ellis' generosity has earned him many, Mr. Petry said. "He's so willing to share his knowledge," he said. "He spends 50 percent of his time working on other people's projects," whether a home remodel or a broken down truck. "He's got a lot of grace."


Posted by Jon G., a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Jerry is my cousin. The family has been kept up with the boat news for the past 32 years, it seems hard to believe that he will soon be sailing back home to Jersey. I hope she fits thru the Panama Canal cuz.

Posted by Arlene Zinkel-Payne, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Sep 16, 2009 at 7:24 am

someone posted a picture of someone else than jerry on the Web. That person could only hope to be as good looking as Jerry. I can't believe it is finally done. Congrats. hopefully you will have many good years of sailing. Is the Boat named after "Bear" your Dog ?
I remember a night of driving down in Atherton as you went Door to Door and offered your services to the Blighted Walnut Trees. Is that a Picture of Kristin on the Boat? Say Hi to Kristin and Kenny for me....Arlene

Posted by arlene zinkel-payne, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I am breeding German Shepherds now, after reading stories of problems at sea by modern day pirates, I think you need at least one German Shepherd...

Posted by Arlene, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Jul 4, 2010 at 5:10 pm

OKay I need some updates on the boat.. I think you should send me a very small piece of the Black Walnut. Memories are always wonderful
(160 Surfbird Court, Guadalupe, Ca 93434.) Tell Kristin and Kenny I still treasure the memories of snowskiing with them, they were very special.

Posted by Arlene, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm

I am so happy and impressed that you stuck with it for this long. I wish I had that trait in me. All I can say is that I was always impressed and will treasure the time spent with you and the kids. I am sure Kristen did somehing good with her life. I hope you found the happiness and perfectness in a woman that you deserve. I found someone who loved me for who I was ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Posted by theReject, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I think of you all the time and hope that you were able to enjoy the boat you were building. You are a very exceptional person and I look forward to the day that you enjoy all that you are with everyone. I hope you know How much I loved you. That love is forever.

Posted by the Reject, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I hope the boat is in the water and you are on your way to doing all that you dreamed of. My Love for you was real and is forever..

Posted by the reject, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jan 30, 2012 at 6:37 am

I have a litter of German Shepherd puppies on the way. I think you need one since I read there are real pirates out there. I am so impressed with the German Shepherds. One day a guy was harrassing this disabled old lady and my female German Shepherd "Schautzie" went up to him and put her mouth around his ankle. She didn't put a hole in the material, she didn't bite him, she just gently held his ankle. The guy seemed to get the message and he said "alls Cool". As soon as he backed away Schautzie sat down and just watched him. She takes her job of protecting her human Mom very serious. She is so gentle I take her to the park and Schautzie loves to go down the slides with the kids, she likes the kind that are not straight better than the short straight ones. She amazes me at what natural instincts she has. I didn't have to train her, I just had to love her. I think we "humans" could really learn something from Shepherds.

Posted by Schautzie, a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Feb 6, 2012 at 7:33 am

I wonder about the boat a lot. I sure hope you get years of sailing for all the years you put into the boat. You know I love you and will always will

Posted by Schautzie, a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley
on Feb 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

I have never met a person with so much resolve. So much ability to stay with a project as you have. I wish I had more of those attributes. If you don't know who this is...then that is the reality, if you do, you know I did love you and always will. I want the best for you and made myself invisible so that you could do all you wanted to do.

Posted by the looser, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Nov 9, 2013 at 7:33 am

looks like you did wonderful, hope you stuck to boats
They have a tougher skin

Posted by ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 22, 2013 at 3:59 am

I think of you often and Hope that someday you made it to Guatemala. The Rio Dulce(sweet water) is georgous and the people really believe in "mi casa es tu casa". They really would be a wonderful influence on you. Their craftsmanship is wonderful. I still use daily the wooden spoons etc. that I purchased down there. All that happenend with them is that they grew better over the years. I Pray you found that special person who makes your life complete. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Posted by Nia Brazil, a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 22, 2013 at 4:01 am

I think of you often and I thank you for all the wonderful thoughts I have about you and Kenny and Kristin..and even Bonnie. I pray you have found the happiness that you SO desearve. Love ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ Aka

Posted by zzzzzzzzzzz, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Feb 12, 2014 at 8:41 am

I hope you are out there sailing, thank you for the time I spent with you

Posted by TheReject, a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2014 at 2:32 pm

hope you are out sailing and seeing the incredible blue waters of unspoiled beaches. I still think of you Kristin, Bonnie, Kirk, and Kenny. I really hope that Kenny inherited some of your talents. I have an incredible 5 acres of fresh water pond and wildlife. I cherish my memories.

Remember and go see The Rio Dulce (Sweet water) river in South America, bypass Panama..they don't like Gringos and it would be unsafe there. DO NOT TRUST anyone in The ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Posted by the reject, a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm

holy cow I have lived throughout the world now, still think of you and Kristin and Kenny. I hope you have sailed to all the wonderful places that I had to visit by Land. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