Eric A. Ulrichsen, 82, of Mount Laurel, a builder of wooden boats and custom homes, died Saturday Jan. 9 of pneumonia at Pennsylvania Hospital after a nearly year-long battle against head and neck cancer.
Born in Keyport, N.J., to Andreas Ulrichsen and the former Ann Pedersen, Danish immigrants, he grew up in the world of boat building. Both his father and grandfather had businesses on the Raritan Bay constructing cabin cruisers known as Jersey sea skiffs.
Mr. Ulrichsen, who survived polio as a boy of 10, delivered boats by water or truck up and down the East Coast as a teenager.
In 1959, he married the girl next door, the former Carol Regan. They later divorced. That year, he also joined the Coast Guard and served close to home at New York Harbor, whose waters he knew well.
He returned to Ulrichsen Boats after his tour of duty ended and continued with it after the the company was sold to another Raritan Bay boat builder, Henry Luhrs, whose business wisdom Mr. Ulrichsen was fond of recalling.
Once, while making a test run for a newly built boat in the 1960s accompanied by his wife and their two young daughters, someone shot at the boat on Long Island Sound and a bullet crashed through the hull. No one was hit, but Mr. Ulrichsen ordered his family to lie on the floor of the cabin where they would be below the water line and safe from gunfire while he turned the boat away from shore and called the Coast Guard.
After Luhrs itself was sold in 1969, Mr. Ulrichsen began a two-year stint as a contract executive at a New York City construction firm, making the long commute from the family’s home in Atlantic Highlands.
In 1971, Mr. Ulrichsen moved his family to Moorestown to join another boat building firm but left after two years. He then formed Ulrichsen and Knauss, a firm that built custom homes and other properties in Moorestown and surrounding communities.
In retirement, Mr. Ulrichsen became an independent construction consultant and was still involved in a church renovation project at the time of his death.
While Mr. Ulrichsen’s love affair with the sea began in wooden boats, it was on sailboats that it deepened.
Aboard the Aqauvit and later on the Mea he would sail up and down the Jersey Coast and in the Chesapeake Bay, puffing on his pipe while steering the boat.
His pipe was so ubiquitous that his first grandchild, Andreas Gambardello, then 2, dubbed him “Pipe Daddy” when he visited Mr. Ulrichsen and his late wife Renee on the Aquavit during a port call while sailing up the Hudson River.
Mr. Ulrichsen joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 2009 and it remained central to his life until the end.
While he himself acknowledged being "crank" at times, he never was unkind.
As his sister Barbara recalled: "He was a kind presence in my life growing up and didn’t murder me when my French poodle, Frenchy, chewed a hole in the interior of his cherished 1957 Corvette."
Mr Ulrichsen is survived by daughters Marianne Ulrichsen Gambardello, of Haddon Heights, Erin Ulrichsen, of Atlanta; stepdaughter Johanna McChesney, of Wellesley, Mass; his sister Barbara Ulrichsen, of Ringoes, N.J.; six grandchildren; his companion, Ellen Holmes Patterson; and his former wife Carol Ulrichsen. Mr. Ulrichsen was predeceased by his wife, Renee Ulrichsen, and companion Jackie Callahan.
The family hopes to hold a memorial service when it is safer for people to gather.
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