Author, Scientist and Crew Board Chartered Purse Seiner, Bound for Six Weeks’ Voyage to Lower California

The Monterey Peninsula Herald (now the Monterey Herald) published this article on March 11, 1940, the very day that John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and the Western Flyer crew left on a six-week expedition to the Gulf of California. Enjoy! Republished, courtesy of the Monterey Herald.

Steinbeck, Ricketts Embark on Cruise

Author, Scientist and Crew Board Chartered Purse Seiner, Bound for Six Weeks’ Voyage to Lower California


Monterey Peninsula Herald

March 11, 1940

Early this afternoon the purse seiner “Western Flyer” pulled out of Monterey harbor for a six weeks’ fishing trip through the Gulf of California carrying perhaps the strangest crew ever signed aboard a local work boat.

The ship was carrying the Steinbeck-Ricketts expedition into the Gulf, a trip which should produce some unique and highly valuable scientific information and, which is even more important to the book lovers, a new story by John Steinbeck, author of “Tortilla Flat,” “Of Mice and Men,” “In Dubious Battle,” and the more recent best seller, “The Grapes of Wrath.”


Steinbeck, of course, is the author of the crew and his wife Carol has been signed as super-cargo and cook while Ed Ricketts, owner of the Pacific Biological Laboratory and a man as well known as Steinbeck in his own field, is the scientist.

Webster Street of Monterey is the lawyer of the crew and present plans are that he will leave the ship at San Diego. (He has to get back to work).

Primary purpose of the expedition as outlined in a very official document presented the Mexican government by Steinbeck and Ricketts is “to evaluate and consider the way marine invertebrate animals occur along shore—their interlocking associations or societies in their relations to each other and to the environmental factors.”


That’s a big order and as Steinbeck put it: “We plan to do a lot of hard work—but we may find time for a little fun, too.”

Probably the fun will come mostly from the work; Ricketts, a bearded man with twinkling eyes, is the pure scientist intent on the study of marine life, and Steinbeck, although not many people know it, is a first rate amateur scientist. He has keen powers of observation and has studied his subject at college and read it widely since.

Both men like the work and it’s better than an odds-on shot that they’ll do a valuable job in Mexico.


Immediate result of the trip will be the new book by Steinbeck. Actually a compilation with Ricketts, it will be a readable account of the trip with all their scientific findings included in a form valuable to the scientists and interesting to the layman.

It most certainly will be a “must” when released.

Aside from this, Steinbeck plans to make a complete color moving picture record of the country they visit, probably one of the first ever attempted, and Ricketts later will compile all their findings in scientific form.

The two men are looking especially for marine invertebrates—starfish, crustaceans, worms, corals, mollusks and the like—but their main interest is in the communities of these animals; how they got along together, the interrelationship of the various species between the tides of the gulf.


Since the region they plan to investigate is virtually unexplored, the party hopes to return in six weeks to Monterey with hundreds of specimens of new species and shore fauna.

At present the plan is to sail down the outer coast of lower California, poking into such bays and lagoons as Cape Colnett, Black Warrior and Scammon, Magdalena and Cape San Lucas.

They will even venture into San Quentin Bay with clear consciences.

Following the coastline, the party will continue to the upper end of the Gulf, expecting to do most work in the tidal regions there. La Paz, Mulejo, Santa Rosalia, Angel de la Guarda Islands, San Filipe Bay, Guaymas, Topolobampo and Mazatlan are some of the names mentioned in the itinerary.


Much of the work of the expedition will be done from the seiner, which has been converted into a floating laboratory, but long trips into shallow lagoons of the coast are planned and for this the party has a skiff equipped with an outboard motor.

Just when Steinbeck and Ricketts hit upon the idea for such a trip is a subject of debate, but they have been talking of it constantly for the past four months, although they have successfully kept mention of it from the press. Lack of publicity was considered a necessary precaution against stowaways. It’s that kind of a trip.

Necessary negotiations with the Mexican government have been lengthy but highly satisfactory. They have secured practically carte blanche for the expedition.

For months, the two have been making lists of what to take and when interviewed by the Herald, Steinbeck was surrounded by the entrails of the ship’s medicine locker and the most pressing problem of the day was: “How much iodine shall I take?”

He had just returned from a perilous shopping trip which had netted 40 cents worth of fish hooks which he carried in his pockets, carefully boxed. “To trade with Mexican children,” he explained.

For the past few weeks, Steinbeck and Ricketts have been looking for a purse seiner and the transactions here have been hectic to say the least. First one boat and then another was decided upon and then followed lengthy discussions with volatile owners. Finally, the “Western Flyer” was found and the charter was signed only last week.

Steinbeck has been here for the past two months, not only to prepare for the trip but because he likes it here. Lionized in the east, he is just one of the boys along the local waterfront. In fact, his greatest worry last week was whether or not some seiner captain would invite him aboard to join yesterday’s boat parade.

One did, and the writer saw the show from the crow’s nest of one of the boats.

The usually personal and nautical supplies will be carried on the boat along with enough scientific equipment to make it a first rate laboratory.

Ricketts is taking two of his precious microscopes, innumerable trays, specimen jars and drugs to be used in preserving specimens as well as his instrument kits and a small field library.


Oxygen equipment will also be carried and doses will be given to lethargic animals as they are studied. “One shot of that stuff and an amoeba will sit up and wave its arms,” Steinbeck says.

Best of all, the boat will carry a tailor-made refrigerating system to cool sea water for circulating through specimen trays. Power supplied through a one cylinder gasoline motor, which, incidentally, is a lulu to start, and water is circulated through a 12 gallon bottle placed in an insulated cooling box. In this highly scientific icebox, there is a small compartment at one end — just large enough to cool two cases of beer.

That’s the Steinbeck-Ricketts expedition—a lot of work, a little fun—and it may produce some of the most valuable scientific data on the subject of tidal fauna ever brought out of the Gulf of Mexico, which abounds with little known species of marine life.

Members of the Steinbeck-Ricketts expedition, who sailed from Monterey yesterday for a six week study of marine life in the Gulf of Lower California, are pictured above on the bridge of the purse seiner Western Flyer chartered for the trip. In the back row, left to right, are Engineer Hall Travis, Capt. Tony Berry, John Steinbeck and Ratzi Colleto. The front row, left to right, includes “Sparky” Enea, Mrs. Tony Berry and Mrs. Steinbeck. Mrs. Berry is not making the voyage but the six others pictured, together with Ed Ricketts, marine scientist, and Webster Street, Monterey attorney, were aboard when the seiner sailed.” Photo courtesy of the Monterey Herald.

A special thanks to Bob Enea, nephew of both Captain Tony and Sparky Enea, for sharing this article!

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