Category Archives: Characters

Remembering John West: yachtsman, historian, boat encyclopaedia

John West interview in memoriam

On May 17, 2017, the Victoria community, the yachting community and his loving friends and family lost a great friend, John West.

He was a beloved husband to Bonnie, step-father to Sean and a friend to so very many, including Dorothy, a boat that will be forever in his debt.

A tireless source of maritime history and classic boats, John was a champion of British Columbia heritage and culture. He had given much of his time and energy to BC Heritage Society, the Victoria Heritage Foundation, the St. Barnabas Anglican Church and not least, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. He was one of the main founders of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival in 1977, serving as chair from 1998 until 2005 and later as judging coordinator, imparting his deep knowledge of classic vessels.

John and Eric

We got to interview John several times between 2013 to 2016, as he was one of the champions who spearheaded the drive to get Dorothy out of storage and back into the public eye. He knew almost every detail about her design and history, and would recount stories culled from the logs of her previous owners as if he was there. More than that though, we hoped to be able to capture a portion of his passion for history and the tales that classic boats, in general, can tell about our culture and our collective history.

John West and Eric Waal, trustees for the MMBC - photo by Tony GroveJan2-13-Kate cam inside Dot-Emily GroveMMBC Trustees examine Dorothy with Tony G- photo by Emily Grove

You can read his obituary here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timescolonist/obituary.aspx?n=john-west&pid=185467234 The memorial will be held tomorrow, Saturday, June 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM. A reception will follow at the Inn at Laurel Point, 680 Montreal St., at 4:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the BC Cancer Agency and/or The Maritime Museum of B.C. (634 Humbolt St., Victoria, BC V8W 1A4) in the name of John West.

You were one of the great ones, Johnny, and you, and your Cowichan sweater and your wizard brain about boats, will be forever missed.

What got her out of the shed and into the light: the story of two tenacious trustees

There is a story within Dorothy’s story that I’ve been waiting a very long time to tell, but you’re going to have to wait just a wee bit longer to get the whole shebang because… well, there’s a documentary in the works.

But I’ll give you a preview: it involves one of those critical points in Dorothy’s history – and there were many – when her future hung on the fine point of a balance that could have tipped either way.

At every juncture there was a person who had to decide either to continue investing in this boat, or to let the inevitable decline that was ever nipping at the heels of a wooden boat take over. We wouldn’t be having this conversation, and we probably wouldn’t even have any remnants of Dorothy today, if just one of those critical junctures had tipped with someone walking away from her. Dorothy would not exist today if it weren’t for the courageous men and women who stood between her and decay.

That’s what my documentary is about, after all. The men and women who stood between wood and water.

The most recent of those junctures happened in 2011. (And we’re at another juncture at this very moment, but I’ll get to that in the next edition.) And the particular heroes at this point of her story were John West and Eric Waal, who became trustees for the Maritime Museum of B.C. for the sole purpose of looking after Dorothy and the two other boats in their fleet, Trekka and Tilikum.

But as Kermit would say, it ain’t easy being green. And it’s even harder being a trustee for a very underfunded institution that was on the cusp of the fight for its life. However, as it always turns out in the story of Dorthy, luck was with her and it turned out that these two heroes had some things going for them.

Eric has the tenacity of a bulldog. And when he saw the Dorothy’s legacy fund being drained for storage and insurance fees instead of being put toward her repair, he wouldn’t let of the idea that the waste had to stop, and that Dorothy either had to be fixed and get back in the water, or be turned into a land-based display. His tenacity was the first domino that led to Dorothy being trucked to Tony Grove’s shop on Gabriola island.

Dorothy lucked out again when John came aboard, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of historical and classic boats, and copious amounts of charm and bonhomie. Beloved and well known in the boating community, John was one of the key founders of Victoria’s Classic Boat Festival, now entering its 40th year. Once he dug through the archives and logbooks and read the extensive documentation on Dorothy, he knew that this was a maritime treasure that had to be preserved for future generations.

And that’s why we’re having this discussion at all. When an elegant, beautiful example of turn-of-the-century craftsmanship was mouldering in a shed, these two men stuck their necks out and said that something had to be done. That she needed – no, deserved to be invested in, and they became her most recent champions and an indelible part of her story.

