A Turtle and a Tender Heart

Tiny Colletto (left) and Sparky Enea (right) in the boxing ring at age 11. The inscription on the back reads: ‘They never did get on much later.’ Courtesy of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, SJSU.

Tiny Colletto and his close friend Sparky Enea were members of the Western Flyer crew in 1940. Both had been “bad little boys” growing up together in Monterey, and on board the boat they were freewheeling fishers and hunters. They “tested everything to find out whether it were true or not.” Is a turtle good to eat? Tiny wanted to know, so as the boat was sailing past Magdalena Bay on the Pacific side of Baja and many, many sea turtles appeared about the boat, he harpooned a tortoiseshell turtle about 30 inches long, a small fellow. 

Trouble began as soon as the turtle hit the deck. It was suffering and Tiny felt remorse. He hated to see the turtle’s “quizzical pained look” and tried to quickly end its suffering. But “turtles are very hard to kill,” as Tiny discovered.

Left photo: Tiny Colletto and Tex Hall on the Western Flyer with the harpooned turtle. Courtesy of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, SJSU. Right photo: Long-time supporter, Bob Goar, posing with the inlaid turtle.

“Now we were able to observe the tender hearts of our crew.” The passage that follows is a gory description of the turtle’s suffering and demise. The rapidly fading enthusiasm of the crew turns to disgust and remorse. Steinbeck and Ricketts dissect the turtle while Tiny looks on in horror. Their attempts to preserve the shell and eat the meat only lead to more disappointment. 

The experience is so jarring that Tiny gave up turtle hunting on the voyage, never again trying to harpoon one. 

In a book so preoccupied with human’s interactions with and impacts on the natural world, the story of the turtle functions as a reminder of our human capacity for both violence and tenderness, aggression and remorse.

To mark the site of the turtle’s demise, and to remind ourselves of the story, we have added an inlaid wooden turtle to the aft deck of the Western Flyer

Turtle inlay in the Western Flyer deck

The turtle was made by our partners at Ventana Surfboards, with woodburning by Jessica Kendall-Bar. Ventana used bay laurel from the cooperage at UCSC, flame maple from Santa Cruz Guitar, and Doug fir hull planks from the original Western Flyer. The artisans at Ventana Surfboards make nothing short of rideable works of art. Their hollow wooden surfboards feature reclaimed lumber and incredible woodworking skills. We shared reclaimed wood from the original Western Flyer with them early in the restoration. Since then, these incredible craftspeople have been infusing their work with some of the Western Flyer magic. Learn more about our partnership with Ventana Surfboards here

Watch this video, featuring restoration director Chris Chase, to learn even more of how this inlay turtle came to be!

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