About Dorothy the Wooden Boat

Every bit as beautiful and visually striking as when she first slipped into the waters of Victoria’s inner harbour in 1897.  Dorothy  has smitten wooden boat lovers from every decade. While everyone wants her, few have been able to keep her to the standard of care a wooden boat requires. 

This is the true story of a heartbreaker of a boat who inspired loyalty and devotion for over 100 years. This story is about the men and women who tried to treat her as she deserved, and about her final and full restoration to glory.

a photo of Dorothy the wooden sail boat out of the water

“Not only is she beautiful as boats go with her fine lines, but she is also a fine sailing boat, fast for her size, gentle to handle, and extremely seaworthy. And she is a lucky boat, too, in that her owners have always, somehow, managed to maintain her, repair her, and restore her in such a way that she is now fully restored, still sailing, and still looking beautiful.”

H.C. Charlesworth, Dorothy I, A Sailor’s Legacy.

Dorothy's First Owner: W.H Langley

Dorothy, was built in 1897 for W.H Langley, a clerk of the BC Legislature in Victoria.  In this era, most boats were practical in nature; coastal workboats or dugout canoes.  In this era, Dorothy, stood out as a uniquely designed luxury yacht.

Langley wanted a fast boat. And Dorothy I – for she was taken from plans for an original Dorothy in England – was a sleek racing machine with a very efficient hull. As a sailboat, her owners said she is a fantastic sail. She responded quickly with a featherweight helm, cutting tight to the wind. Langley won many races with her, and kept detailed accounts of every sail in his logs, including “unplanned races” where he would put his beloved yacht to the test “and challenge any skipper who wanted to take him on.” (from Dorothy I – A Sailor’s Legacy)

Drafted plans for building Dorothy the wooden sailboat

When she was launched from Victoria’s inner harbour in 1897, she struck the crowd with her European lines. She was a fast little 30 ft Gaff cutter (sloop) designed by England’s Linton Hope. Her most unique feature  is her distinct 6 ft overhanging fantail. 

Hope, a naval architect, was also a skillful sailor and had won Olympic gold for sailing in the 1900 French Games.

Mysterious Sightings from the Little Wooden Boat

Dorothy can also boast of being the first boat to host a sighting of “Cadborosaurus” from her decks – the famous Victoria sea serpent that excited the press and public around 1933:

“We both saw a huge object about 90 to 100 feet off a little on the port bow, and on the edge of the kelp just a little off Chatham Island shore. It was only visible for a few seconds. But what we both are absolutely agreed on may be put down as follows: a) it was every bit as big as the back of a large whale, but entirely different in many aspects; b) its colour was of a greenish brown. I would say a sort of dark olive green. It had markings along the top and sides. It seemed to be of a serrated nature.”

Dorothy's Many Caretakers

a postcard of Dorothy the wooden sailboat in the water

Since W.H. Langley, Dorothy has experienced 11 owners in her life before arriving in the care of the Maritime Museum of B.C.

Langley was a meticulous recordkeeper. There are detailed records of receipts, correspondence with Linton, disagreements over materials, and records of her races at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club among the manuscripts kept by the Maritime Museum.

Dorothy's Lost Years

From 1944 (when Langley sold her) to 1964 when Chuck Charlesworth found her nearly sinking at her moorings in New Westminister, there is little information about Dorothy’s six owners during that interim. Some of the owners valued her and did their best to keep her in condition, but some left her to languish. 

During this time, she went through a brief name change (Jimbojack!) She also barely survived a bad fire that destroyed her cabin, cockpit and engine, and was abandoned under a bridge for a time.

But by far the greatest danger faced by Dorothy was neglect. Wooden boats need extraordinary amounts of care and Dorothy was no exception. Without adequate care, a wooden boat is prone to return to the natural environment from which it came. The environment will cause loosening of its natural fibers and cause it to rot into the sea. A series of repairs, some good, some bad, may have hastened her process of decay.

Dorothy is Saved

After Charlesworth’s rescue, there were three owners who successively restored her. She once again became to a shining example of turn-of-the century marine design. Donated to the Maritime Museum of BC in 1995, she sailed proudly for the MMBC until February 2003, when she was taken out of the water and put into storage. 

At the time, she was the most recent addition to their fleet of three: the Tilicum is the oldest ship, and Trekka is perhaps the most famous for her round-the-world sail.  Dorothy is famous for being a stunningly beautiful wooden boat.

For nine years she stayed dry-docked at the SALTS tallship society. Hard decisions had to be made about her care. The Museum was rapidly being drained of the legacy fund to storage fees. A full restoration was extremely expensive and they were unlikely to find someone to do it for what they could afford. And so Dorothy waited.

Meanwhile, the ‘Friends of Dorothy’ circle, led by the charismatic John West and a doggedly determined Eric Waal, continued to rally around Dorothy

Shipwright Tony Grove to the Rescue

Tony Grove a light skinned man wearing a black baseball hat is similing infront of a boat. He is wearing a yellow jacket and has a shorn facial hair
In 2011, Shipwright Tony Grove, who happened to be working on Trekka for the Museum at the time, heard an assessment of Dorothy’s condition that doomed her.

There was so much wrong with her – bad repairs, dissimilar metals that broke down the wood, mysterious rot around her keel – it was suggested to the Museum she might as well be burned or left to die. But his thirty years of experience in building and restoring wooden boats led Tony to believe she wasn’t beyond repair. He said he thought he could take a look. The Museum knew it was now or never: she must be restored, or — the alternative was not unthinkable.

After 9 years in dry storage, Dorothy was trucked to Gabriola Island for assessment for her restoration. An early goal was to restore Dorothy in time for the 2013 Victoria Classic Boat show and festival. But with nowhere to put her in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, Dorothy was safely stored on Gabriola while the Maritime Museum of B.C. went through changes in location and strategic direction.

Tony looked after Dorothy for almost a decade, storing her out of the weather and working on the main structural repairs.

After a final push to finish the structural repairs and re-caulk her hull in winter-summer 2022, Dorothy was trucked to Ladysmith Maritime Society. Throughout winter and spring, a group of dedicated volunteers, led by Robert Lawson, met 3x weekly and undertook the final stages of her refit.

Tony Grove's painting of Dorothy the wooden boat
A man Tony Grove is fixing the side of a wooden boat named Dorothy inside a workshop space
Ship wright Tony Grove stands infront of the hull of Dorothy removing rotted floor boards

BIG NEWS: May 2023 Dorothy is set to return to the waters!

After over a decade of local community support and love, Dorothy will sail again!