Old boat in Port Townsend linked to author Steinbeck filmed for documentary
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Documentary filmmaker Ian Hinkle, who shot footage of the Western Flyer, left, tells his wife, Molly, and daughter, Jaqi, 10, about the history of the vessel.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Western Flyer, a boat used by John Steinbeck that is now in derelict condition in the Boat Haven, has drawn the attention of a Canadian documentary filmmaker.

“This is a part of our history,” said Ian Hinkle, a former resident of Port Townsend who now lives in Victoria.

“It's sad to see a wooden boat rotting in a yard, but it has done its part and can still communicate things that are very important,” he added. “Boats like this are important. They capture the past.”

The Western Flyer — built by Tacoma's Western Boat Building Co. in 1937 — 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.

The journey was recounted in Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, which Hinkle said is a valuable oceanic document.

Steinbeck went on to received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962 before his death in 1968.

“Steinbeck was one of the literary greats of the 20th century, and he managed to connect the American public to science and research and the importance of what is going on in our oceans,” Hinkle said.

“The Sea of Cortez was a snapshot that added literature and philosophy to that understanding.”

Hinkle was born in Canada and for eight years lived in Port Townsend, where his daughter Jaqi, now 10, was born.

He moved his family to Victoria five years ago “for a change of scenery,” he said.

Hinkle spent Friday morning filming the outside of the vessel for use in “Reaching Blue,” a 15-minute film produced by Ocean Networks Canada that will premiere at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle during the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference from April 30 to May 2.

He would not divulge how much attention the film will give to the Western Flyer but said outtakes will be available online and that there could be several versions of the film.

“The film will weave together current research with local stories,” he said.

He said the results of the boat's exterior will resemble a slide show.

He could not board the vessel without the permission of its owner, Gerry Kehoe, a Salinas, Calif., businessman who plans to dismantle the boat and transport it to Salinas — Steinbeck's hometown— where it will become a Steinbeck museum.

Hinkle said he has been unable to contact Kehoe.

Kehoe brought the Western Flyer into the facility in early July but did not pay anything toward the $2,000 monthly rent in October, the day before an eviction notice was scheduled.

He missed paying a timely rent in November and December but has stayed current on the rent since then and is up to date, according to port officials.

Kehoe said in an email Friday that he is prepared a building for the boat with a water display in California.

He did not provide a time frame for the boat's transport.

Boat tours “that will be 100 percent free to all comers” are planned along with a “James Dean Diner” on the far side of the building with glass walls, Kehoe said.

Dean starred in the 1955 film “East of Eden,” released the same year he died. The movie was adapted from Steinbeck's novel set in the Salinas Valley.

Hinkle said he thinks the documentary “will be a useful tool to restore the Western Flyer.”

“The movie will link the audience to issues that matter,” he said.

“It will directly connect the Salish Sea to the planet's oceans.”


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

Last modified: February 22. 2014 6:05PM
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