Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Ressurection of the Western Flyer

California millionaire to spend $2 million fixing John Steinbeck's boat, The Western Flyer, to use it as a science lab

Two wealthy Californian brothers are hoping to breath new life into a rusty, decrepit fishing vessel that was once owned by literary great John Steinbeck.

John Gregg, 53, and his sibling Andy, 50, bought the Western Flyer earlier this year and hope to restore it to its former glory after visiting it in Port Townsend, Washington.

The boat rose to fame in the 1940s when Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts chartered it for a Mexican cruise, which the author immortalized in the non-fiction classic, The Log From the Sea of Cortez.

The Western Flyer, the sardine fishing boat John Steinbeck immortalized in The Log From the Sea of Cortez, in a dry dock in Port Townsend, Washington.  Two brothers are spending $2million to repair the boat

Western Flyer, moving in harbor, after returning from a Sea of Cortez trip. The new owners are two brothers

The original voyage was born of necessity of both author and biologist—they needed a change of pace. Steinbeck, pictured at home in Sag Harbor, was dealing with controversy following the publication of The Grapes of Wrath

The book saw the vessel carry Steinbeck, his wife, Carol, the biologist and a crew of four on a 6,000-mile voyage. 

The 76-foot wooden boat has passed through many hands since then and has even sunk twice in Puget Sound in recent years. 
It is currently propped up on blocks in dry storage in Port Townsend, Washington. 

At one point, the vessel was used as a sardine fishing boat out of Monterey, as well as a tuna boat, a crab boat in Alaska and a research platform. 

John Gregg said his inspiration to buy the Western Flyer can be traced to his childhood, when he read Steinbeck's novels and became enamored.
 
The death of the sardine industry led to the 1952 sale of the Western Flyer to Luketa, who converted it to a trawler. The vessel has even sink twice, but the Greggs are determined to have the boat restored
 
 
John Steinbeck and Tony Berry, captain of Western Flyer during the Sea of Cortez expedition

'These guys were adventurers and scientists,' he said. 'I grew up when all of the Apollo stuff was going on, so my heroes were adventures and scientists. It's been a lifelong passion.'

He told: Nwnewsnetwork: 'Guys were working with hand tools and caulking boats.

'There is just a lot of local knowledge there that I don't think is duplicated anywhere else on the West Coast. So I realized right away that that boat had to stay there.'

Gregg estimates it will cost $2million and take at least two years to fully restore the old vessel. 

'I'd like to just restore it,' he said to KSBW. 'Pretty much the way it was when it went down to the Sea of Cortez, and have it used for science and education.

Chris Chase, left, and John Gregg in the hold of the Western Flyer, the fishing boat. Gregg and his brother are spending $2million to repair the boat, in the hopes of repurposing it as a science and education vessel

The Western Flyer is weathered, aged and nearly a lost hope. But after a year or so underwater, the story is not over yet

Steinbeck set out to document the life of the sea. A decade later he published 'The Log from the Sea of Cortez', which immortalized the region and the Western Flyer 

'I have enough boats that you would think I would know better than to get another one that doesn't like to float,' he joked in an interview. 

Mr Gregg is president of a geotechnical sampling and testing company, which operates steel work boats for marine drilling and surveys, among other things.

'I read Steinbeck's stories as a young guy and I always was inspired by that sort of thing,' he explained. 'I identified with the adventure and science.'

At one point, the previous owner of the ship planned to cut up the hull to put it on display and that sparked outcry from local historians. 

Northwest shipwrights have been hired to restore Western Flyer.

'It's a disaster, it's muddy and full of oil, scary things, so it's really in bad shape now,' Gregg said.

Eventually, the hope is for Western Flyer to return to Monterey Bay to take part in some hands-on science and education voyages where it will act as a working classroom in the harbor and out at sea.

'I don't really want to see her doing sunset cruises,' John Gregg said to the Monterey Herald

'I think its mission should be more of a scientific and educational thing. I see a bunch of kids on her.'  

'It actually sank twice, so it's bearing the scars from that, but most of those scars are superficial.

'In fact, sinking actually helped it, because it got filled with mud and rainwater, which kept the boards moist enough that the wood didn't dry rot.'

At present, the Western Flyer is scheduled to be taken down to John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California, where it will be restored. Above is an early picture of the author


Carol Steinbeck sitting on rail of Western Flyer. The Western Flyer was launched as a purse seiner by Western Boat Building Company of Tacoma in 1937. Descendants of the shipyard's founder have long wanted to see this boat find a credible savior

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