Western Flyer heads back to sea

The Western Flyer was built in Tacoma and chartered by John Steinbeck while he was writing The Log from the Sea of ​​Cortez.

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash – A piece of literary history once again sails the waters of western Washington.

The boat on which John Steinbeck wrote The tree trunk from the Sea of ​​Cortez opens a new chapter.

The Western Flyer has been undergoing a refurbishment in Port Townsend for nine years. Now the 85-year-old boat is launching into Puget Sound again.

The arduous journey back to sea begins with a bulldozer noisily hauling the 77-foot seine out of dry dock inch by inch. It’s part of a journey Rom Welborn has been on since he first learned about the boat while writing a high school paper.

“It changed my life and it still feels like it changed my life,” he said.

The Western Flyer was built in Tacoma in 1937.

Three years later, John Steinbeck rented it along with legendary biologist Ed Rickets. Rickets is considered the grandfather of modern ecology.

This journey became the book The tree trunk from the Sea of ​​Cortez.

The book conveyed a philosophy that inspired Walborn — then a driving college student — to change schools and majors and become a biologist himself.

“It taught me that all things are one, from the tide pools to the stars,” Walborn said.

Getting the boat to this point was an odyssey in itself. The Western Flyer served as a West Coast fishing vessel for decades. It sank three times before its resurrection.

At one point a previous owner considered cutting it up and using the parts for a restaurant.

The boat eventually ended up underwater near the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County.

“It was a ship spirit,” said project lead Chris Chase. “It had barnacles on every surface, mud in the closets. It’s really amazing that it got to where it is today.”

Most of the boat’s interior remains intact, including the desk where Steinbeck wrote.

John Gregg is at the forefront of this endeavor. He was inspired by Steinbeck’s work and the way it combined art and science.

He plans to take the boat to California, where it will be used as an environmental research vessel to study ocean acidification, among other things – fitting the theme of Steinbeck’s book and Rickett’s work.

“They weren’t sentimental types,” Gregg said. “They were forward-thinking guys. They didn’t want something just sitting in a museum. They wanted something that could make a living.”

On Wednesday, the family of the original boat builder were in Port Townsend harbor to bless the boat with red wine and lavender.

It touched the water for the first time in nearly a decade, and Rom Welborn expressed hope that the Western Flyer will continue to transform lives.

“It’s a big thing that makes you feel connected to the whole world.”

The Western Flyer will shortly be towed to a Ballard shipyard for mechanical work.

It will then head to Monterey, California, where it will begin conducting scientific research next spring.

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https://www.king5.com/article/news/history/western-washington-literary-history-log-sea-cortez/281-651d4479-d21c-42b9-95a1-df178609f116 Western Flyer heads back to sea

Alley Einstein

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