70-foot sailboat marooned off side of road

January 9, 2009 6:27:24 PM PST
It's just not something you see every day -- a 70-foot sailboat parked by the side of the road. But that is exactly what they've got in Woodside. They are now racing against the tide to get the boat in the water on time.

The sailboat dubbed "Little Bear" was on its way from Woodside to Redwood City Thursday night when it had to stop.

It seems the Woodside permit to transport the big boat across city streets had a 4:00 a.m. cutoff time. So at 4:00 a.m. they parked it where they were at Sand Hill and Whiskey Hill roads.

People driving by stopped in awe. Jaws dropped further when they found out the owner built it himself in his backyard.

"You hear of things like this happening, boats being built in a basement and then the house having to be torn down to get the boat out," said Scott Overstreet of Los Altos Hills.

This boat was built in a shed, not a basement. But the difficulties began 50 yards away at the first tight corner.

"The boat is 72 feet long, 19 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It weighs approximately 80 tons," said contractor Steve Montgomery who normally moves houses.

With permits re-issued, Little Bear will be heading for the water again Friday at 9:00 p.m. Owner and builder Jerry Ellis now has another worry -- that it floats.

Ellis has been working on the boat, almost entirely on his own, for 29 years. He and his boat are well-known in Woodside.

Did he ever come to a point where he you thought it was time to throw in the towel? "No, a couple times I might have thought I was crazy," said Ellis.

The interior is walnut with a wood burning fireplace. It sleeps six comfortably.

The boat is massive to maneuver, but it is not finished yet. There are still two 78-foot masts and an 8-foot pulpit to be attached later.

Ellis is on a deadline to get Little Bear in the water during high tide. If he misses that opportunity this weekend, his next chance won't be until June.

Ellis studied ship design and worked on the design for Little Bear for six years. He got some help from a naval architect for the final drawings.

He says he got the idea after restoring an antique sailboat from New Zealand. He enjoyed it so much he did another, and then this. Somewhere along the way he found out he came by it honestly, one of his grandfathers was a sailboat builder.

He wants to sail to Alaska once the boat is finished, assuming it floats.