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!

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