After 20+ years on dry land, classic boat Dorothy returns to water

Tony Grove and Robert Lawson at the dock beside the recently launched Dorothy.
Credit: Janelle Huopalainen. "Between Wood and Water" documentary.

The re-launch on May 27th drew approx 300 spectators and fans, many who have a personal connection to the classic boat, Dorothy. Carol Bertram, the Great-great-granddaughter of the boat's original builder J.J. Robinson, sponsored the Dorothy, cracking the bottle of champagne across her bow.

Carol Bertram cracks a bottle of Champagne across the bow of the boat before launch
Credit: Janelle Huopalainen, for "Between Wood and Water" documentary.

Representatives from the Maritime Museum of B.C., the boat’s owner and custodian since 1995, introduced the boat as being built “in a time when the Wright brothers were still working on bicycles,” said MMBC Board president Jamie Webb, who MCed the event. Plaques of recognition were given to Tony Grove, who looked after the boat for a decade as he worked on her structural repairs on Gabriola Island, from 2011 – 2022. Another was given to the president of the Ladysmith Maritime Society for their heroic efforts in the significant refit, and also to Robert Lawson, who spearheaded the group of volunteers. It’s estimated that over $250,000 in donated labour and materials is invested in this last stage of the refit. “It’s an example of what can be done with leadership and a group of volunteers when a community really gets behind something,” said Webb of their collective efforts.

For decades, Dorothy’s return to water was uncertain. After celebrating her 100th anniversary in 1997, with no place to store her or no maintenance plan, the boat was put into dry storage and nearly forgotten. Dorothy was moved to local shipwright Tony Grove’s shop on Gabriola in 2011 to assess the extent of her repairs needed. The MMBC Board debated making her into a static display but a Friends of Dorothy group kept the vision alive of the significance of Dorothy as a working and sailing vessel. After the boat’s structural repairs were completed by Grove in 2022, the Museum brokered an agreement with the Ladysmith Maritime Society to undertake the remaining work.

Men standing in front of the bow of a boat in the open doors of an old shop in Ladysmith, with the title Ladysmith Maritime Society written above.

Lawson (above, at centre, with members of the Ladysmith Maritime Society) helmed the responsibility for the hundreds of decisions needed to restore Dorothy to close to her original condition. A small army of volunteers (many pictured above), including retired engineers, carpenters and wood hobbyists, put in hundreds of hours over the past 11 months, meticulously trimming, varnishing, building furniture and pieces to bring Dorothy back to a shine she has not had since being shown at Expo ’86.

Four generations of the Langley Family in the cockpit of the classic sailboat, Dorothy, with festival flags flying.
Image Credit: Janelle Huopalainen. Between Wood and Water, Arise Enterprises Ltd.

The Dorothy: A Langley Family Legacy

Four generations of the Langley family attended the re-launch with family members. The original owner of the Dorothy, W.H. Langley, had the sailboat from her launch in 1897 until 1944. Judith Branion (second from left, above) had never set foot on the boat her grandfather had built. Along with Langley’s great granddaughter, great-great-granddaughter, and a great-great-great grandson, Judith got her chance to finally sit in the cockpit. She commented about seeing the boat in her restored state for the first time, “She was so regal, I almost expected her to wave like the Queen as she went by!” The family also donated a winner’s cup from 1899, older than any the Museum had in their collection up to that point.

Dorothy will be a floating exhibit in the care of the Ladysmith Community Marina until the Museum finds dock space for the boat in Victoria, B.C. The Board’s priority is finding a home for the Maritime Museum, but the arrangement with LMS will allow the boat to be accessed by the public and shown at classic boat shows. Work will continue this summer on the rigging and getting the mast up, and trialing her under sail.

Information on the documentary will be found here at Information about the plan and funding for the Dorothy’s future can be accessed at:

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