NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
American novelist John Steinbeck appears with his pet poodle Charley in a tranquil moment from 1961.
A boat once chartered by renowned author John Steinbeck has sunk in the Swinomish for the second time in four months.
The 76-foot purse seiner once known as the Western Flyer sank in September at its mooring near the Twin Bridges area east of Anacortes. Crews salvaged it two weeks later.
When it sank again Monday, the boat might have taken with it a California nonprofit’s hopes of restoration.
Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts chartered the Western Flyer in 1940 to cruise from Monterey, Calif., to the Gulf of California, or the Sea of Cortez.
The vessel was featured in Steinbeck’s books “The Sea of Cortez: A Journal of Travel and Research” and “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.” But their adventure inspired not only the two accounts of the journey itself, but future novels about events along the way, including “Cannery Row,” “The Moon is Down” and “The Pearl.”
The Western Flyer was built in 1937 by Western Boat Building Co. in Tacoma and used by fishermen from Alaska to California.
It was renamed Gemini in 1970.
A nonprofit in Monterey called the Western Flyer Project has been trying since 1983 to buy the boat from its private owner and preserve it for its historical value.
Gemini’s current owner, who lives in California, could not be reached for comment.
It’s unclear why the owner was keeping his boat in Skagit County or why it sank. The boat has been here at least a few years, said Michael Hemp, a former board member with the Western Flyer Project.
Hemp noted after the first sinking that wooden-boat experts in the Pacific Northwest might be the only people left in the world who could restore the vessel to its original glory.
Allen Petrich, whose grandfather helped build the boat and was at one point a part owner of it, also wants to see the boat restored in the Northwest and back on the water in Monterey.
“In addition to being famous for literary reasons, the boat is a good example of the technology of the Puget Sound seine boats of that time,” Petrich said. “It would be like having (Jack) Kerouac’s car from ‘On the Road.’ I mean, it’s a vessel that was the platform for famous literary history. It’s probably the best-known boat in American nonfiction literature.”
Now that the literary and historical icon has hit bottom again, the group working to preserve it is distraught — but they’re not giving up.
“(This is) pretty much the doomsday scenario,” Hemp said Monday. “We may never see it again. They could just trash it or junk it or whatever, with the money owed (for both salvages).”
Hemp said the group would like to negotiate with the current owner to keep that from happening.
“I hope somewhere in this convoluted disaster is a chance for the nonprofit that originally wanted to restore it to get to do that,” he said.