Tag Archives: Heritage

Dive into Dorothy Documents at the Nautical Nights event April 26

In the final evening of the 2017-2018 Nautical Nights Speaker Series, documentary filmmaker Tobi Elliott will introduce the story of the 120-year old vessel Dorothy, and her life and rich history sailing the West Coast.

Tobi will present excerpts from the upcoming documentary “Between Wood and Water”, and cover some of the milestones from Dorothy’s “lucky” life on this coast: surviving both World Wars, witnessing the first documented sighting of the ‘Cadborosaurus’, the founding of the Victoria Yacht Club, a near-extinction from fire and being shown at Expo ’86.


Doors open at 6:30pm, talk starts at 7:00pm.
Drinks and appies are available.

Tickets here:
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/nautical-nights-speaker-series-tickets-38550770392

Member price: $8 / General price: $10
Please note, seating is limited.

To become a member visit here: http://mmbc.bc.ca/get-involved/become-a-member/
Contact the MMBC: 250-385-4222 ext. 103 / info@mmbc.bc.ca


An incredible amount of early correspondence has been saved from the late-1890s when Dorothy was designed, built and sailed. In fact, it’s doubtful there is another boat on the west coast with such intense documentation! We will look at some early letters rarely seen by the public, and uncover some salacious correspondence between Dorothy’s first owner, W.H. Langley and the boat’s designer, Linton Hope, which give a glimpse into what life was like in the trades in England in 1897!


W.H. Langley was prominent member of the British Colony of Victoria. In 1896, the barrister and Clerk of the Legislature decided he wanted a fast boat to race his contemporaries in the newly formed Victoria Yacht Club. His small Class 2 yawl “Viola” just wasn’t winning races, and so he commissioned a build from a European style design by Linton Hope, which happened to be named “Dorothy”.

And Tobi will be sharing a few excerpts from Mrs. Langley’s diaries, which have never before been open to the public. The traditional Mrs. Langley wrote faithfully every single day in diaries that go back to 1914! The beauty of her very ordinary, everyday notes is that they provide an accompanying storyline to the very male-dominated accounts of Langley’s logs.

We hope you can join us for this event Thursday, April 26 at 6:30 pm at the Maritime Museum of BC (634 Humbolt Street, Victoria, BC). If you’re not in the Victoria area, perhaps we can make a storytelling night happen in your community! Get in touch with Tobi at dorothysails@gmail.com

Happy Birthday Dorothy!!!

Celebration cake – Dorothy’s 100th anniversary in 1997. Courtesy of the Maritime Museum of B.C.

On a hot July evening in 1897, a sleek wooden yacht was launched in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, an event the Times Colonist noted the next day:

Last evening witnessed the launching of the yacht Dorothy, belonging to Mr. W. H. Langley, captain of the Victoria Yacht Club. There was quite a large number of interested spectators who cheered lustily as, after having been very gracefully christened by Mrs. A.J. Weaver-Bridgman, the little yacht took to the water in a series of lively and pretty leaps. Every credit for the success of the launch is due to her builder, Mr. J. Robinson. The Dorothy is a single-handed cruiser designed by Linton Hope of the Thames Yacht Building Company…Times Colonist, July 27th, 1897.

As part of Victoria’s rising middle class that began to have time for leisure activities like sailing, Langley was eager to make his mark with a boat that was fast. He wrote to the designer of two yachts he liked the look of, and, after two years and many, many letters back and forth, Dorothy was born. Little did he know that his “little yacht” would survive to be the oldest registered sailboat in Canada.

The Victoria Yacht Club, Dorothy anchored at the far right. From A Century of Sailing.

The reasons Dorothy outlasted all of her peers are many – sheer luck among them – but chiefly, it’s believed she’s still alive because she was actively sailed. A wooden boat needs time, care and a life on the water, and Dorothy had heaps of that during her 12 decades on the coast.

But she had many near-failures too, surviving both World Wars, amateur repairs and periods of neglect, but somehow always seemed to pull through. Somehow, a champion always found her, fell in love with her lovely lines, and spent more time and energy than they had intended to keep her alive.

