Western Flyer (boat)

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The Western Flyer is a fishing boat, most known for its use by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in their 1940 expedition to the Gulf of California, the notes from which culminated in their 1951 book The Log from the Sea of Cortez.[1] Called the "most famous fishing vessel ever to have sailed," the 77-foot (23 m) Western Flyer is currently being restored in Port Townsend, WA. The Western Flyer Foundation was formed in its honor with the goal of educating youth about the intersection of science and literature.

The Western Flyer in Port Townsend, WA on April 2015.


The Western Fyler was crafted in Tacoma, WA in 1937 by the Western Boat Building Company, owned by Martin Petrich. Petrich partnered with brothers Tony and Frank Berry to build the seiner, which is made from old-growth fir. It was designed specifically for the Monterey sardine fishery, with the capability of heading to Alaska annually for salmon. On July 3, 1937, the Flyer was completed.

Steinbeck and the Sea of Cortez[edit]

Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts chartered the Western Flyer in 1940 for a voyage to the Sea of Cortez. The Flyer was captained by Anton "Tony" Berry, with crew members Tex Travis, Horace "Sparky" Enea, and "Tiny" Colletto. Steinbeck's wife, Carol, was also on board for the excursion. They embarked on March 11, 1940 from Monterey, CA. Along the coast, Steinbeck and Ricketts collected specimens, logging their observations, many of which were included in "The Log". The journey ended on April 16, 1940 in San Diego, CA, after a journey of 4,000 miles.

After Steinbeck[edit]

Following Steinbeck's voyage, the ship was returned to its main purpose: fishing. Over the ensuing years it was used to harvest sardines, perch, and crab, angling from California to Alaska'a Aleutian Islands.[2]

Discovery and refurbishment[edit]

The Western Flyer after falling into disrepair, January 2015

In 1983 Bob Enea, the nephew of Tony Berry, began a search for the Western Flyer which had been renamed the Gemini. Enea discovered the boat in Anacortes, Washington in 1986 where it was still operating as a commercial fishing vessel.[3] His attempts to purchase the boat from owner Ole Knudson were rebuffed until 1993 when Knudson decided to retire from fishing and offered to sell the ship to Enea for $100,000. Enea established the non-profit Western Flyer Project to raise money to purchase the vessel. The publicity generated by the announcement of the Western Flyer's discovery attracted the attention of real estate developer Gerry Kehoe who immediately purchased the boat from Knudson over Enea's objections, announcing plans to move it to Salinas where it would be placed in drydock as the centerpiece of a new theme restaurant.[3]

Twice in 2012 the boat sprang leaks and sank, being refloated each time. After the second sinking, Kehoe transported the boat from Anacortes to Port Townsend, Washington to undergo refurbishment in preparation for relocation to Salinas.[4]

In early 2015 the boat was sold to John Gregg for a reported $1,000,000. Gregg has enlisted Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op to restore the vessel to its historic glory, while exceeding modern safety, technological, and environmental standards. The vessel will include a custom ROV, designed by Gregg, that resembles a nautilus. In 2016, The Western Flyer Foundation was established with the mission to empower students in under-served communities with a fusion of science and literature, inspired by the experiences of Steinbeck and Ricketts. Students will participate in the collection of real data, implementing a citizen science approach.[5]

Hull Restoration of the Western Flyer, Port Townsend, WA 2019


  1. ^ Hutchison, Patrick (18 March 2015). "A New Life for the Boat Immortalized by John Steinbeck". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  2. ^ "A marine tragedy: Steinbeck boat follows collapse of West Coast fisheries". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  3. ^ a b Bailey, Kevin (2015). The Western Flyer: Steinbeck's Boat, the Sea of Cortez, and the Saga of Pacific Fisheries. University of Chicago Press. pp. 8–9. ISBN 022611676X.
  4. ^ Gillie, John (28 August 2013). "Groups fight over famous fishing boat's future". Bend Bulletin. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  5. ^ "Dan Haifley, Our Ocean Backyard: 'Western Flyer's' journey continues". www.santacruzsentinel.com. Retrieved 2016-02-23.