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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.

 

Sanding Dorothy and Screening Tees

Tony Grove boathull painting

We have some exciting news to report: a lovely breakthough for your favourite indie filmmakers:

Between Wood and Water – the documentary about the restoration of Dorothy, B.C.’s oldest and most beloved sloop – has attracted support from the National Film Board in the form of a filmmaker’s assistance grant!!! I heard that competition for the grant was particularly stiff this year, so the news is extremely heartening and we are well chuffed (English term) that a jury of Canada’s internationally esteemed film institution believes the Dorothy story is important. We thought so too!

The amount of money is not huge, (about 5% of what we need to complete production), but every little bit helps, and we are extremely grateful to the NFB for selecting this project.

(if you’ve never had the chance to check out the NFB’s unparalleled library of documentaries, animations and ground-breaking Canadian films, you really should, they are free online within in Canada. If you don’t know where to start, go to their curated playlists here.)

So as we prepare for our first major shoot of the restoration phase of this story in June, some things are going down:

1. Tony begins wooding Dorothy’s hull next week, stripping and sanding off the paint, to  reveal what’s going on and how extensive his work will be;

2. I am practicing my pitches for major networks congregating at the Banff media festival next weekend. One of them is of course the Dorothy documentary,  another is a maritime history and adventure series called Waterway Queens that was inspired by the research I did for Dorothy. The story of my opportunity at Banff can be read here, in an article in the Gabriola Sounder (this is what happens when you live on a small island: you make the local paper way more often.)

T-shirts-Dot-photo3. We are working on a fundraising campaign to raise needed production funds this summer. It MAY involve silkscreening “I love the Dorothy” T-shirts to sell (at right). Would you be interested in one? The graphic design is being done by one of the best designers I know, and Tony Grove himself drew Dorothy’s lines (see his artwork at top.)

Sanding Dorothy’s hull will be an arduous, dirty, dusty job, but the end, will result in the revelation of her beautiful wood, those ancient cedar planks that have stood the test of time. This very wood is what inspired me to pursue this story: the enduring relationship between wood and water.

Asking for money and running a fundraiser is not going to be particularly easy, either. But I know we have a great team to produce a great film, and so in the current climate of my industry, I have to be brave and find people and organizations to contribute. And this will result in relationships and connections to will last a lifetime, and I will be only one of many who can say “I produced a film” – because we ALL produced this film! It’s in this spirit of collectivity that many of the successful films are being made today.

The usual administrative hurdles remain to be overcome. As a production company, I may not actually be able to receive “gifts”, so one workaround might be simply to sell goods of varied pricing. (Coming soon: Dorothy T-shirts ranging from $25 – $200!) Hopefully I’ll have things worked out by next week, so those of you who have expressed interest in donating, thanks for your patience.

But when I think of the end result, I know it’s going to be worth it. We will have a film that speaks for those who love British Columbia’s maritime history. It will convey the passion of those who sacrifice so much for the vessels they love – wooden or otherwise. It will highlight the work of a wonderful contemporary artist – Tony Grove, and the art of boat restoration. It will promote the work of the B.C. Maritime Museum in Victoria, which is home to Canada’s largest library of nautical archives and has been keeping the maritime flame lit for over 40 years.

And it will speak to and inspire a new generation of men and women who, like the Teacher in Proverbs, find:

“There are three things that are too amazing for me,

four that I do not understand:

the way of an eagle in the sky,

the way of a snake on a rock,

the way of a ship on the high seas,

and the way of a man with a maiden.”

(Proverbs 30 18-19)

Victoria Classic boat fest poster2

Dorothy Exploratory Part II: the Verdict

In early January, trustees John West and Eric Waal from the Maritime Museum of B.C. arrived on Gabriola to discuss Tony Grove’s discoveries regarding Dorothy. Tony had conducted an exploratory in late December which revealed the cause and extent of the century-old boat’s issues, and the trustees were about to hear the verdict, and to deliver their own about the next steps for the restoration.

John West and Eric Waal, trustees for the MMBC - photo by Tony Grove

As representatives of Dorothy‘s owner and ultimate caretaker, the Museum, and as those who know the most about her file, West and Waal will be significant voices in the documentary BETWEEN WOOD AND WATER. (I call them “the Bulldog” and “the Greyhound”.) It was Eric (above, at right) who first voiced concern over the fact that Dorothy‘s legacy fund was being depleted by storage fees, and doggedly set about bringing attention to her future. He convinced West (at left) to return to the board and between the two of them they have developed a strategy to get the old girl back into the water.

MMBC Trustees examine Dorothy with Tony G- photo by Emily Grove

That strategy happily led to her being trucked to Tony Grove’s Gabriola island shop, and allowed this documentary team to jump into the mix. (Dorothy‘s restoration – a compelling storyline that could be followed in real time – combined with her launch at the 2013 Victoria Classic Boat festival, which gives her story a suitably dramatic ending, proved an irresistible combination to this producer!)

Exploratory-Tony and Dorothy-Dec18-12-Tobi ElliottOn December 20th we documented Tony removing Dorothy‘s garboards, as written up in this previous post. So what conclusion did he draw about her condition? Is she doomed beyond repair or can she be saved without too much effort? You can read Tony’s summary in his own words at his blog post here. To keep this short I will quote his ultimate recommendation to the Museum:

“I basically had two suggestions: the first, and the cheapest, would be to put Dorothy back together with some new wood and floors and some deliberate caulking below the waterline; the second is to wood the hull, reef all the seams, repair any planking or damage, refasten where possible and re-caulk her whole hull.

The first option would allow her to sail away safely, but is not addressing her age-born ailments and she would have to be redone again possibly in a few years, or at least have ongoing heavy maintenance. The second option, which I feel is the best for her and which John and Eric prefer as well, is wood the hull (strip of all hull paint), reef all the seams, repair any planking or damage, refasten were possible and re-caulk her whole hull. At the same time we should strongly support the stem and stern to help minimize hogging, and in the end when all put back together possibly help correct any hogging which has occurred over time.” – Tony Grove

And so it was decided that the old girl will undergo an extensive restoration  – as extensive as the Museum can raise the funds for – this coming spring and summer. Tony estimates it will take approximately double the number work hours that was originally anticipated, but since it will have to be done at some point in her near future, both West and Waal decided that it might as well be done now. As the saying goes… no use putting off til tomorrow what can be done today.

For the purposes of the film, we continue to document critical points but won’t start principal photography until mid-March, when Tony actually begins her restoration. We continue to look for a broadcasting partner for the story and have some interesting possibilities, but no confirmed partners yet. Still, we believe that Dorothy is such an intriguing way to explore B.C.’s coastal history that her story will find a way to an audience, somehow. She has waited a long time for her moment to shine, and you can be sure we will be there to capture it!

Kate Bradford filming inside Dorothy Jan 2-13-photo by Emily Grove

Kate Bradford filming trustees John West and Eric Waal, along with Tony Grove, from Dorothy’s bow. Photo by Emily Grove.

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!