Category Archives: BC History

Dorothy makes the press – Pacific Yachting and Western Mariner

Red letter day for Dorothy! We are stoked to see Dorothy‘s story appear in two significant boating magazines, Pacific Yachting‘s August Wooden Boat Special, and Western Mariner (The Magazine of the Coast) in the “In the Boatshops” special section. Already people are writing to ask how they can support the documentary.

Pacific Yachting Aug 2013 wooden boat special issue

 

westernmariner-aug2013-cover.jpg

Western Mariner-Aug 2013 TOCPick up a copy at your nearby magazine stand, and write and tell us what you think!

– Happy sailing, Tobi

 

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!!

David and Su: Dorothy owners 1984-1991

Baker-Russel shoot1-T.Grove

Setting up to interview Su Russell and David Baker on the edge of Pilot Bay, Gabriola Island, with DOP Kate Bradford and Producer Tobi Elliott. (photo by Tony Grove)

You couldn’t have asked for a better interview setting, or a better interview. After a full day of filming two of our main characters for the documentary ‘Between Wood and Water’, all the stars seemed to align to allow us to finish with an absolutely lovely interview – both in the dialogue captured and the setting’s serene aesthetics that matched our subject’s mood and conversation. It was a 1-2 combo of the rare variety that makes a filmmaker’s heart sing!

Tobi & Kate shooting June 21-13-T.GroveThe day of our shoot dawned with a promising overcast sky (harsh sunlight being unkind to our subjects) and Kate Bradford and I got over to Tony Grove’s shop to set up before David Baker and Su Russell arrived. As soon as they pulled up, it was all I could do to stop Tony and David diving immediately into earnest discussion. By now, Tony knows the shooting routine well enough to divert the conversation before he hears my anguished cry, “Wait, wait! you can’t talk about anything IMPORTANT until we’re rolling!” so he and David strove mightily to talk about anything but what concerned them both the most: Dorothy‘s condition. (I think they hosted the inaugural meeting of the Dodge Van Fan Society – each possessing one of those illustrious vehicles.)

Although we had decided to get to know one another a bit before turning on the cameras, it was obvious the couple couldn’t wait to see their beloved sloop, so we plunged straight into it and attempted to capture what this vessel had meant – and still meant – to them.

In the cabin-David-Su-TonyDuring the morning-long shoot, we followed David and Su as they sat in the cockpit and then the cabin, mulling over memories and comparing notes on changes in their beloved Dorothy. They both seemed to be lost in time as they stroked the tiller and siderails, hands falling automatically into position, and stood comfortably in familiar places, reminiscing over how powerful body memory can be.

Dorothy had been part of their lives from 1984-1991. As a young, blended family growing up in Victoria, B.C. with the aim of family adventure on the water, the Baker-Russells piled into their shapely vessel nearly every weekend (up to 6 bodies!) and explored the Gulf islands of coastal B.C. Like her original owner, W.H. Langley, David and Su took full advantage of Dorothy‘s incredible sailing and cruising abilities– in part because she was in peak condition by the time they owned her, and in part because the Baker-Russells simply love to be on the water. They didn’t miss an opportunity to sail this historic boat.

Baker-Russell shooting on Dot-T.Grove

Looking at photos-David-Su-TonyFollowing lunch (and lunch at Tony’s is not something to be missed!) we had a more leisurely shoot over some photos and personal memories. Then came an opportunity to indulge Tony and David at last in a true “man-chat” and dive into the particulars of her restoration. David and Su were the 3rd set of owners to continue a legacy of careful restoration begun by Chuck Charlesworth in the 1950s, after Dorothy was essentially abandoned by a series of owners (post-Langley) who didn’t properly care for her. Under their watch, she was brought to pristine condition, and the list of modifications and rebuilds that David and Su undertook is staggering (those interested can read the complete list of modifications and upgrades at the end of this post).

David had essentially re-rerigged her, learning traditional steel wire splicing, parcelling and serving in order to get the standing rigging done authentically. They replaced all of the running rigging, re-built the mast and boom, had a new fore hatch built, added winches for safety and sailing efficiency, and had Bent Jesperson make a new rudder and tiller. As a physician and academic, David’s attention to detail ensured that everything that could have been done to maintain Dorothy was duly accomplished, and she shone as the “oldest classic boat” at Expo ’86. Tony suggested that if David, (and Angus Matthews and Chuck before him) hadn’t taken such diligent care of Dorothy, she wouldn’t be around today. Wooden boats, as you no doubt know by now, need a lot of care and attention.

