On November 4, 2023, the Western Flyer sails home—and not alone. A decorated boat parade will escort the purse seiner to its home port in Monterey. This is an opportunity for a grand celebration, one that John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, no doubt, would have relished. The day before they left for their 1940 excursion to the Sea of Cortez, a big party was held on the Monterey wharf, the “sardine fiesta” with all manner of contests. On November 4, the Western Flyer Foundation will hold one special contest, with high expectations and coveted prizes: fossils that look very much like a school of sardines swimming in stone: Orthoceras.
The savior of the Western Flyer, John Gregg, is also a keen collector of fossils. And he has selected three mighty specimens for prizes for the best-decorated boats — three magnificent fossils. Orthoceras was an ancient nautiloid cephalopod. In an artist’s rendering, they look a bit like squid heads stuck to a narwhale tusk, intriguing creatures. Like squid, they once moved up and down the water column to feed. They got longer and longer, curled as they evolved, and became relatives of Nautilus that survives to this day. Currents moved dead Orthoceras to ocean channels, and there they piled up.
First prize will win an Orthoceras fossil the size of a TV tray; second prize is one about the size of a dinner plate; third prize is a bit smaller.
Boat owners take note and deck your boat in finery! Consider Steinbeck’s words in Sea of Cortez: A decorated boat, with “colored streamers set high and snapping… is very happy.”
Steinbeck loved the sea and boats, declaring that when man builds this “greatest and most personal of all tools” he has “in turn received a boat shaped mind, and the boat, a man shaped soul.” So captains and owners, decorate yourselves as well!
Come welcome the happy boats and happy owners. Celebrate by gazing at the Orthoceras fossils of the winning boats!