Steinbeck ship to be refloated by new owner and Northwest Shipbuilders

A new owner gives new hope to a dilapidated, unseaworthy fishing boat with remarkable literary pedigree.

Shipwrights from the Northwest will be hired to restore the Western Flyer, a ship made famous by author John Steinbeck.

In 1940, Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts – who later inspired Doc’s character in “Cannery Row” – chartered the Western Flyer for a Mexican cruise, which Steinbeck immortalized in the non-fiction classic, “The Log From the Sea of ​​Cortez. “

The 76-foot wooden boat has passed through many hands since then. This sunk twice in Puget Sound in recent years. The historic vessel is currently rigged on blocks in dry storage in the port of Port Townsend, Washington.

New owner John Gregg, 53, is a Steinbeck fan and Southern California businessman. He said he changed his mind about barging the mud-covered boat to California for restoration after visiting it in Port Townsend.

“The guys were working with hand tools and caulking boats,” Gregg observed at the shipyard. “There’s just a lot of local knowledge there that I don’t think is duplicated anywhere else on the west coast. So I immediately realized that this boat had to stay there.”

The new owner estimated that it would cost $ 2 million and that it would take at least two years to fully restore the old ship.

“I have enough boats that you think I know better than buying one that doesn’t like to float,” he joked in an interview. Gregg is president of a geotechnical sampling and testing company, which operates steel work boats for drilling and marine surveys, among other things.

“I read (Steinbeck’s) stories when I was young and I was always inspired by this stuff,” explained Gregg. “I identified with adventure and science.

Gregg said he ultimately intended the Western Flyer to return to Monterey Bay on hands-on science and education trips.

Gregg officially bought the Western Flyer from California real estate developer Gerry Kehoe last week. Kehoe had previously planned to cut the boat into pieces and display restored portions in the lobby of a boutique hotel Kehoe failed to open in Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas.

At various times, the vessel was used as a sardine fishing boat out of Monterey, tuna boat, Alaska crab boat and research platform.

The Western Flyer was launched as a purse seiner by the Western Boat Building Company of Tacoma in 1937. The descendants of the shipyard’s founder have long wanted this boat to find a credible savior.

“This is definitely the happiest outcome we were hoping for,” Tacoma’s Joe Petrich wrote in an email. “I am frankly delighted that the boat is saved for posterity.” Petrich’s grandfather, Martin Petrich, founded Western Boat Building and co-owned the Western Flyer during its early years.

“The boat means a lot to me and the rest of the Petrich family, both as a touchstone of our past and as an important part of Steinbeck-Ricketts’ history,” added Petrich.

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