Owner of derelict vessel linked to John Steinbeck pays Port of Port Townsend more than $10,000 in back rent
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The Western Flyer, which sits in the Port of Port Townsend boatyard after sinking twice. -- 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 now awaiting repair in the Boat Haven has paid fully the more than $10,000 he owed the Port of Port Townsend for past-due rent, the port director said.

“We got the money wired to us about 3 p.m. [Wednesday],” Larry Crockett said Thursday.

“He is now paid in full.”

Gerry Kehoe, a Salinas, Calif., businessman who wants to restore the derelict Western Flyer and take it to Salinas as a tourist attraction, wired $10,099 to the port to cover rent incurred since early July.

If Kehoe had not paid by the Wednesday deadline, he would have received in 90 days a 10-day notice of the port’s intent to auction the twice-sunken boat, Crockett said.

“But he did pay, and now the clock starts again,” Crockett said.

Aside from a $25,000 derelict-boat deposit, Kehoe had not made any payment.

Kehoe, in an email to the Peninsula Daily News on Thursday, criticized the port for charging $2,000 monthly rent for the mud-encrusted boat that sits on blocks in the Boat Haven boatyard.

“The Western Flyer is an important literary and historic artifact which has received zero help from any government agency, from the Port of Port Townsend, from the state of Washington, the state of California or the county of Monterey,” Kehoe wrote.

“In fact, the reverse is true as shown by the records of the Port of Port Townsend where an important historic vessel merely standing on a piece of gravel to the very rear of the port is being excessively charged circa $2,000 per month (the rent of a full home) and add-ons for electrical charges, environmental charges, etc., when the vessel is not using any of these services at all,” Kehoe said in his email.

When Kehoe first challenged the rent amount in September, Crockett said the land at the back of the property has the same power, water and fire flow as the rest of the Boat Haven and has been ballasted to accommodate a 300-ton lift.

The port did forgive $200 in late fees.

The 72-foot derelict vessel was built by Tacoma’s Western Boat Building Co. in 1937 and was chartered in 1940 by Steinbeck and a friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, for a six-week expedition to Mexico’s Gulf of California.

Ricketts became the model for the character of Doc in Steinbeck’s 1945 Cannery Row.

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.

Kehoe purchased the Western Flyer for an undisclosed price in 2010 when it was moored in Skagit County.

It sank twice and had to be refloated before it was brought to Port Townsend for repairs in July.

Kehoe said Thursday that repairs would proceed, but he would not say when.

He wrote that the repaired vessel ultimately will be placed in a now-vacant 50,000-square-foot building in downtown Salinas.

He said $190,000 worth of improvements has been made to the building for the Western Flyer, which will have to be disassembled and reassembled.

“The historic building saves the historic Western Flyer, and the Flyer saves this historic building, and both make the Steinbeck Center viable again,” Kehoe said.

Crockett said many tenants are unable to pay their rent and go into arrears before making partial or full payments, and there is a system in place to deal with these situations.

A non-paying tenant receives a 30-day and 60-day notice. If no payment is received, the tenant gets a 90-day notice before the boat is auctioned.

If no payment is received and the boat is auctioned, the tenant receives any money left after back rent is paid from the derelict deposit.

Rents are due the 20th of each month, Crockett said.

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

Last modified: October 24. 2013 6:42PM
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