Her list of owners is surprisingly short, beginning with Langley and ending with the Maritime Museum of B.C. Langley sold her in 1944 to Linton Saver of New Westminister, where she was entered into the Ship’s Registrar, and she remained in Vancouver under a quick succession of six owners, from Robert Minty, who renamed her “JimboJack”, to the brothers G.W. and Kirby Burnett, who sailed her with the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. During this period she had an alcohol fire in her cockpit that nearly destroyed her. Finally, Phillip Harrison sold her in 1964 to a young pair of Victoria architects, Chuck and Pam Charlesworth, who brought the yacht back to her birthplace.

With the Charlesworths, Dorothy began perhaps the best years of her life as the couple sank what little resources and time they had into a boat they could hardly take out to sail, she had so many structural issues. Charlesworth almost gave up, but on the advice of experienced boat surveyor Tom Hood, he became convinced the boat was worth saving. “He advised me to continue my endeavours,” wrote Charlesworth. “He went on to explain that the boat had originally been well built and was of a superior design well in advance of its time, [and] even if it took me ten years, I would have saved a very special boat.”

Charlesworth’s daughter Jennifer remembers one particular sail when she and her father took Dorothy out alone, and he experienced such joy at the helm that she knew it had made all the years of repair and struggle worthwhile. Sandy and Angus Matthews, who courted Charlesworth in order to get first dibs should he ever decide to sell Dorothy, were her next custodians and they did work on her interior, re-did her decks and hatches, and got her a new suit of sails. David Baker and Su Russell completely reworked her rigging, parcelling and serving in the traditional way, and showed her at Expo ’86.

Dorothy’s luck held, even after being sold to the owner of a private marina in Sidney who left her out in all weather and let freshwater get in her cockpit. She was restored again to sailing condition by Hugh Campbell of Winward Woods, and finally donated to the Maritime Museum of B.C. in 1995, sailing proudly as the flagship vessel for her 100th anniversary.

Dorothy’s current “mid-life refit” is undoubtedly the most intensive restoration she has ever undergone. Still, Tony Grove, the shipwright tasked with the job, has only had to replace two garboard planks and a short aft plank. Dorothy is still 90% original wood – the same red cedar planks that were pulled from trees in the surrounding area have endured to this day, still soft and containing the magic malleability that good wood can still have after 120 years.

It’s miraculous, in a way, that Dorothy has survived all these years, and yet not. She survived so long precisely because good, ordinary men and women offered their time and energy to preserve and lengthen the life of a beautiful, functional work of art. She is here because they were there for her.

Her beauty also contributed to her longevity. As John West put it, “because she’s pretty, she’s lasted and been looked after. Not only was she pretty, but she was structurally extremely well-engineered, and she was built by first-rate craftsmen. And it’s incumbent on us to pass her on to the next generations. And she should leave our generation in better shape than she arrived in.”

Matthews, who currently heads up Dorothy’s restoration committee, is full of confidence she will find her way. “Dorothy has been here before. Somehow always finding herself in the hands or people who give the love she needs for rebirth and renewal.”

September 1982 off Brotchie Ledge at the entrance to Victoria Harbour. Alec (age 4) and Angus Matthews were sailing her to the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. Courtesy of Angus Matthews.

Join us in underwriting Dorothy’s next chapter by making a tax-deductible charitable donation. Please contact Angus Matthews angus@angusmatthews.com to learn how you can make certain Dorothy will sail on into her next 120 years. 

Long may she continue to find her champions, to be stewarded with love, and to inspire people to head out to the sea.

Happy Birthday Dorothy!

What got her out of the shed and into the light: the story of two tenacious trustees

There is a story within Dorothy’s story that I’ve been waiting a very long time to tell, but you’re going to have to wait just a wee bit longer to get the whole shebang because… well, there’s a documentary in the works.

But I’ll give you a preview: it involves one of those critical points in Dorothy’s history – and there were many – when her future hung on the fine point of a balance that could have tipped either way.

At every juncture there was a person who had to decide either to continue investing in this boat, or to let the inevitable decline that was ever nipping at the heels of a wooden boat take over. We wouldn’t be having this conversation, and we probably wouldn’t even have any remnants of Dorothy today, if just one of those critical junctures had tipped with someone walking away from her. Dorothy would not exist today if it weren’t for the courageous men and women who stood between her and decay.

That’s what my documentary is about, after all. The men and women who stood between wood and water.

