'Merging of science and art': The Western Flyer returns to Monterey
“It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”
That's a quote from John Steinbeck's classic book, The Log from the Sea of Cortez, inspired by the author's adventurous research voyage with marine biologist Ed Ricketts in 1940. The legendary fishing vessel they used for this voyage, the Western Flyer, is now fully restored, and returning to its home in the Monterey Bay.
Sherry Flumerfelt is the executive director of the Western Flyer Foundation. The organization raised money for the return of the ship. Once here, the Flyer is embarking on a new sort of adventure devoted to research and education.
Sherry Flumerfelt: So the Western Flyer is a fishing vessel that was in Monterey back in the '30s and '40s during the height of the sardine fishery. And it's been away for 75 years since the late '40s. And so that alone is very exciting — this old symbolic boat from Monterey's fishing industry is returning.
But even more so, it was made famous by John Steinbeck, the author, and his very good friend Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist. They took the flyer to the Gulf of California on a marine research expedition back in 1940, and when they returned, they published the book The Log from the Sea of Cortez, which has influenced so many people to become marine biologists and scientists. And it's really considered this classic of John Steinbeck's.
Lisa Ledin: It isn't his most famous book, but I've heard rumors that it was [Steinbeck's] favorite.
SF: That's what we've heard. That he told his wife Elaine that The Sea of Cortez was his favorite among all of his books.
LL: The ordeal of renovating this ship...what kind of condition was it in when they started to work on it?
SF: It was in really rough condition because it had previously sat underwater for six months. It was covered in seaweed and barnacles and the railings had fallen off. It was really a complete disaster. But in 2015, our founder John Gregg hired the Port Townsend Shipwrights to restore the boat — they're known for their traditional craftsmanship — and they did a fabulous job. And it is such a beautiful boat now and the difference between what it looked like when [Gregg] purchased it in 2015 and today is remarkable.
LL: I was wondering what Steinbeck would think of all of this. I think he would be happy because it's going to have a function in terms of education, and it's bringing together literary people and marine biologists and just this huge interest group.
SF: Yeah, we think that Steinbeck and Ricketts would have been happy with this outcome. Instead of being a museum piece or a tourist attraction, the boat is going to be put back into service, taking scientists out on the water again and students to reflect and think about the marine environment, similar to how Steinbeck and Ricketts did back in 1940.
SF: Yep. We're in communication with all of the different local marine institutes and everyone's really excited about the return of the vessel. MBARI even had a research vessel named after the Western Flyer that they recently sold. But it's an exciting time for all of these marine institutes. We're partnering right now with Hopkins [Marine Station] and the Naval Postgraduate School and developing an onboard program for the future in oceanography and marine biology. We're also going to be chartering the vessel to some of these marine scientists who want to use it for their own research.
And so what we want to do as the Western Flyer Foundation is to really continue that merging of science and art. That's really important to us throughout throughout all of our programs. In the spirit of Steinbeck and Ricketts and their friendship.
Sherry Flumerfelt is the executive director of the Western Flyer Foundation. The Western Flyer will be welcomed at Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey this Saturday starting at 11 a.m. with lively festivities.
The Western Flyer Foundation is one of KAZU's many business underwriters.