The Western Flyer Returns to the Sea!

By Chris Chase, Project Director

July 14, 2022

It’s been an incredible few weeks here at the Western Flyer Foundation with lots of big changes. The Western Flyer reunited with the waters of the Salish Sea, and the Western Flyer Foundation appointed its first full-time Executive Director, Sherry Flumerfelt. Congratulations to all.

On the morning of June 29th, the big doors on the south end of the Port Townsend Shipwright slid open one more time, revealing inside the fully rebuilt, 77-foot, 20-foot wide, and 80-ton Western Flyer. Over the last seven years, the Western Flyer has undergone a complete, top-to-bottom restoration, and now she is set to go.

The crew of the Port Townsend Shipwrights arrived early in the morning, finalizing the last few details. Once the big doors were open, the spectators started arriving. Just a handful at first, but by the time the shipwrights were ready to move her out into the world, there were a hundred fans. To allow the shipyard time to get her safely in the water, with only a few onlookers, we had not officially announced the launch, but it didn’t matter. The word of the day’s events spread quickly. Several hundred locals had shown up when it was time to move her to the water’s edge—all were there to send off the Western Flyer into the world.

At 1:30 pm on the afternoon of June 29th, the Western Flyer was moved to the water’s edge, lowered until her keel was just inches above the water, and held. Now pushing three hundred, the well-wishers looked on. The crowd, growing by the minute, had followed her from her home for the last seven years to the water’s edge. The Western Flyer was a true show stopper. A testament to the men and women that worked on her.

Before her keel touched the water, there were two points of business that needed to be done to ensure a safe launch. First, the name had to be changed, and second, a proper blessing was required.

To guarantee a safe reunion with Neptune, changing the name was a critical step. The Western Flyer had her name changed in the mid-1960 to the Gemini, which is when her real troubles began. Her sinking in 1971 and her two sinking in 2012-13 were all under the name Gemini. To help us make the change, we employed family members of the original builder Martin Petrich. After removing her former name and asking the four winds of the compass to watch over her, Croatian wine was splashed across her hull; she officially changed back to the Western Flyer.

Nora Petrich asks the Wind’s blessing during the renaming ceremony alongside several other Petrich family members.

The blessing was the only thing preventing the Western Flyer from meeting her destiny. The grandson of the original builder, Perry Petrich, would be the center stage for this step. Built by Croatian immigrants in 1937, it seemed appropriate to have the Western Flyer adequately blessed before her first taste of seawater in nearly nine years. We could not have found someone better suited to officiate than the builder’s grandson.

Claire Petrich introducing Perry Petrich who blessed the Western Flyer.

With the name changed and the blessing complete, the only thing left to do was, splash the Western Flyer. So at 2:00 pm on the afternoon of June 29th, she was lowered the last few inches. The name change and blessing must have worked. Hardly a drop of water entered the hull. The Western Flyer was floating high and dry.

The following day with well-wishers on every dock, the Western Flyer was towed from Port Townsend, Washington, the nearly fifty miles to Seattle, where she awaits the installation of the mechanical systems. Over the coming months, the Western Flyer will fully come to life. Once the systems are completed, she will transit from Seattle down the coast to Monterey, California.

The story of Western Flyer will always have a chapter dedicated to Port Townsend, Washington, and the hundreds of men and women that brought the Western Flyer back to life. Thank you.

With the Western Flyer now in the water, the completion of the project is truly coming into focus. Over the coming months, in preparation for the Western Flyer’s return to Monterey, the Western Flyer Foundation will be ramping up its engagement with the community. With Sherry Flumerfelt at the helm, the WFF can pivot its energy toward the goal of inspiring young people to engage with their marine environment.

Sherry Flumerfelt joins the crew of the Western Flyer Foundation at a real point of growth and is a terrific addition to our crew. The Western Flyer Foundation is excited to have her pilot us into the next phase. Welcome aboard.

Posted in Stories & Updates