Trio looking at Dot-from above

As we surveyed the vessel that was once his pride and joy from keelbolt to tiller, David spoke movingly about how much he had enjoyed working on this boat of incomparable pedigree and such beautiful lines. Out of everything David said had to say about Dorothy, what impressed me most is that he really understands the purpose of sailboat design, and where boats can fall down on their merits. During our interview, I learned that a sailboat can be built to race well, or to cruise well, or to look pretty, but rarely do they combine form and function and do all those things well. And Dorothy, needless to say, does.

David and Su are a very special couple who still love the water. It’s obvious that Dorothy as a wooden boat has left an indelible impression on them, because their next boat was the gorgeous 40-foot Rhodes 27 sloop, Varya, built in 1940 and extensively rebuilt and upgraded by David. (See images on their website here)

David & Su interview2

And then, the icing on the cake at then end of a successful day: as the sun’s shadows stretched and stretched across the lovely, quiet bay on Gabriola island on Solstice eve, the water lapped quietly at our feet as Su and David  spoke movingly about how much Dorothy had meant to them. The setting was so magical and their words so perfectly evoked the emotions of what Dorothy meant to them, and should represent, as a historical living vessel, to the rest of B.C. – and indeed all of Canada – that I will save what was said during that special interview for the film. I’m sure much of that interview will make the final cut.

On a personal note: aside from the moment I first discovered Dorothy behind Tony Grove’s shop on Gabriola island back in October 2012, and got that shiver of excitement that means you’ve found a really great story, this day has been my personal favourite in the story so far. It confirms my belief that Dorothy is indeed a special, lucky little sailboat who has an amazing ability to draw the most wonderful people to her.

And perhaps it’s the other way around, too. Maybe those who connect with Dorothy are bettered by their love of her, and left changed and somehow beautified as a result. In any case, everyone that I’ve met who has had anything to do with that lovely boat has been instantly a heart-connection. I’m left very thankful that we have the opportunity to tell this story, and as the details line up and the stars shine down on us, it confirms to me that this is indeed a story for our time.

Su Russell profile interview-June 21

David Baker profile-interview June 21

May all kinds of Dorothy-inspired adventures continue…

Tobi Elliott, Producer

List of Improvements and Rebuilds for Dorothy under David and Su

  • steel wire splicing parcelling and serving to get the standing rigging done authentically;  replaced all of the running rigging
  • rebuilt the mast and the  boom, along with new leather for the  gaff jaws and parrel beads so that the gaff went up more smoothly without damaging the finish on the mast
  • had a new Yankee cut to be fitted on a new bronze roller furling gear (believe it or not these were available in the early days of the 20th century  and Langley had ordered one from a chandlery in England but it never arrived)
  • had a new 150% staysail cut to overlap the main for better draft and to improve Dorothy’s sailing characteristics
  • hauled 3 keel bolts and replaced one of them
  • had a new forehatch built, added a second bow roller and had two mushroom vents added in the stern to aid in air circulation.
  • stripped the paint from the hull, sanded and repaired all obvious problems, replaced 3 planks in the hull; put 8 coats of paint back on
  • bought a new lighter-weight but stronger anchor, and set up proper ground tackle so she could be anchored with more security; we kept the old anchor so that we could anchor with two if needed
  • had the diesel engine rebuilt and added a properly feeding fuel tank
  • replaced the old 3-bladed prop with a two blade-er so that the blades could be hidden behind the deadwood to improve sailing characteristics
  • bought kerosene cabin lights, running lights as well as an anchor light
  • built a proper Fife rail so that the lines could be properly belayed at the mast after the gaff sail had been raised
  • had Bent Jesperson design and built a new rudder and tiller

– David Baker

A surprise shoot for spring

Tobi Elliott: Producer and occasional shooter. May 17, 2013. Photo by Tony Grove

Tobi Elliott: Producer and occasional shooter. May 17, 2013. Photo by Tony Grove

On Thursday this week, Producer Tobi Elliott grabbed camera and gear for an impromptu filming adventure as Dorothy‘s restoration expert, Tony Grove, headed to Victoria B.C. to meet master caulker Ted Knowles. Knowles had worked with boatbuilder Brian Walker for years, eventually taking over his boatbuilding shop off the Gorge waterway in View Royal. Walker had built many of Frank Fredette’s boats, who had been in turn an apprentice to J.J. Robinson, one of Victoria’s first shipwrights and Dorothy‘s builder in 1896.

