Dorothy restored: an update on the restoration of Canada’s oldest continual use sailing vessel

Tobi Elliot

Submitted Article

Monday, March 3 2014

Tony Grove, Gabriola artist and wooden boat restoration expert, has been contracted by the BC Maritime Museum to restore Dorothy, a 30-foot gaff cutter (sloop) built in James Bay in 1897. According to Tony, she is said to be the oldest vessel in Canada that has continued to be in use.

Tobi Elliot of Gabriola is filming a documentary of Dorothy’s restoration and sent in this update on Tony’s progress.

Dorothy’s physical restoration is still at the “deconstruction” phase where Tony Grove continues to remove anything necessary in order to build the boat back up again. Tony had a minor setback, a car accident in December, that stopped work for about 1.5 months but he’s healed enough to start working on Dorothy again in earnest. 

Harry Martin, a local volunteer at the Maritime museum of BC, is filmed going through the Dorothy archives by Director of Photography Kate Bradford. Submitted photo

All seams are reefed – i.e. the caulking is taken out, a process that had to be done very carefully as Dorothy’s 117-year-old cedar planks are very soft and can easily be damaged. The edges of the planks ended up being ragged with some breakage, so Tony will be repair any damage this month before re-caulking her. Dorothy had never been entirely re-caulked in her lifetime, so in places there were huge wads of cotton and oakum shoved in where she had been “spot-caulked,” resulting in some damage as the caulking had been shoved right into the wood. Tony has some more technical write-ups on his website if anyone is interested:

Tony is going to replace as few planks as possible to keep her original. The materials in her are largely sound, just a few spots of rot and he wants to correct any hogging (flattening out of her sheer, or where the stem and stern sort of drops) because of being stored without proper support. 

Shooting is going great; we had a three-day shoot in Victoria to take advantage of the fact we were already there. 

Kate Bradford, Director of Photography for the documentary, came over from Abbotsford. Harry Martin looking through the amazing Dorothy archives, we looked at Dorothy’s rigging (spars and mast, etc.) where it’s stored with Jamie Webb and interviewed Jennifer Charlesworth, who learned to sail on Dorothy when her parents bought and saved the boat in 1964. 

Chuck and Pam Charlesworth are really credited with saving Dorothy, and Jennifer, who became a phenomenal sailor and one of the first women to be admitted as a senior member of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, is very important to the story. 

February 17-23 was Heritage Week in British Columbia, and this year’s theme was wonderfully titled “Heritage Afloat,” celebrating BC’s maritime heritage.

Happily going along with the theme that fits their mandate so well, the BC Maritime Museum asked Tony and I to give a talk on February 19 at the Museum in Victoria about Dorothy’s restoration and some of the intriguing facts we’ve turned up in the course of researching her life.

Also, we are grateful to the BC Heritage organization for featuring an article on Dorothy in their magazine this month. It’s an honour to be part of “Heritage Afloat” in British Columbia.

Those wanting to get more regular updates on Dorothy can follow Tobi’s blog entitled, “Between Wood and Water” (link on