Steinbeck boat in Port Townsend may be bound for new adventure



Posted on May 29, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Updated Thursday, May 29 at 5:52 PM

It's a literary adventure set on a boat that became a man's muse, a boat whose beauty has long faded.

"You look at it at first and you say, what is it, a piece of junk?" said Bob Hanson, a mechanic at the Boat Haven shipyard in Port Townsend.

"It's a bit of a fixer upper, to say the least," added his co-worker Mike Rementer.

The 76-foot Western Flyer, built in Tacoma in 1937, was the setting for the John Steinbeck book "The Log From The Sea of Cortez."  

Chartered by Steinbeck in 1940, it now sits in drydock in Port Townsend -- an unmarked waterfront oddity attracting the curious from all around.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful vessel," said David Weitzman of Sequim.

"You have to ask yourself how it got here," added JoAnne Mann.

Long after its literary hey day the boat was put back to work as a fishing vessel in Puget Sound, where it ended up sinking off Skagit County. It was purchased for $45,000 in 2010 and moved to Port Townsend for storage about a year ago, but it's unclear how long the Western Flyer will remain there.

Now, there is talk of someone bringing the rusting, rotting, barnacled beast back to life.

"I'd think he must believe in the tooth fairy, too," said Hanson.

The man who owns the boat is a businessman from California who wants to move it to Steinbeck's hometown of Salinas, California and turn it into a tourist attraction as part of a boutique hotel. 

Port Townsend book store owner Anna Quinn believes Steinbeck would've written a much more fitting final chapter. Surrounded by hard working, blue collar seafarers, the author's humble boat seems to give voice to his affection for the common man struggling to stay afloat in a sea of opportunists.

"In my dream world the owner would be persuaded to in some manner to do something different with it. That he would sit down and do something that really will do justice to this boat, and its environmental legacy," said Quinn.

The nephew of the captain of the Steinbeck voyage wanted the boat used for environmental education in Monterey Bay, but couldn't muster enough money.
The working men on the waterfront echo that sentiment, and exude the author's unsinkable optimism.

"Imagine what it will take to refurbish that," pondered Rementer as he worked on a boat engine. Replied his partner Hanson, "There's nothing in this world that can't be done."

(Photos of the Western Flyer are from the Pat Hathaway Photo Collection