Western Flyer, four years later

After my post about it four years ago, Western Flyer’s fate moved into uncertainty. We read in the local newspaper that the real estate developer who intended to restore it and move it into a hotel in Salinas, California stopped paying fees to keep it in Port Townsend. Its fate seemed perilous.

As desperate as its condition was, the Western Flyer was nonetheless an iconic vessel with a storied history that joined a lion of American literature, John Steinbeck, with Ed Ricketts, an equally great figure in American marine biology and ecology. It couldn’t be left to crumble into a pile of rotted wood and barnacles. In 2015 the Western Flyer Foundation was created.

The Western Flyer has been moved into the Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop where it is being painstakingly restored. However, it’s not being rehabbed just for the sake of renovation. The foundation plans to regenerate the vessel to a state of the art marine research vessel which will bring a marine lab and educational platform to coastal communities. Students will engage in marine science with the assistance of a remote operated vehicle and below decks workshop. A committee of qualified teachers, scholars, scientists, and engineers are collaborating to design curriculum specializing in the Western Flyer’s multi-disciplinary nexus: American literature, marine biology, and maritime history.

It’s an exciting project and the enthusiasm of Western Flyer’s proponents is infectious. Click here to go to the foundation’s website with a video and additional information about the project.

I plan in coming months to drop by to see Western Flyer’s progress.

Repost: John Steinbeck’s boat

Today I’m offering a backward glance at a post from 2013, when I looked at and provided information about an historic boat in Port Townsend. Rather than link you back to the original post, I’m providing it to you today. Tomorrow I’ll give you an update on this very interesting vessel. Here’s my post from July 23, 2013:

If you’re familiar with the work of writer John Steinbeck, you may know “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” a book he wrote with marine biologist Ed Ricketts after a research voyage they made in 1940. Steinbeck and Ricketts chartered the Western Flyer out of Monterey, California for six weeks and the Log is a narrative of the experience. After a long and interesting history, the Western Flyer has arrived in the Port Townsend shipyard, unquestionably worse for wear.

The Western Flyer is a 76-foot wooden purse seiner built in Tacoma in 1937. Over the years it worked as a fishing trawler in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska and as a survey vessel along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska. Eventually renamed the Gemini, the boat finally ended up in Washington’s Swinomish Slough where it sat idle beginning in 1997.

A real estate developer who owns several buildings in Steinbeck’s hometown, Salinas, California, bought the Western Flyer in 2010 intending to restore and return it to Salinas, to display inside a restaurant and boutique hotel. The boat ran out of patience last year. In September it sank in 30 feet of water. A crew raised it, pumped out the water, and put a temporary patch where planks had given way. In November it sank again.

Coated with barnacles and sea life inside and out it was hauled to Port Townsend earlier this month. Estimated restoration is $700,000 and a nonprofit group hopes to raise funds for the work. As you can see, they have their work cut out for them.

The other woman

Here’s a boat undergoing repairs at the Port Townsend shipyard. You can see some of the braces that I showed you yesterday put to work.

I snapped this shot because as we drove by my DH could barely contain himself. “Look at her stern,” he said, sounding almost raunchy. “Dang, that’s gorgeous,” as he admired its shape and curves. I saw the lines he visually embraced but I also saw the age and rust, once again grateful for his farsighted selective vision.

At the shipyard

When we go to Port Townsend we invariably end up in the shipyard there as DH searches for some kind of maritime this or that at the marine supply store. While he shops I usually go on the prowl with my camera, which is what I did recently. The landscape is always changing as boats come ashore for maintenance and there’s lots going on. I’m not a mariner but I love this place. You’ll see more in the next few days.

Race to Alaska

The third annual Race to Alaska (R2AK) kicked off at 5 a.m. last Thursday as 64 vessels large and small left Port Townsend, headed first to Victoria B.C. and eventually, for many, to Ketchikan, Alaska. The race structure is straightforward: “No motor, no support, all the way to Alaska.”

We were in Port Townsend on Wednesday as many of the boats arrived and people readied for an evening “Ruckus” sendoff event. Entrants ranged from standup paddleboards and kayaks to rowing boats and sailing crafts of all types. Smaller vessels generally entered for the first 40-mile Victoria leg only. The entire race is 750 miles, give or take, depending on capriciousness of the wind.

Can you see the three pedaling setups here? Sailors don’t always rely on wind alone.

Winds picked up on Thursday and boat were scattered across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and up into Oak Bay east of Victoria. Two rowers arrived first in Victoria on Thursday. Tomorrow 41 of the entrants will leave Victoria destined for Ketchikan. According to the R2AK website, the race can be finished in anywhere from four days to never.

The race website is entertaining, full of information, and includes a tracker which follows each of the boats. Here’s an excerpt:

“What is the best boat for R2AK?
Great question. We have no idea. We intentionally picked the start date because the winds are of unpredictable strength and duration. There is an ongoing debate on whether the optimal boat will favor sail, oars, or paddles. From the conversations we’ve had, usually sailors are scared of the rowers, rowers are scared of the sailors, and kayakers don’t seem to be scared of anything. Our best advice is to choose a boat design based on your skills, then go for it.”