“Apparently the builder of a boat acts under a compulsion greater than himself. Ribs are strong by definition and feeling. Keels are sound, planking truly chosen and set. A man builds the best of himself into a boat – builds many of the unconscious memories of his ancestors.”The Log from the Sea of Cortez
Since 2015, the Western Flyer Foundation has been working with shipwrights, craftspeople, engineers, and other experts to restore the iconic vessel, the Western Flyer. The vessel was in rough shape when it was purchased in 2015 due to two recent sinking episodes and years of neglect. It required significant rehabilitation and restoration before it could return to service. The vision for the restoration was to preserve the Western Flyer’s historical significance while installing state of the art technology and marine research equipment. Specifically, the goals were to:
- Duplicate the look and feel of the vessel when first launched in 1937.
- Maximize use of wood harvested in accordance with standards of the Forest Stewardship Council.
- Incorporate a hybrid-electric propulsion system to minimize impacts on natural systems.
- Configure the vessel to serve education and research programs.
- Design to facilitate technological updates that would enhance the vessel’s performance.
- Design for a fifty-year lifetime before another major restoration is required.
In June 2015, we hired the talented crew at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Cooperative (PTSC) to lead the restoration and repair activities. They worked diligently on and off over the next seven years replacing close to ninety percent of the hull and 20 percent of the wheelhouse with new, sustainably sourced wood. You can view much of the restoration work in our series of YouTube videos and in a recent presentation by Tim Lee and Pete Rust of the PTSC from Monterey’s Cannery Row Days 2023.
While there were several unexpected delays—including slowdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic—on June 30th, 2022, the beautifully restored Western Flyer returned to the water, departing Port Townsend with a splash. The vessel was then towed to Seattle to have a hybrid electric propulsion system and other mechanical systems installed. The boat is scheduled to return to Monterey in 2023, when we will finish building the lab in the fish hold, thanks to funding support from the California Coastal Conservancy.
The restoration has been a labor of love for everyone involved. We were honored in April 2023, when the Western Flyer received a prestigious Classic Boat Award for the best Restored Power Vessel acknowledging this tremendous effort.
Maintaining and protecting the historic Western Flyer will be an ongoing effort for years to come. Please consider joining our community of supporters to help maintain this legendary boat, and continue the legacy of John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and their 1940 expedition. Learn about ways to give.