A Gabriola Island boatbuilder is working on the equivalent of an archeological expedition to put what is believed to be Canada’s oldest registered sailing vessel back in the water.
Boatbuilder Tony Grove is restoring Dorothy, a 26-foot sloop that was built in a Victoria shipyard in 1897.
“It’s been quite an archeological dig for me to open her up and see how she was put together,” Grove said this week.
Dorothy was built with local wood, all first-growth. Her keel and framing are oak, likely Garry oak, and the planks on her hull are Western red cedar.
While working on Dorothy, Grove said he has been constantly surprised by small construction details that differ from today’s methods.
For example, the ends of ships planks were fitted together using what’s called a “scarf.” It’s a joint made by angling the ends of the planks in a wedge shape and then allowing them to overlap.
Today, planks are mostly butted together and fastened to a block placed behind the joint, a method Grove said is much simpler and works well.
“Little details like that are really intriguing for a shipwright,” Grove said. “I’d really like to travel back in time and ask them why they did that.”
Dorothy is owned by the Maritime Museum of B.C., which held her in storage for several years. She is part of a collection that also includes vintage boats Trekka and the Tilikum.
Trekka is a 20-foot sailing dinghy built in 1954. In 1959, she made history when she circumnavigated the globe, then the smallest vessel to do so.
Tilikum, a Vancouver Island cedar dugout canoe that is believed to have been built in the mid-1800s, sailed to England fitted with sails, arriving in 1904 in London.
Dorothy’s history is a little more stately. She was built as a pleasure yacht and spent most of her sailing life at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.
According to the Maritime Museum of B.C., Dorothy was built by John J. Robinson for Maj. William H. Langley, a prominent Victoria barrister who served as clerk of the house of the B.C. Legislature and commodore of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club.
What makes Dorothy such a special maritime artifact is her well-kept, preserved log books, said John West, Maritime Museum trustee.
“Her history and provenance have been so well recorded,” West said. “She really is kind of an encapsulation of trends in yachting and boatbuilding of the time.”
He said he suspects older sailboats exist in Canada. But it appears Dorothy is the oldest to appear on an official registry.
West said he believes Dorothy can be made seaworthy for about $100,000, money that is being raised separately from the Maritime Museum’s operating budget.
Filmmaker Tobi Elliott, who is producing a documentary on the restoration of Dorothy, said in an interview from Gabriola that her research has turned up five older vessels in Canada. But they are all steel-hulled and none have sails.
“[Dorothy] has been so carefully maintained and passed from owner to owner,” she said. “There is this legacy of care that is something really extraordinary.”
For Grove, Dorothy has became a love affair. “She hasn’t been around the world or done anything dramatic. She has just kept going along. She is just a well-built little boat.
“Now her claim to fame is she is the oldest functioning sailboat in Canada, which is pretty substantial.”
To learn more about Dorothy, including how to donate to her restoration, go to tonygrove.com. Also, go to the Maritime Museum of B.C. at mmbc.bc.ca.