The tug Red Bluff moves the Western Flyer out of the Port Townsend Boat Haven on Thursday and was towed to Seattle for the installation of an engine and other components. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

The tug Red Bluff moves the Western Flyer out of the Port Townsend Boat Haven on Thursday and was towed to Seattle for the installation of an engine and other components. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)

Western Flyer sails again

Boat made famous by John Steinbeck has been under restoration in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — The Western Flyer left for Seattle after seven years of intense restoration and rebuilding in Port Townsend, but she will make a detour on the way to her final destination for one last visit to the town that returned her to the ocean.

The boat, known most famously as the vessel writer John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts chartered for a research trip to the Sea of Cortez in 1940, had been in Port Townsend undergoing restoration since 2015.

More than 100 people — from the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op, Port Townsend Foundry, and independent craftsmen and women — were involved in the project

“They were responsible for bringing the boat back to life and they did a phenomenal job doing that,” said Chris Chase, project manager of the nonprofit Western Flyer Foundation that is restoring the boat.

“It floats and it’s beautiful.”

On Wednesday, the Western Flyer embarked on stage two of its rehab when it was towed to Snow & Company boat builders in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. There, over the course of the next four or five months, it’ll get a new engine, rigging, hydraulics and mechanical system.

After work in Seattle is completed, the boat will head to Monterey, Calif.,

to split its time as a marine research vessel and as a classroom blending humanities and science learning for school children for the Western Flyer Foundation.

The Western Flyer has lived many lives in its 85 years.

Launched in 1937, the 77-foot-long purse seiner fished sardines in California, cod off the coast of Washington, crab in Alaska and was a salmon tender before being chartered by Steinbeck and Ricketts.

Its final stop was near Anacortes where it served as a channel marker.

While moored in Anacortes, it sank twice — in 2012 and 2013 — which would probably have been the end of most boats. But for the Western Flyer, it was the beginning of yet another chapter in its life.

That next chapter began in 2013 when the Western Flyer was refloated and towed to Port Townsend, where work began two years later.

Restoration has meant balancing the literary and historical value of the boat with practical and safety considerations.

“It had to be safe and sound to be on the ocean, so that we really needed,” Chase said. “But the wheelhouse where Steinbeck, Ricketts and Carol Steinbeck slept and they told their stories, that had real importance to the story for us.”

Chase said they preserved as much as they could of a boat that had been in very poor condition. About 90 percent of the hull and 95 percent below water line is new. About 90 percent above the water line is original, including the wheelhouse.

The Western Flyer will make one important stop after leaving Seattle and before heading out to the Pacific Ocean. Chase said it was important the boat return to Port Townsend to say “thank you” and “good bye” to the community that was an essential part of the project’s success.

“There’s only one town in North America that could have fixed this boat in its port and that’s Port Townsend,” Chase said.

“This was a logical place to bring it. The spiritual answer is the boat needed to come.”

________

Reported Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com

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