Unearthing the stories in Dorothy’s planks

20130727-131702.jpgI’m sitting on the edge of Pilot Bay, my home on Gabriola island, watching the high tide and choppy water push and play with two sailboats anchored out in front of me. I marvel at the interplay of boats and water (even if they are only “plastic boats”) and am thankful as always for the joy Dorothy has brought to my life, personally and as a documentary subject.

I could say I’ve always loved sailing, but it wouldn’t quite be true because until 2003, when I took time out for a serendipitous 5-month cruise aboard the Afterblue in the Bahamas and Cuba and back to Toronto, I’d never sailed at all. But as an avid reader from my childhood, I loved stories of boats, particularly Dove and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the Narnia series. There’s something about the unpredictability of adventure on the sea that makes every boat story a compelling one.

So I am thrilled every day that I get to work on the story of Dorothy, because every day is a true adventure with her. As Tony (the boatbuilder restoring Dorothy for the Maritime Museum of BC) was sanding down her port side hull last week, after tediously stripping the paint, we could see a potential story in every plank, and new questions arose about construction practices of the day: Her original planks are flat-sawn, not quarter-sawn like you would typically see today. Is that because of available wood at the time, or is there a technical reason for it? Those original planks were scarfed together – was that common practice rather than butting them end-to-end? There is a mix of materials used for paying the seams – lead putty, Portland cement, and even epoxy used for patches large and small – what’s the story here?

Tony likens this unearthing of stories hidden in Dorothy‘s planks to an archaeological dig, and I would add that it’s a dig motivated less by cold scientific investigation than by human curiosity and empathy. This is not some inert, long-deserted dinosaur bone site, but a cherished family boat restored over and over again through the years by men and women who loved her and sailed her. Some had the means to give her the best in boat-building craftsmanship and the finest materials available of the day. Some simply did what they could with the tools and understanding they had, incomplete though they might have been. But no matter what finesse has been applied, it’s largely because of the heart, diligence and sacrifice of every single one of her previous owners that loved and cared for her that Dorothy can stand in Tony’s shop today, 116 years old and still able to handle a refit that will put her back in the water.

Forgive my musings, I know you probably want more practical information on the restoration itself. But I promise you, I am capturing absolutely everything I can on film so you can see the wonderful process one day yourself!

Here are some images from the sanding and paint stripping process that Tony undertook last week on her port side. This week he ‘s stripping and sanding her starboard side but no photos as I am filming it in timelapse and don’t want to mess up the shots!!

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