Saga of the F/V Western Flyer

We think of our boats in the first person; give them proper names, talk to them, bestow them with gifts, treat our boats with love and dignity.  That is what our boats deserve and is also why we are good boat owners.  The relationship should  be like that of master and dog, that of unconditional love.


The proud Fishing Vessel Western Flyer was built in 1937 by Western Boat Building Company of Tacoma, WA.  A purse seiner, she was commissioned for sardine fishing off Monterey, CA.  In 1940 the newly famous author John Steinbeck, after publishing The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, chartered the Flyer along with friend marine biologist Ed Ricketts for a 6-week trip to the Sea of Cortez.  Departing on March 11 and returning on April 20, 1940.

Steinbeck route 1940

This voyage of exploration and science became the 1941 book by Steinbeck & Ricketts The Sea of Cortez, and after Ricketts death the 1951 Steinbeck book The Log From the Sea of Cortez.  Interestingly the book deals with some environmental issues and concerns, very rare for 1940’s America.

steinbeck-book-cover-log-from-the-sea-of-cortez_wikimedia-commons[1] (Small)

The Western Flyer returned to her commercial fishing, Steinbeck continued to publish titles like Cannery Row and The Pearl, both influenced by his time aboard the Flyer.  He won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.  Later the Western Flyer served as a survey vessel, seiner and crabber continuing her role to support the fisherman and crew that loved her.  Most of us like to think that after 60-years of hard work we can retire with dignity.

Here is where my little story of caring owners and a tough fishing vessel changes path;  The Western Flyer has been allowed to sink on the Swinomish Channel, not once…but twice in the past 4-months.

Sunk in Sept 2012 (Small)

F/V Gemini (ex Western Flyer) sunk in September 2012

Renamed the F/V Gemini, she has been moored along the Swinomsih Channel, north of La Conner, WA  since 1997 and allowed to deteriorate.  In 2010 she was purchased by a Monterey area property owner with a plan to return her to Cannery Row as an attraction.  There is a Monterey non-profit with the dream of a restoration.  Meanwhile she has sunk a couple of times and been allowed to leak diesel fuel into the environment.  Today the Gemini remains submerged at her mooring.

FV Gemini - sunk again 1-2013 (Small)

F/V Gemini sunk again in January 2013

The Gemini is not alone in becoming a derelict, and eventually a threat to the environment.  There is a derelict 1926 wood fantail motoryacht currently anchored along the Swinomish just north of the marina that will probably be struck by a barge and sink sometime soon, it appears to be the fate of older craft and commercial vessels with owners of limited means.

The State of Washington has spent millions of dollars to bring up sunken commercial and private vessels that have gone down and spilled their bilges and tanks into our environment.  At present a $5 charge on every annual boat registration goes to a special fund for this cause, it comes in by the fiver and goes out by the millions.  The State, NOAA, Coast Guard, EPA are powerless to act against floating derelicts, and can only step in once they sink.  Unfortunately once they sink it is really expensive to clean up.

Last year the State spent nearly $3-million  to bring up the Deep Sea after she went down in Penn Cove.  She had been reported by locals in advance and her owner was being fined $83/day for anchoring the derelict.  Now it appears her demise may have been sped by arson.

The converted Liberty Ship now barge Davy Crocket cost the state over $20-million to remove from the side of the Columbia River.  The owner had beached her and begun to cut the scrap steel from her decks to get a few thousand bucks.  He failed to clean her bilges of thousands of gallons of oil, exposed her hull to flooding and sinking and then abandoned her.  His act of greed cost all of us taxpayers millions.

We need to put some teeth into the laws regarding derelicts.  It is very easy to spot these future disasters in our marinas, along our pristine waterways and anchored in backwater coves.  Let’s figure out a way to deal with them before they cause more ecological damage and economic waste.

– Additional information on the sinking of Western Flyer can be found on the Bitter End Blog.  Captain Rodriguez has done a great job chronicling her ongoing story.

The NOAA Office of Response and Restoration Blog wrote a good piece and tells the story of John Steinbeck’s involvement.  I like this blog.

Thanks for reading, now back to cool boats!    Steve

Steve Scruggs,   La Conner, WA