The most recent of those junctures happened in 2011. (And we’re at another juncture at this very moment, but I’ll get to that in the next edition.) And the particular heroes at this point of her story were John West and Eric Waal, who became trustees for the Maritime Museum of B.C. for the sole purpose of looking after Dorothy and the two other boats in their fleet, Trekka and Tilikum.

But as Kermit would say, it ain’t easy being green. And it’s even harder being a trustee for a very underfunded institution that was on the cusp of the fight for its life. However, as it always turns out in the story of Dorthy, luck was with her and it turned out that these two heroes had some things going for them.

Eric has the tenacity of a bulldog. And when he saw the Dorothy’s legacy fund being drained for storage and insurance fees instead of being put toward her repair, he wouldn’t let of the idea that the waste had to stop, and that Dorothy either had to be fixed and get back in the water, or be turned into a land-based display. His tenacity was the first domino that led to Dorothy being trucked to Tony Grove’s shop on Gabriola island.

Dorothy lucked out again when John came aboard, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of historical and classic boats, and copious amounts of charm and bonhomie. Beloved and well known in the boating community, John was one of the key founders of Victoria’s Classic Boat Festival, now entering its 40th year. Once he dug through the archives and logbooks and read the extensive documentation on Dorothy, he knew that this was a maritime treasure that had to be preserved for future generations.

And that’s why we’re having this discussion at all. When an elegant, beautiful example of turn-of-the-century craftsmanship was mouldering in a shed, these two men stuck their necks out and said that something had to be done. That she needed – no, deserved to be invested in, and they became her most recent champions and an indelible part of her story.

The men who appreciate ancient planks of cedar and fir and oak, and who understand the relationship of ships, wood, salt and water, are few and hard to find. So the fact that two of them found Dorothy when she needed them, well, that’s just another testament to the luck and loveliness of this little boat.

Here’s a quick snippet of discussion I cut from back in 2013 (when we were fundraising for production funds) of John and Eric discussing what tack should be taken in restoring Dorothy, with Tony Grove: Three Men and a Dorothy Baby.

John Eric Tony kneeling before Dot

Dorothy – and we – thank you, John and Eric.

 

Heritage Afloat – a week celebrating BC’s maritime heritage

HBC Newsletter header Feb 2014

February 17-23 is Heritage Week in British Columbia, and this year’s theme is wonderfully titled “Heritage Afloat”.

A not-for-profit, charitable organization supporting heritage conservation across British Columbia, Heritage BC writes this about choosing the theme for 2014: it “recognizes how our lakes, rivers and ocean coastline created a complete transportation network for a resource economy. From First Nations settlement and culture, to the first European exploration, to historic shipwrecks and lighthouses, to fish canneries and floating logging camps, water is an important key to our history.”

I love how everything in BC comes back to water – indeed Dorothy could not have survived so long without it! You can download BC Heritage’s Winter Quarterly newsletter here, which includes our story, DOROTHY: A living legend sets sail again.

I wrote the article’s intro almost absently, thinking of how many wooden boats must have perished, and how miraculous it is that Dorothy, of thousands of boats on this coast, would have survived. I would love to know your thoughts on this:

“The care of a classic wooden boat can be a delicate, uncertain thing. The fact that Dorothy has survived not only intact, but as a fast and sea-kindly little yacht for more than a century is owed in equal parts to her luck, her beauty and her solid Pacific northwest timbers.”

Happily going along with the theme that fits their mandate so well, the BC Maritime Museum asked Tony Grove, the shipwright currently working on Dorothy for her return to the water this fall, and I to give a talk at the Museum this week about Dorothy‘s restoration and some of the intriguing facts we’ve turned up in the course of researching her life. All are invited to come!

1 p.m. Wednesday Feb 19
28 Bastion Square, Victoria, BC

And… If you happen to tune in to CBC’s morning radio show On the Island with Gregor Craigie on a regular basis, you may drop in on a delightful conversation about our own lovely Dorothy tomorrow morning. Gregor recently spoke with Tony Grove and Angus Matthews, one of Dorothy‘s previous owners still very much involved in her life, to get the latest on the vessel’s restoration drama. The segment will air either Tuesday or Wednesday, and we wanted to give you the heads up so you can listen in. If you’re not on the island, you may be able to catch the live stream online here.

Remember: All manner of wonderful things float on water… but loveliest of all is the wooden boat.

Hope to see you Wednesday!

– te