Deadline today for back rent on crusted boat linked to author John Steinbeck
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The Western Flyer sits on blocks in the Port Townsend Boat Haven boatyard, wearing the mud and barnacles from two sinkings. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The owner of a boat once used by author John Steinbeck and which is now housed at the Boat Haven has promised to bring his account current by today, according to the Port of Port Townsend director.

“If he wires us all the money tomorrow, he’ll be current,” Larry Crockett said Tuesday.

Gerry Kehoe, the owner of the Western Flyer — which was brought into the Boat Haven covered in mud and barnacles earlier this summer — owed the Port of Port Townsend $10,099 in fees as of Tuesday, Crockett said.

Kehoe has paid only a required $25,000 derelict-boat deposit since bringing the boat into the port, Crockett said.

In a message Monday to port personnel, Elizabeth Kehoe, Gerry Kehoe’s wife, promised the money owed would be paid in full today and requested the current amount and wiring instructions, Crockett said.

Gerry Kehoe did not respond to a Peninsula Daily News inquiry about the disposition of the boat Tuesday.

The 72-foot derelict vessel was built by Tacoma’s Western Boat Building Co. in 1937 and was chartered in 1940 by Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts — who became the model for the character of Doc in Steinbeck’s 1945 book Cannery Row — for a six-week expedition to Mexico’s Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Kehoe, a Salinas, Calif., businessman, purchased the Western Flyer in 2010 for an undisclosed price, raised it from where it was submerged near Mount Vernon and had it towed to Port Townsend.

He intends to restore it and transport it to a Steinbeck museum in inland Salinas. No repairs have been done so far.

If Kehoe pays in full by the end of business today, the port will forgive $200 in late fees, and the boat will continue to accrue its $2,000 monthly charge.

If Kehoe does not pay, the port may initiate legal proceedings, which could include impounding of the boat, according to Jean French, who handles the port’s accounting and receivables.

A notice would go out at the end of this month giving Kehoe another 90 days to come up with the funds.

At the end of that period, he would be given a 10-day notice of the port’s intent to auction the boat, which would be an amount to cover storage costs and expenses.

If Kehoe doesn’t pay in full as promised, the late charges will be reinstated and will not be forgiven in the future, Crockett said.

But if Kehoe pays the full amount as promised, “it resets the clock,” according to Crockett.

“We’ll just wait until Nov. 20 [when the rent is due again] and see if he pays,” Crockett said.

“This has happened before, where people don’t pay for a variety of reasons, fall behind and give us something. Even though they are late, we are still getting a little bit of money.”

If Kehoe doesn’t pay in full as promised, the late charges will be reinstated and will not be forgiven in the future, Crockett said.

A native of Salinas, Steinbeck, who died in 1968, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. His novel The Grapes of Wrath won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 22. 2013 7:12PM
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