Dorothy is a lucky lady. Her beauty and personality have kept her afloat for 121 years, and her status as the oldest registered sailboat in Canada ought to add at least another century to her life.
“Because she’s pretty, she’s lasted and been looked after,” the late John West, founder of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival, said in “Between Wood and Water,” an upcoming documentary about the boat’s restoration. “Not only is she pretty, but she was structurally extremely well-engineered, and she was built by first-rate craftsmen.”
Dorothy is being made new again. “We owe it to her,” West said. “She’s got huge significance on the coast.”
Linton Hope, an English naval architect and keen sailor, designed the original Dorothy, a 33-foot keel/centerboard Thames Rater, in 1894. Thames Raters were born in the late 19th century and designed for the light airs of the Thames River in England. The Canadian version, also called Dorothy, but often referred to as Dorothy 1, was completed in 1897 by John J. Robinson of Victoria, British Columbia, for attorney Major W. H. Langley. A persistently leaky centerboard trunk caused Robinson to ask Hope about removing the board. As chance would have it, Hope had already modified the plans to a keel-only design. Langley successfully raced Dorothy for nearly 50 years.
In 1944, Langley sold Dorothy to Linton Saver of New Westminster, British Columbia, near Vancouver. Twenty years later, after the boat had changed hands at least five times, Chuck and Pam Charlesworth, architects from Victoria, bought her, even though they found her sinking at her mooring. Such is Dorothy’s allure. The Charlesworths rebuilt her cockpit but left the sole undone, and they added sister ribs to reinforce the deteriorating originals. Most important to the life of a wooden boat, the Charlesworths regularly sailed her, as an idle wooden boat is a dying one.
Sandy and Angus Matthews then joined the list of caretakers. Angus had been eyeballing Dorothy the way nautically obsessed folks often do, and asked Chuck Charlesworth for first dibs if he ever decided to sell her.
Angus recalled what happened next in a video: “The whole process with Chuck was funny, because she was covered with an old canvas tarp at Oak Bay Marina. I was the manager of Oak Bay, and I took Chuck’s name off the board of the marina’s dock list so nobody else could talk to him.” The Charlesworths became good friends with the Matthews, so Angus pestering Chuck about selling Dorothy “was almost like asking him if you could marry his daughter.” The Matthews finally succeeded, buying Dorothy in 1973.
During their 11 years of ownership, the Matthews rehabbed the interior, decks and hatches, and dressed her in a set of new sails. “Chuck deserves most of the credit for saving her,” Angus said. “We got to her at a great stage, where we got to do the fun stuff, stuff you could see.”
LOA: 30 feet (excluding bowsprit) LWL: 24 feet, 4 inches BEAM: 8 feet DRAFT: 3 feet, 6 inches DISPLACEMENT: 13,126 pounds ENGINE: 10-hp Yanmar diesel (originally she was built without an engine, but fitted with a single-cylinder Kermath in 1920)
Dorothy fell on bad times after the owner of a private marina in Sidney, British Columbia, bought her and left her to the elements. Hugh Campbell rescued her, restored her to sailing condition and, in 1995, donated her to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, her current home. The trustees debated the options: do nothing, completely restore her or simply preserve her.
“Preservation wasn’t an option because we couldn’t display her,” said museum trustee Eric Waal. “This is Dorothy’s last chance for survival.”
Tony Grove, a shipwright, fine artist and teacher, was commissioned by the museum to restore her in the best way possible. He has stripped the paint, reefed the seams between the planks, installed new bronze keep bolts, new floors and a host of other chores. He mostly works alone.
“[It’s] kind of a boatbuilder’s dream and an archaeological dig at the same time,” Grove said.
The launching date remains under discussion, and the entire project relies on contributions along with money earned from the sale of Dorothy swag. So far, the red cedar for planking and the oak for frames cost about $75,000.
Until Dorothy is ready for tours, the best way to see her is in the documentary that’s being filmed. Trailers can be seen at dorothysails.com and Grove’s blog about the restoration is at tonygrove.com. Or, visit the museum’s website, mmbc.bc.ca.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.