Ted Knowles' 80 year old boatshop. Photo by Tony Grove.

Ted Knowles’ 80 year old boatshop. Photo by Tony Grove.

The Walker/Knowles shop is a shipbuilding gem, having been built sometime in the 1940s, and it truly offers a fascinating glimpse into history. It’s also a bit of an anomaly since its the last remaining shop along the waterfront of that part of Victoria. There used to be a number of small boat yards on the harbour, and Ted’s is the last. More importantly, it is one of our last ties to the west coast tradition of the fisherman boatbuilder, who built and maintained his own boat in his own yard. There are a few of these guys left, but mostly they have turned to building.

Tony Grove & Ted Knowles outside his shop in View Royal. screenshot ©Arise Enterprises

Tony Grove & Ted Knowles outside his shop in View Royal. screenshot ©Arise Enterprises

Tony wanted to see this shop before it closes up forever:

As with many workshops, the way these spaces are set up, designed and the tools used in them tells a story. Some might even say these spaces reveal the soul of those who worked in them. This story means that much more when the shop is almost a century old and has gone through many hands and personalities. 

When these shops are dismantled they reveal their hidden secrets; when they are demolished forever, that time in histroy is also erased. In this case, perhaps only this film recording will be the hard evidence of its existence, while the people who lived their lives in these spaces eventually fade along with the memories.

For me I love seeing these old shops: they teach me new ideas – which are only past ideas rediscovered and developed in a different era, when things weren’t available on demand – and show me the resilience and ingenuity of the people from our not-so-distant past.

Ted graciously showed us around the maze of maze of tools, large equipment, wood he’s been collecting from around the world (Mahogany, Honey Locust, Pacific Yew, Douglas Fir), generators, saws, designs, glues, varnishes and every manner of paraphenalia related to boatbuilding that he had been unearthing and organizing for months. It is a beautiful, functional space, and it was a privilege to see it before it changes hands at the end of June.

After doing a good bit of exploring, Ted showed us the second gem we had come to see: a stack of beautiful 100-year old Teak from first growth Burmese forests (now Myanmar) that had been salvaged from the decks of the Union Steamship CardenaBuilt in 1922, the hardworking, reliable S.S. Cardena provided marine service up and down the British Columbia coast for 35 years, bringing supplies to the resource communities up the coast, and returning to Vancouver and Prince Rupert with canned salmon for export around the world.

She was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1961, and Knowles rescued the precious teak from her decks for re-use. He felt some of the wood could be useful for Dorothy‘s restoration, because it’s the type of wood that would have been used to trim her in 1896 when she was built, and it was harvested in that era.

Ted is a very practical man, both when assessing the takedown of his historic shop, and the purposes and function of wood. He had this to say about using this wood on Dorothy:

“It’s not like,’Hey let’s throw a whole bunch of teak on Dorothy… because Dorothy isn’t a teak boat. It’s a boat that was built of native woods and built well and it’s lasted well, and it doesn’t need teak to be Dorothy. You don’t want to use teak as a pretentious geegaw or a flashy item, you want to use it for things that are really necessary, like maybe hatch slides. Or the top of a sliding hatch. Or companionway steps. Things where you touch, or you see, or you feel, and teak is appropriate for. It doesn’t have to be teak just because it’s teak.”

Thanks for the reminder, Ted: using the right wood for the right purpose is probably why Dorothy has lasted so long. I’m sure it’s a principle that Tony and the Maritime Museum will adhere to in her present restoration.

And thanks for the amazing tour of your historic shop. It’s one we won’t forget.

– Tobi Elliott

News about Dorothy

This is where we’ll update you week by week with new photos and behind-the-scenes bits as Tony begins the exploratory process on Dorothy.

Stay tuned!