The men who appreciate ancient planks of cedar and fir and oak, and who understand the relationship of ships, wood, salt and water, are few and hard to find. So the fact that two of them found Dorothy when she needed them, well, that’s just another testament to the luck and loveliness of this little boat.

Here’s a quick snippet of discussion I cut from back in 2013 (when we were fundraising for production funds) of John and Eric discussing what tack should be taken in restoring Dorothy, with Tony Grove: Three Men and a Dorothy Baby.

John Eric Tony kneeling before Dot

Dorothy – and we – thank you, John and Eric.

 

Dorothy through your eyes

Photography by Byron Robb

Dorothy is not only a fast-sailing little yacht, she also happens to be very pretty boat with a striking design, both structurally and sculpturally beautiful. Many of you have said in interviews about Dorothy that they believe her beauty is part of the reason she has survived so long.

Dorothy-41-John Poirier

photo: John Poirier

So Tony and I have not been entirely surprised by the number of photographers passing through these shop doors over the past year – both professional and amateur – eager to capture the essence of Dorothy. Most of them start by walking around her in slight awe, eyes alight as they slowly pull out their cameras and begin to frame some of the hundreds of images that have by now been taken of her.

Dorothy is the ultimate photography subject – both for boat aficionados, and for those who simply love beautiful shapes. Even though her insides are bared, and the light around her ranges from soft daylight from the upper windows of Tony’s shop, to harsh fluorescents to neutral spotlights, she takes it all in with grace.

The challenge of “shooting Dorothy” lies not so much in which angle to capture, but which image best expresses her. Is it her magnificent, 6-foot fan-tailed stern, as Calgary-based photographer Byron Robb captured in the image at the top of this post?

Or her slender bow with sanded cedar planks on display, as noted Gabriola photographer John Poirier captured below?

Dorothy-56-John Poirier

Or is it the grain and wear of her old-growth Pacific forest timbers, which captivated David Andrews?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another Gabriolan photographer, Bill Pope, stunned us with his generous series of HDR photographs, which can be seen on his Flickr set “Dorothy restoration”. There are too many images to post here so I encourage you to take a look. Here are two of my favourites:

_B147123_HDR

_B147039_HDR

Some of the very best photographs from our visiting artists will be on display at Victoria’s 37th Classic Boat Festival, which runs next weekend, August 29th through the 31st. A few images that were donated by the artist will be available for purchase at the silent auction on Friday night, proceeds from which go toward the Maritime Museum of B.C. (which is undertaking Dorothy’s restoration).

In other news, what has been holding up Dorothy‘s restoration? Well, as most of you likely know by now know, the MMBC had decided last spring not to re-launch Dorothy this year as originally planned. They are dedicated to doing the job right – which necessitates raising more money than they have right now, which is only enough to make her structurally sound – by having her topsides and cabin restored as well.

They are also coming up with a strategic plan as to what should be done with Dorothy once she’s back in the water. It will require more than simply moorage at a location where she can be seen and appreciated to advantage. She will also need a team of dedicated volunteers who know and understand the care required of wooden boats, and people who will take her out sailing!

So if you are interested in speaking to someone about the legacy fund for Dorothy’s continued care and restoration, or to be numbered on the team of volunteers as a “Friend of Dorothy”, please contact either John West (director and trustee for the MMBC) at john <at> johnwest <dot> ca or Angus Matthews (former owner) at angus <at> angusmatthews <dot> com.

Tony Grove has not been idle when not working on Dorothy. He recently completed a lovely 15-foot Passagemaker “take-apart” sailing dinghy for a client, from Chesapeake Light Craft plans. He left just yesterday for the Vancouver Wooden Boat Festival in Aja, his newly acquired strip-plank 34-foot Atkins schooner, towing the brand new little sailboat. They made it safely across, and both Aja and the Passagemaker will be in the festival.

So, here’s to festivals and photographers, beautiful wooden boats, and to all with eyes for lovely lines and beautiful shapes!

We look forward to seeing you at the Festival next weekend.

Cheers, Tobi and Tony

Reefing Images Part 2

Happy Friday everyone!

For the boat-geeks and Dorothy lovers out there, some images from last week’s reefing session. Thanks to Liz Salls for her meticulous help reefing the delicate seams, and David Baker, who developed a new method of cutting out the old material so the soft cedar plank edges wouldn’t be damaged.

