This boat was working its way around Dungeness Bay last Monday. There are a couple of things they might have been looking for. Green crabs have been found here, an unwelcome, invasive species. And last month a fish farm in the San Juan Islands accidentally released tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound waters. They don’t belong here either.

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.