Risen from the Depths: The Long-Overdue Restoration of John Steinbeck’s Famed Fishing Vessel, The Western Flyer.

by Carolyn Sotka

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The Western Flyer today. Photo by David Buzzard Photography.

In 1940, Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts (who later inspired the character Doc in the book “Cannery Row”) chartered the Western Flyer for a Mexican cruise, which John Steinbeck chronicled in the non-fiction book The Log From the Sea of Cortez.

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After their voyage, the ship returned to Monterey to fish for sardines. Once that fishery collapsed, the boat and crew moved northward to fish for Pacific ocean perch in Washington, king crab in the Bering Sea, and finally wild Pacific salmon—all industries that would also face collapse.

The boat came to rest under the pseudonym Gemini and was moored in the Swinomish Slough on a Native American reservation near Anacortes, Washington. Eventually it was moved to dry storage in Port Townsend, Washington. Having sunk at least twice, the boat will finally be restored by Northwest Shipwrights and returned to Monterey for on-board science and education-based voyages. John Gregg, a businessman from Southern California, is investing in the venture and estimates it will cost $2 million dollars and at least two years to fully restore the old vessel.

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 Steinbeck (R) and Ricketts on the Western Flyer. Photo from BBC News.

For the full story check out the KLPU article and listen to their short podcast.

Also, in March 2015, comes Kevin M. Bailey’s new book, The Western Flyer: Steinbeck’s Boat, the Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries. The book resurrects this forgotten witness to the changing tides of Pacific fisheries. Bailey draws on the Steinbeck archives, interviews with family members of crew, and more than three decades of working in Pacific Northwest fisheries to trace the depletion of marine life through the voyages of this single ship.

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To learn more about John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts’ adventures in Monterey Bay, check out my book with co-author Steve Palumbi,  The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival and my Scuttlefish feature on another protagonist (Dr. Julia Platt) during those formative years in Monterey. The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story on Revival can be purchased as hardcover, paperback,  e-book or audiobook at Island Press or on Amazon.

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