And of course, always big thanks to Tony Grove, boat restoration expert, who carefully explains all he’s doing for the camera even as he’s guiding Dorothy’s care every step of the way. More news coming soon. And possibly a video.

If you ask nicely…

Have a great weekend, Tobi

 

IMG_8616  IMG_8590     Stern hard to get at-T.Grove Tony reefing seams1-Nov 2013-TElliottTobi Elliott filming as Liz Salls reefs seams-Tony GrovePort side finishing up Dorothy seams-T.Grove

Reefing the seams

Reefing the seams today on Dorothy’s port side. Bit by bit, inch by inch, the caulking is being pried out.

Tony Grove is working with David Baker today and tomorrow. David had owned Dorothy in the 1980s and is working in some areas around planks that he himself installed.

Together they are uncovering some surprising materials used to pay her seams over the years. In some cases, the caulking material hasn’t been touched at all, meaning it’s original, and 116 years old.

Quite something to see!

20131121-154331.jpg

 

Dorothy under garboards- seams reefed-T.Elliott Tobi Elliott filming Tony Grove reefing Dorothy's seams Tobi Elliott filming Tony Grove reefing Dorothy's seams2 Tony Grove and David Baker with Dorothy Tony Grove reefing seams on Dorothy Nov 2013

Off to see the Boats… the beautiful, beautiful boats!

20130829-175022.jpg

So we’re on our way!! (Left: Kate Bradford, our director of photography, in a rare moment in front of the camera)

20130829-173458.jpg

We’re off to the Classic boat festival this long weekend with a truck full of gear (see right- the exposed blimp and box of tee-shirts? this is how movies are made…) to capture some magical boat shots and interviews with people CRAZY about wooden boats. This is the first shoot that isn’t totally Dorothy-focussed, and I think it’ll be nice to get some light touches and atmospheric colour for the film. Not everything has to be about Dorothy – does it?

If this afternoon’s brief time with Angus and Sandy Matthews is any indication, we’re in for a fantastic shoot. They were marvelous! I was so captivated by the conversation that I didn’t even remember to pull out my camera for a photo, so we’ll have to get them another time (they are very photogenic, by the way… )

Owners of Dorothy in the 70s until 1984, they actively sailed her as a young family and did much to keep her alive. Angus confessed a secret about what he did for Dorothy while she was under his care – which Tony Grove said did much to keep her in good condition – which we have sworn not to reveal. But something we can tell you… It was Angus who provided Dorothy with the gift of a full suit of Fogh sails, which are waiting for her return to the water even now (thanks to his brother, an Olympic sailor who worked for Fogh.) We learned during our time with them this afternoon that it was apparently the first suit of gaff-rigged sails Fogue had ever done!

Then, the photos came out. Oh my, there are some beautiful shots of Dorothy under sail like I’ve never seen before! They will for sure make the film. Can’t put them up yet as we left in such haste for the ferry that they will have to wait until after Victoria and Port Townsend boat shows.

I’m personally so stoked to meet the many people who have written us or talked about hearing the Dorothy and are looking forward to the film. And we have some amazing volunteers who stepped forward to help us sell T-shirts (which fly out of the box whenever they come out) and enlist people in our doc film community – thank you especially to Harry Martin, a volunteer for the MMBC who has come over to see Dorothy a number of times and already has done so much for us in organizing help and volunteers. Thank you Harry!

Thank you everyone who has stepped forward to help, or even give encouragement that they are eager to see the film. THIS is how films are made… as a team, for a community, with passion and diligence and no small amount of sweat and persistence. So thank you again. We can’t do this without you.

And now, if you want a moment of levity, go to the Dorothy Documentary Indiegogo Kickoff party event on Facebook and look up the ridiculous video I posted yesterday to reveal the party location! It’s going to be an amazing event, full of artists who are donating beautiful work for the fundraiser, tapas by some incredible local chefs, music and dancing and oysters and Dark n’ Stormys, oh my! Please join, even if you can’t come personally, join virtually! Sign in and you can see my new video pitch for the film, get some photos of the action and download the dance mix curated by Bryan. It’s going to be a blast, so come if you can!

20130829-180550.jpg

 

More to come from the amazing festival grounds, for now, off to the Sticky Wicket to meet our team and plan out the weekend…

Much love, Tobi

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

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!