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Oldest Sailboat in Canada Returns to the Water 125 Years Later

By: BoatBlurb Staff

Dorothy sailboat
Dorothy inside Tony Grove’s workshop on Gabriola Island B.C. / Photo - BC Ferries

A 125 year old sailboat in British Columbia is set to sail once again.

After having been landlocked since 2000, the inimitable Dorothy, built in 1897 by shipbuilder John J. Robinson, has been rebuilt with the help of BC Ferries and a local craftsman.

The 9-metre boat (30 ft) cost an initial $1800 to build at the tail end of the 19th century, while BC Ferries and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia have invested significantly more to make her seaworthy once again.

Dorothy is considered the oldest sailboat in Canada, and is arguably the oldest sailing yacht in the entire Pacific Northwest.

Despite being originally built by Robinson, the boat was designed by England's Linton Hope. Dorothy is considered a Gaff cutter, or sloop, with a distinctive 6 ft overhanging fantail. Hope himself was a naval architect and a renowned sailor in his own right, having won an Olympic gold medal in sailing in the 1900 French Games. The boat's original owner was W.H Langley, a barrister in Victoria B.C. and Clerk of the Legislature. Langley raced the boat for nearly 50 years all over B.C.

The boat's most prominent claim to fame is winning the Queen Victoria regatta in 1900.

One of Langley's claims to fame is a sworn affidavit stating he'd seen a seamonster while aboard Dorothy. The affidavit is housed at the Maritime Museum of B.C. and was the impetus for the conspiracy of the elusive Cadborosaurus, which still remains a part of folklore in the Pacific Northwest today.

Part of Langley's statement reads: “We both saw a huge object about 90 to 100 feet off a little on the port bow, and on the edge of the kelp just a little off Chatham Island shore. It was only visible for a few seconds. But what we both are absolutely agreed on may be put down as follows: a) it was every bit as big as the back of a large whale, but entirely different in many aspects; b) its colour was of a greenish brown. I would say a sort of dark olive green. It had markings along the top and sides. It seemed to be of a serrated nature.”

The museum purchased the boat back in 1995, but it wasn't until 2012 that it was transported to Gabriola Island by BC Ferries to undergo an extensive restoration by shipbuilder Tony Grove.

Grove recently said in a release, "As I worked on Dorothy it became clear that she was 'overbuilt' to some extent which has factored into her longevity."

"With the restoration work done and some regular maintenance, Dorothy should have a lot of good years ahead," he added.

Grove had only planned to hang onto the boat until the museum could find a permanent home, but it still remains in his care a decade later. Recently, BC Ferries has elected to move the boat to Ladysmith, B.C., where it will reside at a dock and set sail once again.

"Dorothy hasn’t dipped her toe in the water in more than 20 years and will need a week at dock to allow her planks to expand before she can sail," said BC Ferries in a statement.

The hope is that Dorothy can become a permanent fixture of Victoria's inner harbour, where it can run daytrips for those looking to charter aboard the oldest sailboat in Canada.

"Dorothy was the flagship of the Victoria Yacht Club and one of the very first yachts in the area," said Angus Matthews, a former owner of the ship and current board member for the Maritime Museum of B.C.

"She was beautiful and graceful, and moved like a rocket."

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