Sailing into History: A Journey to the Gulf of California with Uncruise

By Sherry Flumerfelt, Executive Director

Uncruise CEO Dan Blanchard and WFF Executive Director Sherry Flumerfelt at Isla Espíritu Santo

I love my job. As Executive Director of the Western Flyer Foundation, it’s a thrill and an honor to help the famous Western Flyer continue the work that Steinbeck and Ricketts began decades ago. Still, as anyone who has run an organization will understand, my day-to-day life has less wind and salty air than it does meetings and deadlines, and less time contemplating the wild than it does looking at a screen.

The Safari Voyager

That’s why I was so grateful last week to step away from the computer, disconnect from Wifi and cell service, and jump—figuratively and literally—into what Steinbeck and Ricketts called a “sea of mirages and timelessness.” The incredible company, Uncruise Adventures, had graciously invited me to join a 7-night cruise in the Gulf of California, and the experience was as inspiring as it was sustaining.

The trip’s primary purpose was to meet fun-loving Uncruise CEO and founder Dan Blanchard and his incredible team on the Safari Voyager—and to start preparing for the Western Flyer’s return trip to the Sea of Cortez in 2025. We’ve heard from many of you that you’d love the opportunity to join part of the historic trip, and I wanted to use the week to explore ways to make that happen with Uncruise—as a purveyor of small-ship adventure cruises, they’re the perfect partner. (We’re planning a fundraising cruise or two – stay tuned for details!)

Cayo Islet

From the start of the trip, I was blown away by the chance to visit sites that Ricketts and Steinbeck visited in 1940. First among them was Bahia la Amortajada at Isla San José, with Cayo Islet in the distance—the island that they viewed with a certain amount of suspicion: “Although the day was bright, this islet, called Cayo on the map, looked black and mysterious. We had a feeling that something strange and dark had happened there or that it was the ruined work of men’s hands.” Reading that passage from the bay itself brought home to me how long it’s been since the Flyer’s voyage, and how in some ways very little has changed; the islet is still bare, still black, still mysterious.

Later, at Isla Espíritu Santo, I had another connection with the Log—it was there that the two friends saw “a black yacht [go] by swiftly” with an “awninged after-deck” where “ladies and gentlemen in white clothing sat comfortably. We saw they had tall cool drinks beside them and we hated them a little, for we were out of beer.” Our boat was not, I admit, out of either tall cool drinks or beer, so I felt less contempt for our neighboring sailors.

Isla Espíritu Santo

We traveled by bus to Magdalena Bay on the Pacific coast of Baja, where Tiny struggled inwardly and outwardly with a sea turtle now memorialized in a carving on the Flyer’s deck. The day of my visit, the water was choppy and wild, but not too much so as to hide the gray whales at the bay’s mouth.

The Mission in Loreto

Our journey also took us to Loreto. Steinbeck and Ricketts described themselves as “eager to see this town,” and especially the church that was California’s first mission. I was just as eager to see the Lady of Loreto, which the earlier travelers found “lovely in her dim chapel with the lilies of Easter around her…not to know her and her strength,” they concluded, “is to fail to know Loreto.” Though I enjoyed my time in the beautiful town, it’s possible that I failed to know it—after embarking again, I found that I’d spent an hour contemplating the wrong statue. I’m looking forward to my return and to correcting my mistake!

I don’t have space to list every stop or sight—but every day with Uncruise was full of fun and adventure, whether kayaking, riding mules, whale watching, snorkeling with sea lions, hiking, or paddle boarding. The evenings included presentations about local history, culture, and ecology (it was a thrill to be able to contribute my own talk about the Western Flyer while floating on the Sea of Cortez). The crew was terrific, the food delicious, the cabins dreamy, and the cocktails to die for. I can only imagine how incredible it will be when the Western Flyer is floating alongside.

In the end, though, what I took away from the trip most of all was a sense of calm that gave me a new understanding of the Western Flyer Foundation’s mission. Steinbeck and Ricketts wrote of how “the great world dropped away very quickly,” how they “lost the fear and fierceness and contagion of war and economic uncertainty” and how “the hundred thousand small reactions of [the] daily world were reduced to very few.” I had the chance to touch some of that same complete, logged-out quiet, and was grateful for it every day.

Posted in Blog